It’s nice to be prepared at the gym! Seasoned lifters often keep their gym supplies consolidated in a gym bag. This makes going to the gym a more efficient process while keeping you ready for challenges you may face during your workout.
As someone who appreciates style and color, having a gym bag is also an accessory and I like mine to be something I’m happy to carry. This may not be true for everyone, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the gym-going process for those for whom it is true.
Here are five essentials and three extras to aid your fitness progress and get your gym bag going:
Many sports are optimized by a sport-specific shoe. Hiking, running, soccer, and also lifting are some examples of fitness activities that are best performed with a certain shoe. I typically recommend one of two types of shoes for lifting weights. The first choice is a standard lifting shoe which typically has a non-compressible sole, an elevated heel, and a strap or two on the top to secure the shoe to the foot snugly. The second choice is a shoe with a flat non-compressible sole such as Vans, Converse, or Keds.
Shoes like the ones suggested aid balance and therefore safety. They also make it easier to get deep in a squat and assist force-production so you can lift more weight! Most people can feel the difference and appreciate it almost immediately.
Wear your lifting shoes exclusively at the gym to preserve them longer.
The main and most popular lifting support is likely a lifting belt. Many lifters use a belt to help them produce more force. It also serves as support and feedback for a tight and braced core. A lifting belt can, like lifting shoes, add pounds to your bar.
Other popular forms of support address “cranky” joints. For example, I have a left wrist that simply doesn’t like a certain kind of pressure. A wrist-wrap supports my wrist and when I wear them, I don’t worry about that pressure as much.
Many lifters use knee sleeves or knee wraps. This helps them lift more, lift without pain, and help support joints that flare up or ache due to movement.
Once the pulling exercises get serious, often, the limiting factor is not the main muscle(s) we’re working but our grip. This is most common in a deadlift, but it comes up on pull-ups and various rows for some people. There are a few options for grip support. The first choice is gym chalk. Not all gyms allow gym chalk, though, because it’s messy. The second choice is liquid grip. Liquid grip is liquified gym chalk that’s not nearly as messy. Other options that are common but less ideal are straps or lifting gloves. These latter two options definitely work, it’s just that they don’t let you get your forearms as strong as much as the former two options. If you really don’t want callouses, then I’d go with lifting gloves.
Notebook and Pen
For most people, going to the gym is in hopes to improve, progress, and get better. Maybe you even go to the gym to lift more! Unfortunately, you cannot do the same set of exercises at the same weights for the same reps over and over and expect changes. In order to get results, you need to challenge yourself. The best and most efficient way to make sure you’re not running in circles and wasting your own time is to record what you are doing and try to improve by changing a variable next workout. Common variables are reps, weight, rest time, range of motion, and exercise type.
I am sure a lifter could use digital means to record their workouts. Perhaps it’s the school of thought that influenced my work, my love of writing, or just me being plain old-school — I somehow am more invested and focused with a pen/paper at my fingertips rather than a screen. I also tend to pick up my phone sometimes and my fingers have muscle memory that takes me to apps I didn’t intend to open – like, I’ll mean to check one thing but somehow social media is open and I can’t remember why I picked up my phone. Paper and pen keep me focused and I suspect I’m not alone on this one…
Lifting is calorically demanding and stimulates the appetite. Lifting hungry feels terrible, especially if you’re not used to it. Keeping some quick calories handy – like fruit, a protein bar/shake, a small sandwich, or nuts – comes in super handy if you’re on a tight schedule and hit the gym with an empty stomach. A snack for fuel allows you to finish your workout comfortably.
Fractional Plates (extra)
For many lifters, lifting more is the hope, goal, or desired outcome for their efforts. Lifting more means you’re getting stronger – a very popular and commendable fitness goal. The best tool for building raw strength is a standard, straight, plate-loaded barbell. Most complete gyms (not apartment or hotel gyms) have these standard barbells and plates. The smallest plate you will typically find at a standard gym is two-point-five pounds. This often means that the smallest jump a person can make with a bar is five pounds total. Five pounds may not sound like a lot, but it depends on what percent of the total weight five pounds is to really make that judgement. If a person is struggling to lift fifteen pounds (a technique barbell is fifteen pounds), a five-pound jump is a huge increase! That’s one third of the weight that the person is already having trouble with.
This and many other situations where five pounds is a significant jump are addressed by using fractional plates. Fractional plates let you add as little as half a pound total to a barbell. If we’re thinking back to the fifteen-pound barbell, half a pound is a much safer jump than five pounds. If you’re serious about lifting more (i.e. – your gym variable is the weight), get some fractional plates so you can safely move up your weights in small amounts that will add up to a lot over time.
Massage/Mobility Ball (extra)
Similar to the aforementioned lifting support and also similar to the effect of foam rollers, a massage ball is great for aches and pains and many other things. Long-time lifters sometimes run into tightness, discomfort, and minor aches/pains that are easily and quickly made better by one of these tools. Foam rollers are great for working out some of those kinks and they are usually available at most gyms. The massage ball is less common so it’s ideal to have one with you. It could be a tennis ball, a lacrosse ball, or actual mobility ball (Rogue makes a great one). These will reach spots that are harder to reach than a foam-roller. Have one ready to go in your bag in case you have something comes up mid-set. Maybe it simply needs a massage roll or stretch in order to go away just as fast as it came (yes that happens!).
Towel/Sanitizing Wipes (extra)
If you plan on doing cardio, a towel is a nice thing to have. Most gyms have paper towels and cleaning solution, but those are consumables and not always immediately restocked. It’s wise to bring your own. Sanitizing wipes are also relevant, especially in the Covid-age, for general cleanliness or if you brought food to the gym and need to quickly wipe your hands after a snack.
Do you have a gym bag? If you’re serious about your fitness goals, a gym bag is a smart thing to own. It positively changes your experience at the gym and also lends itself to your progress, comfort, and safety in many ways if you load it up wisely.