What things go into your gym bag for every workout? Do you even have a gym bag?
Is it just a case of throwing in a towel, a change of clothes, and your padlock and off you go?
A well-packed gym bag is something not to be overlooked. There are some essential items you need on the gym floor that will improve your performance and motivation. With a few extra minutes spent preparing what goes into your bag, you can reap some great extra benefits from your workouts.
I've got 10 top tips for you that will make sure your gym bag is filled with all the essential items needed for a great workout each and every time you set foot in the gym.
These tips will help you lift more, prevent injury, and most of all make sure you enjoy those training sessions. Because if it's not fun, what's the point, right?
Whether you're just starting out or you're a veteran of the Iron Paradise, you'll benefit from this article. Let's not waste anymore time and get right down to it.
If I ever forget my headphones or they run out of battery mid-workout I always get a sense of disappointment and feel that my training session is not going to be as good
as it could have been.
A good pair of headphones is a must for me for multiple reasons. They help block out external distractions in the gym and focus the mind on what you're doing. Going into your own little world for 60 minutes means you can get in the moment and feel every rep, every muscle contraction. You feel totally connected to the bar and consumed in your lifts.
I opt for headphones that block out as much noise as possible. I guess it's not the most sociable thing in the gym, but socialising can come later. Right now, you need to bench 110kg for 5 reps and you don't need Johnny Motormouth next to you providing distractions.
I've tried many different types and styles of headphones in the past. Wired, wireless, over-ear, in-ear, the list goes on. I'd recommend you steer clear of wired, mainly because I find the cable gets in the way and if you haven't got zipped pockets on your gym clothes your phone will keep falling out of your pocket when you do something like a bench press.
I currently use Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless In-Ear Headphones. The sound quality is great and they feels comfortable and secure regardless of what exercise. They don't stick out too much, so they are great for pretty much every exercise.
You've got your headphones, now's the time to decide what to play through them. Music is the other component part of creating your own little world in the gym. But it's about more than cranking up the volume of whatever song is next on your random playlist.
Music has many benefits in the context of the gym. It helps block out that muscle pain mid-set, it elevates your mood, and can even improve endurance as well as reducing your perceived effort, resulting in you lifting more.
It all might sound like a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but scientific studies show that it's more than just wild theory.
In 2012, a leading expert on the psychology of exercise music, from Brunel University stated that music can be thought of as "a type of legal performance-enhancing drug."
So take your music choices one step further and think about the types of tunes you select for your playlist with a scientific approach.
It's been shown that music with faster beats improve performance. Anything from between 120bpm to 145bpm has been shown to elevate performance (trials beyond that range have shown no incremental effect). Before you hit the treadmill or sit down to hammer out some bench presses, give some thought and consideration to that playlist. It's a real easy way to eek out that oh so important one extra rep.
Also think about any tunes that evoke an emotional response in you. If you're moved by a particular song, then get that song on play for those heavy squat sets. If it has a positive effect on your training, it'd be remiss of you to ignore it.
Wanna know what's on my gym playlist? Here are a few tracks from what's being piped into my ears these days:
- Dillinger Escape Plan - Manufacturing Discontent
- Lamb of God - Black Label
- Metallica - Dyer's Eve
- Machine Head - Blood for Blood
- Pantera - Slaughtered
- Slipknot - AOV
- Meshuggah - Bleed
- Corrosion of Conformity - Wishbone (Some Tomorrow)
You'll notice I'm a bit of a heavy metal fan. Whilst I enjoy all sorts of music, this type of music hits the training sweet spot of tempo, emotion, and general loudness!
Crank it up to 11!
#3. Phone Holder:
Your phone is a great tool for your workouts (providing you don't actually use it as a phone of course). It has your music, your workout app, and serves as that all important selfie taker all in one. What you don't want to do is have it lying on the floor when you finish that heavy set of dumbbell bench presses and proceed to drop 40kg+ on to its fragile glass screen. Nor do you want it to continually fall out of your pocket and bounce halfway across the gym floor when you've just sat down to do some leg presses.
After many workouts with these exact problems, I searched the internet for a solution. What I found was this. It's called a Gorillapod and is a simple yet awesome bit of kit. The Gorillapod has three adjustable legs that you can either set like a standard tripod or bend and manipulate to grip a variety of surfaces. I'd also go for the magnetic version, so it will hold tight to the side of different pieces of gym equipment.
It's a small thing that makes a massive difference in removing distractions during training.
It also helps take much better videos and pictures of your workouts. This is great for me as a coach as a client that trains alone can send me good quality videos of particular exercises as part of their form review.
#4. Water Bottle:
Overlook hydration at your peril. You only have to look at the consequences of dehydration to realise how much attention you should actually give it.
- At 1% dehydration we feel thirsty.
- At 5% dehydration our muscular strength and performance is impacted.
- At 10% we experience delusion.
- At 20% we run the risk of death.
Make sure you stay fully hydrated during training by having a water bottle with you at all times.
Personally, I have a half-gallon bottle which I aim to get through during each workout. Through trial and error I know this is the right amount for me. I'm also not one for going back and forth to the communal tap and queuing when I'd rather be training, so I opted for something that would hold all the water I'll need in one go. However, if I'm doing cardio, I go for something smaller because it's just not practical.
#5. Workout Log:
The method of training I teach as part of the Aesthetics Through Strength programme is something called 'Progressive Overload'. If you're not familiar with the concept, the basic premise is that you continually overload your muscles by either increasing the weight you lift or the number of reps you perform (or both). This process ensures that your muscles keep growing and adapting to the changes in load, thereby increasing your muscle mass.
A workout log is an important part of the progressive overload process. You need to know what you what you lifted last week, so you can target exactly what you need to focus on to make improvements in your next session.
Turning up at the gym not knowing your goals and targets is a sure-fire way to stall your progress. Get into the discipline of logging and tracking your progress.
I use MyTraining App to track my workouts, but there are literally dozens out there to choose from, none of which are perfect in my opinion. If I had the money, I'd definitely build my own as there's so much more that could be done. BodySpace by Bodybuilding.com, JeFIT are two other apps I've used that are reasonably good. I use MyTrainingApp because, as a coach, it allows me to send programmes to clients and notifies me when they've been completed, so it's perfect for me in that respect. Try them out and decide for yourself.
Not a fan of apps? No problem, my training programmes are all accessible on the Google Drive, so they can be quickly and easily updated as you move around the gym floor. This also gives you the flexibility to add some comments and communicate with me should there be something that needs my attention.
Finally, if all those options don't suit you then good old pen and paper is still an excellent option.
The bottom line is, whatever the method you choose, make sure you're tracking your great efforts in the gym.
Taking the proper amount of rest between sets is important when you're following an a heavy weight lifting programme like Aesthetics Through Strength. You are pushing your body with every rep and every set and you need to make sure that you allow yourself enough rest so each set has you performing at your best.
Not taking enough rest or taking too much rest can be detrimental to your efforts in the gym, so use the timer on your phone, or on your watch as a simple way of keeping your session on track.
Most workout apps also have a built in countdown to the next set. Mine gives me a ding in the headphones with 15 seconds to go and another when it's time to get it on!
Use the timer to make sure your warmup and working sets are optimised and that your making efficient use of your time in the gym. Proper control of your rest periods reduces the chances of your workout over-running significantly.
#7. Lifting Belt:
I see guys strapping their lifting belts on from the moment that leave the changing rooms and don't take them off until they're ready to hit the showers. In fact, most people incorrectly use their lifting belts and are actually impeding their training.
A high proportion of the gym-going population have a weak core and the overuse of a lifting belt is masking that problem, rather than allowing it to be addressed. Excessive use of a lifting belt limits the development of the transverse abdominal muscles, therefore exacerbating the weakness in the core.
Lifting belts are an essential bit of kit, but need to be used sparingly and in the right circumstances to ensure their effectiveness. I actively try to avoid using my belt until it's absolutely necessary. To make it easier to figure out when you should use your lifting belt, follow these simple rules:
Use your lifting belt when...
- Performing Deadlifts, Squats, or Olympic Lifts
- Lifting 80% or more of your 1 rep max
- You have been shown the proper technique for breathing and core activation with a belt
Exercises like bicep curls, bench presses, and leg presses really don't need a lifting belt. Do your core a favour and work on strengthening that instead of relying on a belt.
What belt should you choose?
I'll keep this brief. Don't use anything other than a proper leather bodybuilding or powerliftig belt. Neoprene is useless when it comes to heavy weight lifting. It just won't give you the resistance you need to create that 'band' around your core. Stick with something traditional that you would imagine the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger using back in the 70's and you won't go far wrong.
I use this one, but there are lots of good ones out there on the market. And if you need some tips on which one is right for you, watch this useful video...
A good pair of gym shoes has nothing to do with following the latest trends and fancy colour schemes. Proper footwear helps you lift more weight. That's a fact. And more weight generally leads to more muscle. Save the fancy trainers for outside the gym and get some decent shoes.
What shoes should you buy?
Running shoes are for running and should not be used for weightlifting of any description. The soft padding in the shoes is designed is dissipate the force coming through your foot when you're running. For weightlifters this is the exact polar opposite of what you want. You want to utilise all the force available and drive you feet into the floor to ultimately generate more power.
Imagine yourself for a second in the squat rack preparing to go for a 200kg PB. With the weight across your shoulders, you begin the movement. At the bottom of the squat you want to drive up with all the force and power available to you. In that scenario what would you prefer to have on your feet? A soft, squidgy, sponge-like running shoe, or a hard, firm, solid-based weightlifting shoe? I know which I'd prefer!
I recommend you buy 2 pairs of shoes to have in your gym bag. Your main shoe should be something with a flat sole and a raised heel. This will be perfect for squatting movements as you will get a firm base from the stiff, flat sole. The raised heel will result in more advantageous ankle flexion, allowing you to squat deeper. This is a bit like the guys you'll see in the gym squatting with small weight plates under their heels. However, the shoe is much more secure and effective.
My shoe of choice is the Adidas Powerlift 2.0. They're fairly cheap and has served me well over the years. They still look like new now, so treat them well and you'll get years of use out of them.
The second pair of shoes I recommend are ones that I rarely see in the gym these days. In fact I don't think I've seen anyone with a pair for a couple of years.
What am I talking about? Deadlifting slippers. Ok, so they're not quite shoes, but they go on your feet and that's good enough for me. I recommend these because they allow you to get that bit closer to the ground, which doesn't sound like it'll make much of a difference, but trust me, it does. As the blurb on the website says, "The lower you are to the ground, the less distance you have to travel to grab the bar, and the shorter the distance to lock-out." Simple!
For the small cost of £12 you can start shifting more weight and gaining more muscle. Sounds like a good deal to me.
#9. Wrist Wraps:
By now you will have realised that I'm a huge advocate of heavy compound weightlifting. It's by far and away the most effective way to build more strength and muscle. This approach brings with it some inherent risk, but if you're sensible and lift correctly and with the right equipment, you really have nothing to worry about.
As a kid I broke both of my wrists (separate accidents but the same result). Consequently, I have weak wrists and on my heavy pressing movements I used to feel a degree of pain. After using wrist wraps for a while, this pain went away completely.
I would recommend wrist wraps as both a means for injury prevention and also for anyone dealing with a prior injury like myself.
It's very straight forward to use wrist wraps. Most good quality ones come with a loop for your thumb. Hook this on then wrap tight. Your wrist should be held firm and straight, but not so tight that you lose the circulation to your hand.
These are the ones I've used and they've lasted pretty well so far. I've used some by RDX, but these needed replacing after 2-3 months as they'd lost their elasticity.
#10. Wrist Straps:
Last but not least make sure you've got a good set of wrist straps in you gym bag for those heavy back workouts, but be careful not to overuse them.
Wrist straps are great for those time when your grip fails before your muscles. You feel like you have the energy and power to get another couple of reps out, but the bar starts slipping into the end of your fingers and you have to let go. Straps make those last couple of reps possible. They help you overcome that weakness in your grip.
Word of caution! Overuse of straps can exacerbate a grip strength problem. Much like a weightlifting belt can be detrimental to your core strength, straps can be detrimental to your grip strength, so use them only when absolutely necessary.
If you do decide to get yourself a pair of straps, I definitely suggest you spend a few extra pennies and get a pair with padded wrist supports. The cheaper pairs tend to to dig in and become extremely uncomfortable when lifting heavy. Again, there are lots out there to choose from. If you're after my recommendation, I use these.
And there you have it, 10 essential items to make sure you include in your gym bag for your next session in the Iron Paradise. They're all simple and relatively inexpensive and will positively impact your training. With a bit of planning and a bit of cash, these essential items will help you get the most out of an effective training programme.
And if you need that effective training programme, then you need to check-out my Aesthetics Through Strength programme and online coaching.
The Aesthetics Through Strength programme can transform your physique.
The Aesthetics Through Strength programme has been developed through years of knowledge and experience.
If you're tired of sweating and grinding away in the gym doing hours of workouts that deliver no results. Then you'll benefit from this programme.
If your nutrition plan is either non-existent or consists of bland and boring meals. Then you'll be pleasantly surprised by how delicious and nutritious my plans are.
This is your chance to stop ploughing the same path that always leads to a dead end. Take control and get the ultimate body transformation in record time.
Here's that all important link...
Happy training people.
Simon - IPF