Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
There’s an old saying I will paraphrase: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the fact that you forgot your umbrella. Being prepared is half the battle when it comes to pretty much anything in life, whether it be starting your work day right or setting and achieving your fitness goals. Ill preparation, well, you know where that leads you.
Haphazard thinking and unorganized action will get you nowhere very fast and this resonates loudly when it is time for you to pack your gym bag and head out the door for a workout. Do you have everything you need to make each and every workout as productive as possible? Are you prepared for changes in your routine, tracking your workouts and fostering your recovery process to the best degree?
Below are 22 must-haves when it comes to your gym bag – you know that valuable piece of baggage you tote to the gym day-in and day-out? Well, it’s time to pay closer attention to what’s actually going in said bag and make sure you are prepared for anything, no matter the weather conditions!
13 Gym Bag Essentials
How long do you rest between sets? One minute? Two? How do you really know? Having a watch cuts out the guesswork and prevents you from peering at the gym clock from 100 yards away. Digital is the way to go for ease of a quick glance at the all-important second digits. Don’t believe keeping a close eye on your rest times will make any difference? Wear a watch and see for yourself – you will be pleasantly and exhaustedly surprised.
Your gym has a water fountain so why even tote around a water bottle you say? Yes, this is a must for two important reasons: One, you don’t have to walk over to a fountain for a drink risking losing your station and two, drinking from a fountain, aside from the risk of contamination, you will assuredly swallow down some gulps of air which will bloat your stomach causing discomfort during your lifts. Imagine a belly full of air during an intense set of squats!
Do you have everything you need to make each and every workout as productive as possible?
Journal and pen
How much did you row last week? How about last month or last year? Don’t know? The importance of keeping track of your training is limitless. How else do you have real proof you have progressed? You may find yourself lifting the same weights with the same amount of reps week after week and month after month. Write it down. Record everything but don’t be a slave to your journal. Just try to establish an upward trajectory with your numbers each month.
Baseball or tennis ball
Prehab is not just a trendy training word; it’s actually a much needed and beneficial practice of potentially better performance and healthier joints and overall mobility health. Rolling all your major muscle groups, especially the ones you are about to train will loosen up tight tissue, move around fluid and break up scar tissue giving you a better chassis to work with.
Another must if serious gains are on your to-do list. Having a shaker bottle at the ready will cut out the worry of if you will make it home in time to kick-start your recovery process. Whether you use one regularly or not, just throw in (a clean) one for good measure.
What’s a shaker bottle without anything to shake? Be sure to pack a generous serving of whey protein in your bag. A good rule of thumb: Don’t pre-mix your protein shake, after your training mix with water, shake and gulp. Having it pre-made will slightly denature the whey. Store your powder in a separate, dry container.
Music and headphones
If you’re the type, go ahead and bring some tunes for your workouts. Notice I didn’t say phone. Keep the phone away. Nothing can divide your attention more than checking your phone for the latest non-existent text that will never materialize. If you happen to have all of your music on your phone, put the ringer on silent and resist the temptation. If you find yourself unable to break the addiction, simply nix the music and leave the phone in your car.
Whether you use a belt judiciously or not, it’s always a good thing to have one handy. You never know when a heavy squat or row day will rear its inviting head. Not to be used on every set of every lift, a belt is a very useful tool when wanting to go for a new PR or just plain heavy on some lifts.
Much like the belt described above, wrist straps can be an indispensable tool as well. Used to assist your grip during heavy pulling exercises, straps can help squeeze out an extra one or two or more reps when your grip starts to give. Of course these aren’t to be confused with wrist wraps which are wrapped around your wrists for added joint protection.
The statistics of unwelcome living things that are present pretty much on every square inch of a gym are mind-boggling. Long story short, you need to protect yourself. Frequent hand-washing after restroom breaks and when leaving the gym are not just for deterring the spread of germs but it’s also for your own health. Go the extra mile and store some hand san in your bag for those inconvenient moments.
Some gyms don’t like when patrons drag and drop their gym bags all over the floor, in walk-ways and against equipment. If this is a policy at your local gym, do the right thing and get a locker to store your bag. Be sure to throw in a combination lock for good measure and peace of mind.
Going from the office straight to the gym? Don’t forget a pre-workout snack. Whether it’s a pre-workout shake, piece of fruit or something else full of complex carbs and/or lean protein be sure it’s with you and conveniently found.
Okay, not necessarily a necessity but something that is just good to have available. Bad hair day? Want to create some tunnel vision? Or do you have a lucky “leg day” hat that gives you extra Viking Power? Go ahead, toss a hat in too!
Even in the most sanitary-looking facilities who knows what’s growing on those shower floors. Locker rooms are only as clean as the people using it.
9 Gym Bag Optionals
Now that you have the essentials down and then some, let’s list a few optional items for those who spend a little more time at the gym – namely the locker room. Below are a few extras to consider when you have to perform the “three S’s”: shower, shave and suite-up.
3 in 1 shower gel
Don’t rely on the gym to provide you with everything you need. Pack some shower gel or liquid soap. It’s easier to store than bar soap and by purchasing a 2-in-1 (soap and shampoo combo) you’ll save space.
Not much needs to be said about this. For the sake of others, use it.
Another insurance move on your part. The gym may or may not have available towels and with your luck they might be out at the most inconvenient time. Pack an extra towel – you’ll be glad.
Even in the most sanitary-looking facilities who knows what’s growing on those shower floors. Locker rooms are only as clean as the people using it – don’t risk picking up a few unwanted “friends” on your feet.
Have a spare shave kit just for your gym bag in those instances you need to clean up your mug in the morning.
Yes, men need to moisturize too. With all that gym time spent on looking better a little should be set aside softening rough areas especially your face after a close shave.
Shorts and shirt
If you aren’t going to the gym already dressed don’t forget to pack your gym clothes. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to pack an extra shirt.
Quality shoes and socks
Whether you run, lift or cross-train having quality shoes specific to the task at hand is paramount. Don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars on top notch footwear.
Set of clothes
After all is said and done; you’ve had a great training session, you’ve showered and shaved – it’s time to get ready for your day. Don’t risk having to put back on your sweaty gym clothes. Be sure to pack your work clothes for the day.