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I turned up with absolutely nothing at my very first gym visit, apart from the clothes I was wearing.
And I felt silly, mainly because I was missing out!
I had no idea what to put in a gym bag at first, but some of the best gym bag essentials for beginners I outline below would have made such a difference.
From comfortable clothes to nutritional items, these gym necessities can make you feel more comfortable, improve your gym experience and generally add value to your gym life.
Gym bag essentials: what to bring to the gym for beginners
If you don’t know what to take to the gym for the first time, work your way through these essential items to keep in your exercise bag and make a list to choose your favorite.
PS… there’s a handy gym bag checklist at the end so you don’t forget anything.
The actual gym bag!
Everyone seems to be making “what’s in my gym bag” videos, but of all the things you take to the gym, nobody seems to actually cover the bag itself. As well as worrying about what’s in your gym bag, the starting point is whether your bag is good enough.
Focus on these aspects to tell if a bag is worthy of your money:
- Spacious enough to fit all of your workout gear in
- A few pockets for smaller items like your phone and keys
- Comfortable to carry
Not sure which one to get? I love the FocusGear Ultimate Gym Bag 2.0—it’s the perfect gym bag for me and just seems to have everything.
There’s nothing worse than getting to the gym and realizing you forgot your deodorant. To save yourself the headache (and money), invest in a toiletries bag to house those must-haves to keep you smelling fresh (even if you’re sweating like Niagara Falls!)
Antimicrobial laundry bag
Packing a gym bag with a laundry bag slipped inside helps keep the rest of your stuff for gym clean and bacteria-free.
A decent option here is one that’s durable to withstand repeated washings but with a special layer that prevents bacteria from growing on your clothes. This is especially important if you’re to skin conditions such as eczema.
Quick-drying microfiber towels
What do you always have to use during a workout? Right, a towel!
Microfiber towels are made of tiny synthetic fibers that are woven together tightly. This makes them super absorbent, and they can dry much faster than traditional towels.
They’re also lightweight and take up very little space—perfect for your bag. Plus, they come in a variety of colors and patterns to suit your style.
You may want to opt for a towel to use after your shower, too!
Pack a change of clothes
Don’t be like me and wear your workout clothes home.
If your gym’s close to home, fair enough… but, if you’ve got a decent commute from the gym to home or work, your workout essentials must include a change of clothes.
Many gyms have good enough changing facilities so you can leave the gym sparkly clean in a new outfit and smelly like daisies (with a hint of gym iron!)
Spare underwear and socks
Yeah, it kind of goes without saying, right? You’ll be surprised how many people forget to bring fresh underwear (ewwww!)
Roll them up and slip them in with the rest of your clothes.
Hair ties are so overlooked!
Not only do they keep your hair out of your face while working out, but they also help to absorb sweat and keep your hair from getting too greasy. Plus, they’re great for keeping your hair up in a ponytail or bun when you’re not working out.
My gym buddies with long hair gave me this advice (I’m a short hair, don’t care kinda guy):
- Make sure they’re made from absorbent materials like cotton or terrycloth. This will help to soak up any sweat that drips down your face or neck.
- Choose hair ties that are comfortable and won’t slip or fall out easily.
Gym membership card
There’s nothing worse than rocking up to the gym without your entrance or membership card. You just know the receptionist crawled out the wrong side of the bed the day you forget your pass.
Keep it in your wallet or somewhere permanent in your car so there’s zero chance of you forgetting.
I recommend using a keychain that clips onto your clothing or the inside of your gym bag and keeping your gym locker keys with your house keys.
That way, you’re much less likely to forget them. Without them, you may not bet be able to get into the locker room to store your belongings (or get back in your house when you head home!)
While you’re at it, don’t forget to take your lock for your locker!
While some of you prefer to keep your bag with you as you move around the gym (or dump it in the corner!), I’m a big fan of storing it in a locker so I can focus on my workout. I don’t want to cart it around with me.
A proper gym will supply lockers for you, but you’ll likely have to take your own lock for the locker. While any lock will do the job, there’s no point going for one that a small pair of bolt cutters can get through. Go for something like the ZHEGE long shackle padlock for affordable security.
This one just passes as essential gym gear. A compact umbrella is a great choice because it doesn’t take up much space. It’s also lightweight, so it won’t weigh down your bag.
When choosing a compact umbrella, look for one that has a sturdy frame, a comfortable grip and folds up really small. Something like the Repel windproof travel umbrella would work well.
Fitness tracker or smartwatch
Love them or hate them, a fitness tracker or even better, a good smartwatch is a great way of keeping track of top of your fitness goals and metrics. By tracking your heart rate, steps, Vo2 max and calories burned, you can make sure you’re getting the most out of your workout. They can also help you set and reach new fitness goals.
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a fitness tracker or smartwatch:
- Important features/tracking: Heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and activity tracking?
- Budget: Prices range from around $30 to $500, or more. Choose one that fits your budget and has the features you need.
- Activity: Waterproof for swimming? Strong GPS signal for running or riding a bike. Synchronising with Strava and other apps.
Definitely keep your phone with you!
While many people think of their phone as a necessary evil, it can actually be a helpful tool when working out. Here are a few ways your phone can help make your gym experience better:
- Inspo: There are tons of fitness accounts on social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest to help you stay motivated to keep up with your current routine. Take a selfie and throw up a post, #fitfam
- Fitness apps: These apps can track your progress, set goals, and provide reminders to help you stay on track with valuable tips and resources for beginners.
- Music: Listen to music or audiobooks while working out (more on this below)
Headphones (preferably Bluetooth)
Having a dependable pair of headphones is key for being able to get in the zone and power through a workout. Music can be motivating and help the time fly by, making it way more bearable to push through those last few reps.
Plus, it can help drown out any awkward noises or people watching you sweat (which we all know can be incredibly distracting and demotivating).
I much prefer Bluetooth wireless headphones for ultimate freedom and movement. Imagine a cable getting caught in your clothes or in gym equipment! Bluetooth also tends to have better sound quality than traditional headphones.
This one’s a bit tenuous in that you won’t find it in your gym bag, but no phone in your bag is complete without a kickass playlist to stay motivated and focused.
Eye of the Tiger, anyone?
Matching music style to the type of workout you’re doing is key, but you also need a ton of choices so you can mix things up.
We like Amazon Prime Music because you also get free two-day delivery if you shop on Amazon anyway as the options to borrow Kindle books and stream movies and TV (which is good for your rest day? :-/ )
If you’re more the type who likes to listen to something a little more educational or if you’re a fiction book buff, Audible Plus is a reasonably priced option for this which also has a ton of podcasts.
Everyone knows that feeling when their phone is about to die and they’re nowhere near a charger. It’s the worst!
But it doesn’t have to be that way. A portable charger is one of the best gym bag accessories, and some are small enough to fit in your pocket.
They’re relatively inexpensive and can save you from a lot of headaches, keeping you connected when you’re on the go and just generally really handy for day-to-day-use; not just for workouts.
No one likes to be the smelly person at the gym. Avoid being him or her by wearing deodorant. If you’re sensitive to scents, Tom’s of Maine do an excellent unscented deodorant for ladies, and Dove’s is a good choice for the dudes!
Wipes are great for quickly cleaning off equipment before and after use, and some gyms have this as a strict policy. Be sure to pack a few in your gym bag so that you’re always prepared.
Face and body wipes
Bringing face and body wipes to the gym is a must. Not only will they help you feel refreshed after exercising, but they’ll also help remove any bacteria or sweat that may have accumulated on your skin during your session.
Be sure to read the labels before purchasing, as again, some wipes may be better suited for sensitive skin than others.
Shampoo and Conditioner
Shampoo and conditioner are going to help keep your hair clean and healthy and prevent it from becoming greasy or oily. For ease, choose an all-in-one travel size that will easily fit in your bag.
It might seem totally obvious to include these in the list, but you won’t believe how many times I’ve forgotten my dedicated gym shoes.
Sure, you could wear the same sneakers that you show up in, but they might not be suitable for the gym (sole, support, etc.), but some gyms also require you to NOT wear outside shoes so as to keep the floor clean.
No matter the shoe you wear, it should be:
- Fit well
- Support your feet and ankles
- Good traction
If you’re looking for a brand of shoes that offer a wide range of styles, are well known for their quality, and also have options that won’t break the bank, you can’t go wrong with Asics or Saucony. If you really want to push the boat out, however, Hoka running shoes are the bomb.
Crocs (for the gym shower)
Love them or hate them, Crocs are great for the shower. They’re comfortable, easy to clean, slip-resistant and affordable, making them a great option for budget-conscious gym-goers.
Just don’t try to use them when working out!!!
Don’t have the time or energy to shower after your workout? Well, you can at least make it less work if you use a shower cap. They’re a great idea for anyone who plans on just taking a quick shower at the gym because they need to get back on the road quickly.
Healthy snacks/protein bars
Protein bars, fruit, and veggie sticks are all great snacks to bring to the gym. They’ll give you the energy you need to power through your workout and they’re a healthier option, too!
If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, try bringing along some yogurt or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. These snacks will help keep you feeling full and focused before, during and after your workout.
No matter what snacks you choose, make sure to pack enough to keep your energy levels up—one protein bar and water should be enough, though.
During your workout, you should be able to get through on just good ol’ water. Protein bars are a good option after your workout to get protein in as soon after working out as possible to aid in muscle repair and growth.
BPA-free water bottle
I bet your gym doesn’t have a water fountain anymore (thanks to COVID!), so it’s imperative that you take your drinks bottle.
BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been linked to health problems like obesity and cancer. Many water bottles are made with BPA, but if you’re looking for a safe and healthy way to drink water, look for a BPA-free water bottle.
Check out the selection from CamelBak. It has a great reputation for making high-quality water bottles to keep you hydrated, and its BPA-free options are no exception.
EAAs (essential amino acids)
Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, so it’s important to replenish your supply during and after a workout.
There are 20 amino acids that are essential to human health, and of those, 9 are considered essential amino acids because the body cannot produce them.
Instead, they need to be obtained through diet or supplements like this one which you can mix with water to take while working out.
A protein shaker allows you to mix your protein powder with water or milk to create a shake that is perfect for post-workout recovery.
There are shakers with compartments for storing powder and liquids, as well as shakers with built-in filters to ensure a smooth shake. Be sure to choose one that is easy to use and clean!
Protein powder is often thought of as a bodybuilding supplement. But it can be beneficial for anybody who is active, regardless of their experience level.
It’s a great way to up your protein intake, which is important for muscle growth. It’s quick and easy to make a protein shake and is a convenient way to get the nutrients your body needs after a workout.
There are many different types of protein powders on the market, but something that is absorbed quickly will be most beneficial right after a workout, such as the Vega Sport for vegans or the Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey.
Hairbrush or comb
A hairbrush is an essential item to bring to the gym for both men and women. Not only will it help you keep your hair looking neat and tidy, but it will also help to remove any sweat or product build-up from your hair. A good quality hairbrush will last for many years, so it’s worth investing in a good one.
For women, a paddle brush is a good option as it can be used on all types of hair, from straight to curly. It’s also great for detangling wet hair. A boar bristle brush is another good choice (especially for men) as it helps to distribute natural oils from the scalp down the length of the hair.
Don’t have much hair? Just bring a comb.
Items specific to your workout
What extra items do you need? Obviously, gym bag essentials for powerlifting are going to be quite different from what a boxer or swimmer might need.
While the above must-have gym accessories should be a priority, think about any specific workouts you’re planning on doing, such as with resistance bands. How about a weightlifting belt if you are lifting heavy, or quality running shoes if cardio is more your bag?
OK, so you’re headed to the gym for the first time, right? Although it is understandable for you to not know what every piece of equipment is called it is a good idea to familiarize yourself just a little if you’re the kind of person that worries about this. Here’s a list of gym equipment names with photos if this is you (but hey.. no need to worry, we’ve all done this for the first time! 🙂 )
Extra gym bag essentials for guys
Here are some extra workout bag essentials specific to the guys out there…
Don’t forget your wallet! Maybe you’ll need it to pay for your gym membership or class pass. Plus, it’s always good to have a few dollars on hand in case you need to buy a drink or snack after your workout. Did you forget to pack your snacks, you naughty person?
Nice try on trying to go swimming commando! That’s a surefire way to get arrested, so pack those budgie smugglers! 🙂
Extra gym bag essentials for women
Need to know what to carry in a gym bag for a woman?
You’ll find most of the above as the main gym essentials for women, but there are just a few more gym bag essentials for her to complete the bag:
Items like your ID and credit cards are always good to have to hand (is your membership card in that purse, too?). It’s also a good idea to bring some cash in case you need to buy anything at the gym or on your way home.
I consulted my wife on this one. She says:
“Bringing menstrual products to the gym might not be at the top of your list of priorities, but it is important to be prepared in case your period unexpectedly starts while you’re working out. At the very least, don’t go to the gym without a spare tampon or pad with you in your gym bag if you are expecting your period.”
Your skin is the largest organ in your body, so it’s important to take care of it even when you’re working out.
If you want to feel your best after breaking a sweat, don’t forget your skin-care must-haves and makeup touch-ups; and a little sunscreen can go a long way in protecting your skin from harmful UV rays if you live in a warmer climate.
Don’t forget to add your bathing suit to your gym bag items! Whether you’re planning on using the pool, hot tub or sauna (or not), it’s always good to have on hand. A one-piece is ideal for modesty and support, but a bikini will do in a pinch.
Gym bag checklist
We’ve covered everything you’ll ever need, so it’s time for a simple final gym checklist to kick your butt! Don’t forget these, or else!
- Gym bag
- Toiletries bag
- Odor Remover
- Antimicrobial laundry bag
- Quick-drying microfiber towels
- Change of clothes
- Spare underwear and socks
- Hair ties
- Gym membership card
- Gym locker lock
- Compact umbrella
- Fitness tracker or smartwatch
- Music playlist
- Portable charger
- Disinfectant wipes
- Face and body wipes
- Shampoo and Conditioner
- Crocs (for the gym shower)
- Shower cap
- Healthy/protein snacks
- BPA-free water bottle
- EAAs (essential amino acids)
- Protein shaker
- Protein powder
- Hairbrush or comb
- Swimming trunks/swimsuit/bikini
- Menstrual products
Final points on what to put in a gym bag
And there you have it… your perfectly packed gym bag is now ready at the door for you to pore over.
Simply pick it up and smash your next gym routine!
Do you carry your gym bag around the gym?
Some gyms will allow you to carry your bag around with you around the machines and weights, but others have a policy whereby you have to store your bag in a locker. Check with your gym before assuming that you can keep your bag with you at all times.
Is a gym bag necessary?
A gym bag is necessary if you want to shower and change your clothes after a workout and before going home or on to work. It’s also perfect to store nutrition essentials, such as your water bottle, protein powder and recovery shake(s), let alone your keys and wallet.
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