Navigating the Gym during the Busy Season with Cat Ramirez & Ryan McMullen

In this episode, Coach Cat and Coach Ryan cover how to make the most of a crowded gym.

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I'm joined by Ryan McMullen and Cat Ramirez, and we are discussing, navigating the gym during the busy season. Ryan and Cat are both MetPro coaches and both own their own gym. We wanted to learn from both of them to get two very different perspectives. Thank you both for joining me.

Thanks so much for having us.

I wanted to start with you, Cat. When I want to get to the gym and it's intimidating, what do I do?

That's a good question. Especially coming off back of COVID where everyone was forced into their home and had to make do with fitness at home or fitness alone dependent upon the time during that entire quarantine. Going back into the gym setting can be intimidating for people for multiple reasons. First of all, the introvert thing has set in, and so some people are uncomfortable being around other people and having to regain that confidence again when working out in front of others.

Additionally, there can be some reservations around being in an environment where you are potentially exposing yourself to COVID or the variance, or general illness during the holiday and winter season. It's a two-pronged thing there. For my clients that are having a hard time because of an introverted issue or being around others and having the confidence to execute their workouts in front of other people, I like to tell them to start small.

Doing group Zoom classes is a great first step. You are still working out at home but you are with others. From there, find a buddy. The one person that can be your wingman, and keep you focused and somebody that you can keep it lighthearted with but you are getting the work done and going in with that other person.

From there, if we still need a little bit of support, maybe we are doing group classes. Most gyms are doing group classes but have a cap on them. For instance, I own a CrossFit gym. We are in North Carolina, it's Sneads Ferry CrossFit, and we do run classes. There are protocols set in place for general health and wellness but our county is not required to wear the masks. Most people have been vaccinated, and so those people that do participate in a class setting feel comfortable.

We have enough space between people that they are not on top of each other and enough equipment. They are not having to constantly share equipment. Moving into a group fitness setting can be great in terms of boosting that confidence in getting back in the gym, and then from there working with a coach is pretty big. Depending upon your personality type, you might not want to let a coach down. It holds you accountable for the work that you are supposed to be doing.

I have a lot of clients that I do private programming for both through the gym and through MetPro. They have their own private programs based on their specific needs or goals that they want to attain, and they are accountable to me. They don't want to let me down and they don't want to have that conversation like, “Cat, I didn't do anything that you said.” They then are inclined to do that work.

Do you think that people might feel intimidated by maybe one area of the gym more than others, let's say, the cardio area versus maybe going into the weights area? If so, what are some thoughts that they can do about that?

People are generally fine in the cardio area. You are zoning out like there are TVs. You can put your music on and do whatever. When I get on a treadmill or something like that, I cannot even look left or right and all fly off of the things. People are generally pretty stationary and okay on where they are on the cardio machines, although cardio can be challenging.

I had a conversation with a client and he was like, “I hate running. I don't like running.” I said, “What about running with somebody?” He was like, “I hate that even more.” It can be challenging but when you are inside of a gym, for most people, it's the weights. That absolutely differs based on your life experience.

I am a female. I did not grow up in the gym. I come from a more traditional family. My father was very old school. It was not heavily promoted to get in the gym, workout, and lift weights. Most females, unless they are growing up in an era of sport or within a sport are not necessarily so comfortable in the weights or doing strength workouts.

A lot of gentlemen I will hear when they are getting into it are like, “There are so many machines. I don't know what they do and they are intimidating. I don't want to fall off of one and embarrass myself or whatever.” The strength section is probably an area of opportunity for most people. Things that they can do is work with a personal trainer. Sign up for five sessions and do an intro.

In a CrossFit gym, it's called on-ramp fundamentals or the essentials, and that is taking everybody through the basic movements that they are going to utilize in a class of foundational movements to make sure that they can execute them safely. They know what they are doing and are not going to hurt themselves or others. It works for a coach, and so far, as they can say the movement and everybody knows what that is, and then they can work to find our points of performance, it works for the athlete because they are not so intimidated. They have seen it. They know what to do with it. They know how to modify it.

Their confidence is going to be up when they start to use those machines. That makes sense.

In a normal Globo Gym setting, you can do a five-session with a trainer and say, “I need the lay of the land. I need to know how to operate these machines or where I should start with weights.” That's a good starting point for most people.

One thing that is difficult for a beginner is knowing what weights to use. Let's say you've done the intro to the gym that you've had somebody walk you through, and show you how to use things. You start to put a routine together or maybe you got a routine off the internet. You have no idea what weights you should be using. It's intimidating to go up when there are people there and you don't know what weights to try to swing them around and see like, “Does this work for me?” What should they do?

My rule, and this works for advanced, all the way down to novice and beginner, is that always start light, lighter than you think. It’s because they can be your warmup sets and that's okay. It’s okay to have warmup sets as little as 5 or 10 pounds. I'm a big guy. I have been weightlifting for a long time, and when I lay down on a bench to start bench pressing, the first thing I start with is an empty bar. I'm warming up that movement pattern.

You can use warm sets to feel out and figure out, “How much weight should I be doing and how many reps can I do that at?” Without feeling like you don't know what you are doing or feeling like you are not lifting as much as the person next to you. You are warming up, and when you get to something challenging, that's when you can start your sets and know, “I can do this.”

The second piece of that is to write it down. Track this stuff so that the next time you go back to the bench press, the deadlift or a machine that you were using, write down the way and how many sets and reps you did. You can reference it and say, “Next time I go on this machine or next time I use this piece of equipment, this is what I'm doing and how much of it I'm doing.”

You brought up a couple of amazing points, but for somebody who's never done it before, that brings up more questions. If you go into the gym and it's super busy, and you go up and you pick up some weights, what is the polite way to do that? Do you grab one set of weights and try it out? Is it okay to get a couple? Does it depend on the gym? How do you handle that?

That depends on the gym, the culture, and the time of day you are in there. I don't know that I have a definitive answer other than you have to feel out the room. I always resort back to if I feel like someone is going to use something or they are done using something or put something back and I'm unsure, take the headphones out and ask. It's great for conversation starters as well.

It sets the tone and it makes everyone a little less rigid and intimidated. How hard is it to say, “I saw you put those dumbbells back, are you done with those? Do you mind if I use them?” That person goes, “Thank you for asking. I have another set. I appreciate it,” and then you wait. They say, “Thank you so much for asking. No, I'm totally done with those. They are all yours.” “Great. Thank you.”

I always feel like I'm inconveniencing someone. As you mentioned, write it down, but that can take a second to write it down. I personally might feel like I'm a little bit in a hurry to do that because I know that it's busy and everything makes me feel unsure. That's why I'm asking when it comes to writing it down, should you finish what you did and then go write it down? Should you tap it into your phone? Are there apps people can use? What's the best way to do that?

There are many different ways you can do that. A general note section of your phone is fine. I was always a big fan of pad and paper. Simple and straightforward. A lot of people like that too. They make those little mini whiteboards and a little whiteboard pen, and you could write your stuff down. You could even go to the extent of snapping a photo, picking your phone up, and using a bench press, for example.

You are laying down, you do a barbell, snap a photo of it, and remember, “This is what I did for sets.” Then you will load some weight and snap another photo. There are many ways you can do it, or you can finish up with an exercise and go back to your gym bag and write down what you did in your sets, if you can remember. It is the key part there.

That can be tough. What about things like if you are doing supersets or if you are doing a circuit and the gym is busy? I realized you are going to say, “Ask,” but is it even polite when it's busy like that to go ahead and take up multiple machines or do a circuit? How do you handle that?

That is where I draw a hard line and say no. Pick the situation and the atmosphere. If you do have circuits to do, and you are a person that likes circuit training, you need multiple stations or pieces of equipment. You have to be as courteous as other people are going to be courteous as well. Going at 5:30 in January after the New Year’s when everyone is off work and the gym is packed and you have 4 stations and you are taken up 4 machines is not cool. Pick your times.

If you are dead set on, “I am doing circuit training,” you need to spend some time in the gym and figure out, “When are the dead times, and can I make that happen?” Maybe 5:00 AM is busy and it dies down at 7:00 and picks back up at 9:00, and it dies down at 11:00. You need to pick those times and work out your schedule so that you are not impeding other people's workouts because that's as important as not creating a strain on somebody else.

Being an owner of a gym, are there things that you wish people knew to do that they knew they had like, “Here are some things that everybody misses the first time they go?” Anything like that?

Generally, basic etiquette. I stick with a general of three things. Put away and clean your equipment please. No one likes searching for the dumbbells that they can't find because you left them on a bench somewhere. Nobody likes walking up to a piece of equipment that has sweaty butt prints all over it. Clean and put away your equipment. That's number one.

Number two, to be aware of your surroundings and be safe is a big one. Don't drop weights when you have someone 3 feet away from you doing another exercise. Even if nothing happens, it's scary, and it makes them feel like you are not paying attention, and you are probably not. Be safe in the gym, and then also smile, be kind and introduce yourself.

Gyms are, and they should, no matter what gym you are at, if you are at a yoga studio, a CrossFit gym or a Globo Gym, your basic 24-hour fitness, be courteous, kind and smile because you want to enjoy being there. If you smile, you are getting smiles back. They are enjoying being there and it creates a culture and community around enjoying being at the gym. We need more of that.

We could always use more kindness in the world. What if you thought you could handle it and then you do something dumb in the gym or you make a fool of yourself somehow? You went to go do a box jump and it was a little too high. You tripped, and now you feel embarrassed. It was an accident, but you feel embarrassed. Is there anything you should do? Do you get back up and pretend it didn't happen? I can feel myself getting red just thinking about doing that because it's something I would do.

We have all done it. I have done it multiple times. Everybody has done it. First of all, if you hit the corner of a box and need medical attention, obviously seek that out. Make sure there's no blood pouring everywhere. Just get up and try it again, and maybe you need a little bit of a confidence booster. Your adrenaline is up a little bit. Your heart rate is up a little bit. You are like, “I hope nobody saw that.” Try to do a hair adjustment.

I would say get your heart rate back down. For instance, if you are doing box jumps, this is normal with box jumps. It's always like the one that is the death-defying move in the gym. Do some step-ups until your heart rate comes down, and then maybe stand next to the box and do a couple of reps and tuck your knees high. Proving to yourself, “I can achieve the height. I'm safe. I'm okay.” Give it another go, but I guarantee everyone has done it. I am the most awkward person ever. I will usually look around like, “Can you come to give me a hand so I can jump on this box? Hold my hand here.”

Thank you so much for the advice. Cat, is there anything else that people should consider when going to the gym and they haven't been for a while, or maybe it's their first time that we haven't covered?

Finding what's going to be the best fit for you. You have the intention. You have the goal of getting into the gym. You know that. What kind of a person are you? Are you an introvert? Are you an extrovert? Do you like to be around people? Do you have a hard time finding motivation? Do you like being in a class? Do you like dancing? Do you like lifting in solidarity? Are you a quiet person? You don't want to talk to anybody.

Figuring out what type of person you are, what's your personality, and where is it that you can shine? What's going to be a little challenge? Going into that way. There are tons of gyms. You can do a CrossFit gym, you can do something like a Bootcamp gym like Orangetheory. There are tons of them out there. Going into a cycling studio or Globo Gym, a boxing gym or something like that.

There are many different intentions and stimuli and understanding of where you are going to thrive with your personality. Do a trial. I always tell my athletes for MetPro, if they are trying to get into a gym setting and don't have experience with it, great. Every gym has a free day, week or month offering. Do five different frees at different gyms, and then see which one resonated with you. What's the worst thing that can happen? You are getting different kinds of fitness. You will meet some people, you are mixing it up, and then you are going to figure out, “I loved this. Let me go back there.”

You get me all pumped up to go back to a gym. Ryan and Cat, thank you so much for your time. This has been so fun. That is all. If you, readers, out there want to learn more about this topic or about MetPro in general, please check us out at You can find The MetPro Method show wherever you find any podcast. Please be sure to rate and review. I will see you in the next episode. Until then, remember, consistency is key.

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