To accomplish any task, you need the right tools. That’s especially the case when it comes to conquering your fitness goals. From footwear to fuel sources, there are several items that you should always have on hand if you want to set yourself up for a successful workout. So, before you load up a barbell or grab a pair of dumbbells, take a peek inside your gym bag to see if you’re missing any of the 10 essential tools every lifter should have.
Leave your running shoes at home if you want to maximize your gains and minimize your chance of injury. While there’s nothing wrong with wearing them during a jog, they’re not the best choice for lifting weights–especially if your routine includes compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, cleans and presses.
Instead, you should pack a pair of weightlifting shoes or training shoes (I use Nike Metcons) in your gym bag. They offer several benefits for lifters, including a solid base, an elevated heel and superior ankle support. Not only will you be better-equipped to hit a PR, but you’ll also enjoy improved mobility thanks to the aforementioned design features that differentiate lifting shoes from other types of footwear.
Plan on doing overhead presses? Looking to level up your bench press? Then you better keep a pair of wrist wraps tucked away in your gym bag.
Pressing movements put our wrist joints–which include a collection of small muscles, tendons and bones–under quite a bit of stress. Using wrist wraps can help alleviate some of that pressure and prevent hyperextension. And if you have a pre-existing injury, wraps can provide stability and support to allow you to both heal and get stronger in the process.
While you shouldn’t be too reliant on a weightlifting belt, it definitely belongs in your gym bag. They come in many varieties, with some being optimal for powerlifting due to their thickness and secure locking mechanisms. Other models are less restrictive but not as well suited for heavier lifting.
Besides stabilizing the spine and reducing overall stress on your back, weightlifting belts can also decrease your chances of hyperextending your lower back during overhead movements like the military press. You don’t need to splurge on a top-of-the-line model, but the benefits of wearing a weightlifting belt should convince you to invest in a quality one. Remember that you want it to be tight enough so you can increase abdominal pressure and brace your core without it being too uncomfortable that you can’t breathe.
Hydration is arguably the most overlooked component of living a healthy lifestyle. In fact, studies show that 75% of American adults are chronically dehydrated. And if you’re active, you need to prioritize your water intake even more than someone who doesn’t break a sweat at the gym regularly.
Keeping a refillable water bottle in your gym bag is an easy way to keep dehydration problems at bay. Make a habit of sipping on it between sets while you recover. Plus, you can take things to another level if you have the next item stored in your bag, too…
You don’t just lose water when you sweat. You also lose key minerals like potassium, sodium, and chloride that are essential to optimal performance. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to stay ahead of the game when it comes to replenishing electrolytes.
While many sports drinks contain added sugars and other artificial ingredients, electrolyte powders are a better alternative. Brands like LMNT and Liquid I.V. offer pre-measured electrolyte powders that you can use to quickly transform plain old H20 into a beverage that’ll give your brain and body a much-needed boost.
Extra workout clothes
It’s better to be overly prepared than to not have what you need in an emergency. Whether you spill some coffee on your favorite shirt on the way to your morning workout or you didn’t do laundry the night before, having a set of workout attire tucked away in your gym bag will give you peace of mind.
Keep a pair of shorts, a tank top or t-shirt and at least one pair of socks in your bag at all times. You never know whether you (or your workout partner) might need a quick wardrobe change in the middle of a lifting session.
Whey protein powder
You won’t build muscle without adequate protein intake. And while getting the majority of the most important macronutrient from whole foods is ideal, it can be challenging to hit your daily goal without the assistance of a whey protein supplement.
Make space in your gym bag for a small container of your favorite protein powder–along with a scoop to measure out the right amount. That way you can refeed your muscles after you finish your workout. Of course, you’ll need another critical tool to turn your whey protein powder into something sippable that’ll support your strength-building goals…
An inexpensive investment that will pay off immediately, a shaker cup is a staple item in any lifter’s gym bag. You can buy one online or in your local GNC or Vitamin Shoppe for less than $10, and some models even have storage compartments for your supplements.
A word of caution, though: Make sure to wash your shaker cup thoroughly after using it. The last thing you want to do is open up your gym bag and get hit with a strong whiff of the last remnants of yesterday’s protein shake.
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of resistance bands. Available in a variety of lengths and thicknesses, they’re a versatile tool that lifters of any ability can utilize.
First, you can use bands as part of your warm-up routine prior to getting under the barbell. Or, you can make your workout even more challenging by using bands to increase the tension in both the eccentric and concentric portion of the movement. Either way, bands take up little space in your bag while providing a multitude of benefits.
Last but certainly not least, no gym bag would be complete without a pair of high-quality headphones. After all, nothing gets me ramped up more for a big lift than putting on my favorite workout playlist, cranking up the volume and getting my mind ready for battle.
And if you don’t believe music makes a difference in your workout, just ask any lifter what it feels like to get to the gym and realize you forgot your headphones at home.
By Stephen Sheehan
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, Nutritionist, and Fitness Coach