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Gym Bag 101
Building a Better Gym Bag, One Animal at a Time
I get a lot of questions about what equipment is required to begin a health and fitness transformation. Besides access to a gym and healthy food, one old-school bodybuilding essential that’s often overlooked is a well stocked gym bag. While the items I’ll cover will help maximize your weightlifting success, it’s not a deal breaker if you’re missing some of them. Although you should get them when you have a chance, as they will improve your experience and make each trip to the gym more convenient. Some of these items are provided in many facilities, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll sleep better knowing you won’t have to share with fellow gym apes after they sweat on everything (thanks Silverback). Also, most gyms will not provide all of these items. So, what makes a fully optimized gym bag?
Get a good gym bag before anything else. Brand and type matter less than finding one that can hold everything you need. I use a traditional duffle bag, as it’s convenient to carry and can hold a lot. Backpacks also work great, especially the ones with a loop for your weightlifting belt. I stay away from drawstring bags, because they are usually too small to hold everything I need.
You absolutely must have something to track your lifts with. This accounting ledger is how you grow via progressive overload and get stronger over time. You will use your logbook to track sets, reps, and weight for every exercise, every trip to the gym. You’ll then work to improve those numbers, essentially gamifying the process, working to beat your previous “high score.” I use a specialized workout logbook, but pen and paper or phone notes will work (or even a spreadsheet for the turbos). The key is having a consistent system for tracking progress over time.
I use a belt for stability on all of my heavy lifts. On deadlift, squat, and overhead press, you’ll immediately notice the support provided by the pressure on your core, which helps maintain better posture during lifts and can allow you to move more weight. It also keeps you from hyperextending your lower back, which can be a concern with heavy overhead presses.
If you’re triggered by this recommendation, feel free to stop reading. When lifting for muscle growth, your grip should not be the reason you end a set: mechanical muscle failure needs to end each set for consistent muscle growth. Wrist straps can minimize this common weak-link so you can maximize your physiological development. I personally use wrist straps on every pull exercise. (I’ll be deep-diving into muscle failure driving growth in next week’s newsletter).
A set of resistance bands is a versatile addition to your bag that can improve many aspects of your program. You can add bands to certain movements to reduce the effects of gravity, like with assisted pull-ups or dips. Advanced lifters can take advantage of linear variable resistance (LVR) by adding bands to the top of movements like bench press, so the load resistance increases with range of motion. Bands also work well for warmups and movement prep, to prime your body for the day’s routine.
Wrist cuffs are great for cable movements, as they take your hands and wrists out of the equation, forcing the targeted muscle(s) to move the weight. I absolutely love them for cable lateral raises, as they almost completely isolate the shoulders.
Please don’t wear running shoes to workout. Not only will you look like a dork, but you could cause inadvertent joint/tendon issues. You’re welcome to run in them. But if you’re serious about pumping iron, get a solid, flat bottom shoe, like Chucks, Vans, NoBulls, or Nike Metcons. Another option is weightlifting shoes, which many people swear by, especially if they have ankle mobility issues. Personally, I think Converse Chuck Taylors are perfect lifting shoes.
As you spend more time being active, you’ll discover increasingly specialized essentials that optimize your time at the gym. I like to keep a spare towel, shower flip flops, and a toiletries/shaving kit in my gym bag or car, just in case. In the same vein, spare outfits for lifting and life stashed in a gym bag or vehicle can give you options if plans change unexpectedly. Who knows who you might cross paths with while getting healthy: many relationships start in the gym, from friendships or romances to lifelong business partnerships. It pays to be prepared.
This guide is just a start in terms of equipment you’ll want to acquire to optimize your results in the gym. You do not need these items to get fit, but oh man will they help! I approach fitness like everything else in my life: as a professional. So when it comes to gear, I do my best to set myself up for success. All of these items will make your progress more efficient.
My beginner programs and Jungle Gym Hacks will always remain free on this Substack. I really believe it’s important to get as many people as possible moving down a path toward improving their health and fitness. To bring you more value and knowledge, I will also be offering a premium tier subscription to guide your fitness journey. For $5 a month or $50 a year, you will have access to advanced fitness programs, weekly LIVE Q&A sessions, plus the Strong as an Ox weekly newsletter that will build overtime into a comprehensive fitness and bodybuilding encyclopedia/masterclass.
Premium subscribers are also encouraged to participate in monthly fitness challenges — winners will earn bitcorns/efferium for their feats of strength and athleticism.