Once you made up your mind that you are committed to getting in shape, finished setting up your training and goals, it's time to take the next step. Especially if you never trained before you need to decide and choose the right clothes and accessories to take to your gym sessions.
You don't need to buy every possible item remotely related to gym and weight-lifting activities, as most sales people at your local sports store would have you believe. There are a few essential things you do need to invest in however. It can basically be broken down into three sections:
- What to bring to gym.
- What to wear to gym.
- What support & protection you require.
There are a few optional items you can consider as well which will definitely add value to your workout, but is not absolutely essential. I will briefly touch on those later on.
What To Bring To Gym
It may sound rather obvious to you, but this part is often forgotten when planning your first couple of gym sessions. You concentrate on what you are going to wear and use at the gym. How you are going to get everything there, including small but necessary extras, are often forgotten and quickly thrown together as an afterthought at the last minute. It's importance may not be evident at first, but the irritation and inconvenience caused by not making these relatively insignificant choices can turn into a real annoyance over time. Let's have a look at the necessities:
1. Gym Bag
The first important item on your shopping list. Although you may be tempted to you use your backpack you used in college or any old sport bag you happen to own, you need to take a few things into consideration. First, your bag needs to be sturdy yet light. You don't want to carry a heavy bag around, especially after an exhausting workout. At the same time it needs to be strong enough to protect the valuables you carry in it.
Secondly, it needs to be big enough to fit everything you'll need to carry, but also small enough to fit into your gym locker. Before going for something small and compact, consider everything you may have to fit in your gym bag. You have your gym accessories like training gloves, a training belt and a supplement/water bottle. You may also have to pack some warm sweatshirts and pants to stay warm, especially when it is much cooler outside than in the gym. And never ever forget the humble but very essential gym towel.
The third thing to always consider, is to have separate compartments in your bag. Not only does it make access to the different items in your bag easier, it also prevents a small leak or spill to turn into a complete mess in your bag. For example, after getting ready in the locker room, you quickly want to get what you need for your session. It may just be your water bottle and towel, or maybe your training gloves as well. Having everything in it right place, stops you from wasting time digging between clothes and other objects, making things quick and easy.
As you get more experienced and starts planning your workouts more orderly and regularly, you may start packing your water bottle and a few supplements you want to take during or directly after your workout. Accidents do happen, and a bottle not sealed properly or a powdered supplement not properly closed, can very easily spill in your bag. Many good gym bags come with sealed compartments to keep your supplements isolated and cool, preventing such a small spill to spread to your clothes and other gym accessories in you bag.
I am including an example of good gym bag as a visual reference guide.
Adidas X 17.1 Team Bag
This Adidas training bag possesses all the qualities I described in this section that is essential for a good training bag. It is just one of many examples, but should serve as a good visual reference as to what to look for in a gym bag.
2. Your gym towel
Now this seemingly insignificant item is absolutely vital in my books. A good gym towel helps you keep the sweat at bay, but also plays an important part in personal hygiene. It also an essential item when it comes to being considerate to fellow gym goers. We all know the disgust and revolt when confronted by a bench drenched in its previous occupant's sweat.
Simply take along a small light towel that can cover the bench you are lying or sitting on, and use it to wipe down access sweat as well as wiping down the weights you used. It is both hygienic and also considerate to everyone else in the gym. You get specifically made and branded gym towels, but using a cheaper generic one that is suitable, is perfectly fine.
3. Water / Supplement Bottle
Most gyms have water fountains spread throughout the gym floor where you can quickly re-hydrate between sets. There are quite a few reasons you may want to carry your own bottle with you however. Simply from a convenience point of few, it just makes sense to carry your water with you where you can quickly take sip whenever you need to. More often than not though, quite a few more serious athletes use energy or intra-workout supplements in liquid form to keep their bodies fueled and energized throughout their workouts.
Also remember that you may have supplements you prefer to take directly before or after your workouts, while still being at the gym. Quite a few new supplement bottles contain bigger caps, that serve as a container for these supplements you need to take while still at the gym. It saves you the space packing the supplements separately in their containers would have taken up.
4. Some Warm Clothes while working out.
Yes, you are going to get hot and sweaty while exercising. Also, as described in the following section, you need to wear light, comfortable clothes that do not restrict movement. Just remember after gym, you need to give your body some time to cool down. Especially when it's cooler outside the gym, take a sweatshirt and pants with you that you can put on afterwards to stay warm and keep your body protected from the sudden change in temperature. Your immune system is a bit compromised after an exhausting workout, so rather be safe and keep those colds away.
What To Wear To Gym
When it comes to the appropriate gym wear, there is one very important golden rule I will always emphasize: Whatever you're wearing, make sure it is light, comfortable and not restricting your movement. Wearing clothes that is breathable and sweat absorbent is also highly recommended. Having said that, withing this criteria, you are really spoiled for choice with all the different types of gym clothing available. Here are a few guidelines to help you decide:
1. Tops and pants
The norm among women who are avid gym goers and in shape, is gym tights with matching tank tops. Normally made of polyester/nylon containing a percentage of lycra /elastine for elasticity, these pants are extremely light, comfortable, breathable and is also sweat absorbing. Thy come in full length, three quarters and shorts, so choose whatever is comfortable.
(Just don't confuse this with leggings, which is a very thin version and supposed to be used underneath other clothing. I know this is a sometimes a contentious and controversial issue, with some girls wanting to be more "daring" by wearing it in place of normal tights to the dismay and anger of other women. I am not going to get involved in this issue, but acknowledge the fact that leggings were originally designed to be worn underneath other clothing. I'll leave it at that.)
Today, the term "yoga pants" are commonly used as an "umbrella term" to describe all the different kinds of gym tights or yoga pants. Technically though, traditional yoga pants is made of a thicker knitted material and completely opaque, and also ends up a little more at the bottom. It is also made of a form-fitting stretchable material, making it very comfortable and easy to move in as well. Some women find this more suitable to their taste and find it to be more discreet. Whichever you choose, you really have a huge variety of choices available to you.
With women's tops things can become a little more tricky. Many women in great shape love the the freedom and comfort a tight-fitting tank top provides. There are an equally large portion of women who prefer to be more discreet and are not comfortable in tight-fitting tank tops. You may be in great shape or feel you have certain body parts you are not comfortable with yet. For whatever reason, you just choose not to expose that much of your body. A wide variety of light breathable full-length tops are available, like fitted t-shirts and sleeveless tops. You can even go with a slightly over-sized top if you are more comfortable.
A last important point that I am constantly reminded of by female colleagues, and comes up time and again on fitness blogs, is the importance of wearing a sports bra. No matter what your breast size or the amount of movement you are going to perform, never neglect wearing a quality sports bra. The support it provides, not only provides short term comfort, but also have long-term health benefits.
From research and speaking to many female clients and colleagues, I realize appearance is more important for women than it is for men in the gym. Whatever you choose to wear, remember the golden rule, is that it must be light, comfortable and not restrict movement. Just please remember, at the end of the day, you are there to get in shape and exercise, not make a fashion statement, so wear what YOU are comfortable in.
When you look at men in general, you find the majority wearing comfortable sweatpants, and either a t-shirt or tank top. Obviously a lot of your more advanced trainers with already impressively developed upper bodies, tend to be more comfortable with their tank tops. Well you know they saying, "If you got it, flaunt it..."
A few beginners and sometimes very skinny guys find the need to wear tank tops as well. There may be good reason if you find it the most comfortable for training. This is perfectly fine. Just be aware, if you're in a testosterone filled gym with a few outspoken big guys roaming around, you may be setting yourself up to be taunted and mocked a bit.
An increasingly popular type of t-shirt for men, are fitted and made from an polyester/spandex mix to make it flexible and easy to move in. As with the women's version, it is also light, breathable and absorbs sweat easily. Most of your major brands have quite a variety of them available in their range. I would highly recommend these t-shirts over you more traditional cotton shirts.
When it comes to pants, you'll find quite a few men wearing tights with comfortable shorts over them for "discretion". Athletes like bodybuilders with big quads, and trainers doing a lot of leg work prefer this combination, as it gives you more freedom of movement than the more restrictive sweatpants.
Comfortable loose three-quarter gym pants are also used, especially among your more casual trainer. Then you get a few daring or adventurous souls who use real loose "jogging" style shorts. Let me be blunt, this is NOT a good idea for gym. For the simple reason that loose shorts can reveal way too much, especially with a lot of exercises that involves you lying on you back. Exercises like bench press or leg presses where your hips are thrust into the air, may turn out to be way too revealing, creating sometimes very awkward situations. I spoke to way too many men and women who were left very uncomfortable after being confronted by a very "awkward and revealing" situation involving shorts. If you are dead set on wearing shorts, just be considerate and wear a pair of tights underneath it.
Let me finish with the same words I used for women clothing. Whatever you choose to wear, remember the golden rule is that it must be light, comfortable and not restrict movement. Just please remember, at the end of the day, you are there to get in shape and exercise, so wear what you are comfortable in.
Let's be very clear about it. Socks are an very essential part of your gym wear. Not wearing socks is just not an option. Not only is it more hygienic, but helps to prevent the unpleasant odor normally associate with sweaty feet and training shoes. I don't need to go into much further detail. As long as it is a comfortable, light and breathable sports sock, you can choose the color and length to your heart's content.
When you have a look around at people's feet in the gym, you will notice that almost every possible type of sports shoe is used, although it must be noted, the vast majority are either running shoes or cross-trainers. And with good reason. To understand this we need to look at the general requirements of a good gym shoe.
Support, especially ankle support, is probably the most important requirement especially when it comes to gym training. Not only do you move around in different directions when working out, your feet need to be stable and secure when planted on the ground or flat surface when a substantial amount of weight is placed on it.
Secondly, (and you will see me repeat this point for most wearables throughout this article), it must allow maximum amount of freedom of movement. Whether you are doing floor work or training with equipment, your feet changes its stance and angle quite a bit. Any shoe that are restrictive on foot movement, will cause some discomfort as a result.
My third point may be frowned upon by some serious weightlifters. For the vast majority of people training to get into shape, a light, comfortable and breathable training shoe is highly recommended.
This point clashes directly with what is seen as a proper traditional weightlifting shoe. These shoes are designed to provide a lot more stability and support for use under a very heavy weight, as is normally the case with weightlifters who sometimes work with huge amounts of weight (sometimes hundreds of pounds). As a result these shoes are much sturdier, normally heavier with a bigger and stronger sole to provide the support and stability required by these heavy weights.
When training to stay in shape, and even when relatively heavy loads are used, the comfort required for a thorough workout with diverse movements outweighs the limitations of a heavier and more restrictive weightlifting shoe. I will almost be willing to bet that even your most dedicated hardcore trainer will never work with such an extreme weight that will require dedicated weightlifting shoes.
It is clear from countless reviews and user testimonials (including personal experience), that both the appropriate running shoe or cross-trainer is the ideal training shoe for gym training. Due to their nature both shoes are designed to provide excellent ankle support. You get wide variety of running shoes designed for different types of running, which will make certain types of these shoes more suitable for gym training. Similarly, you get a wide variety of cross-trainers, most of which are perfect for workouts, but some more so than others.
You can easily do a Google search which will show you the best shoes for your needs, as plenty of research and comparisons have already been done on this issue. Here are just two examples of a running shoe and cross-trainer that will be excellent for gym training.
Nike Zoom Structure 20
An good example of an running shoe perfectly suited for gym workouts
Asics Mens GEL-Intensity 3 Training Shoes
An good example of an cross-trainer perfectly suited for gym workouts
What Support & Protection You Require
When you start looking around at what else you need to complete your gym "setup", you are suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer amount gym "accessories" that is available today. I put it in quotes, as I really consider some these as nothing more than glorified fashion accessories or status symbol.
There are however, at least 2 gym accessories that are absolutely essential to keep in your gym bag, for both support and protection:
1. Your gym belt.
No matter what your goal in the gym is, at some point you will need the support of a training belt. Whether you are doing seated shoulder presses or squats, supporting your lower back is vital, and using correct form is simply not enough protection. Not only does it support and protect your back, but the added stability helps you to safely handle heavier weights.
When lying down and doing leg presses or performing squats, you will feel your tummy pushing out. Wearing a belt will prevents this from happening. There is a theory out there that some exercises that push out your tummy can create an irreversible effect. They compare the muscles in your abs to a spring. If pushed out too far, it looses its elasticity and ability to stay flat and contracted. To be honest, I have never been able to prove this theory true or false, but using a belt definitely helps to keep everything in place and creates a stabilizing effect on the movement, allowing you to concentrate on the exercise.
So what is the ideal training belt? First, it must have a strong and supportive back, but with some padding to not make it feel uncomfortable and feel the edges cutting into your back. Most popular belts come in different sizes, so choose one whose width protects and covers your whole lower back, but not any bigger as it will feel uncomfortable and not be as effective. Choose one that you can tighten firmly around your waste, yet allow room to pull it in tighter or loosen it a bit if necessary.
When it comes to material, you basically get two types of belts. Leather and nylon based belts are the two major contenders. Most serious weightlifters use heavy duty leather belts with sometimes double buckles. These belts are very sturdy, extremely durable (I had mine since 1989) and provide very strong support. They have a few things counting against them though. Since they are so firm and rigid, they provide very little room for movement. Although keeping your back fully supported is very important, allowing only a little body movement can be very restrictive. Another potential drawback, is the hard edges of these belts that can cut into your back during exercises which can cause quite a bit of discomfort. They are also heavier than their nylon based counterparts in general. I am not discounting its importance at all. I just feel for general gym use for both men and women, heavy duty leather belts are a bit of an overkill.
Nylon based training belts came a long way since it was first introduced as an alternative to leather belts. When it was first introduced, these belts were considered inferior. As with many other new products, there were questions about reliability and quality. These concerns were addressed over the years however, to the point where today's nylon training belts are very strong and durable.
It may not be as strong or durable as heavy-duty leather training belts, but has quite a few advantages that make it more suitable for general gym use. First, even though firm and supportive, it still allows some movement of the body it supports as the material is not as rigid as leather. Secondly, it allows some cushioning to be added around the belt, making it a lot more comfortable to wear. Many of these belts also comes with a strong Velcro strip in the front for fastening, making it easy to find a suitable position with the right tension around your waist. You are not limited to a buckle with fixed holes that may be just too tight or just too loose for your waist size.
To sum up, you can't go wrong with both types of belts. I would just recommend taking a serious look at nylon based training belts due to its many advantages for general gym training.
Fire Team Fit Weightlifting Belt.
If you want a good and highly recommended example, take a look at the Fire Team Fit Weightlifting Belt. This is obviously not the only belt I would recommend or superior to all other belts in any way. It is just one example that exhibits all the traits that I mentioned in the previous paragraph that makes nylon based training belts more appealing and suited for gym training.
2. Training Gloves
Working with weights, whether it be barbells, dumbbells or even the grips of exercise machine, can really take its toll on your hands, especially your palms. Off course we don't want our hands to be so delicate and sensitive that the slightest rough textured object will be painful to touch and break the skin of your palms. At the same time, none of us (women AND men) want our palms to look like The Grand Canyon, with calluses so hard and tough that it will be able to withstand a nuclear explosion. Training gloves are therefore not an option if you are serious about weight training while looking after your hands.
Luckily, modern weight training gloves are very light and comfortable. As is the case with gym clothes and training belts, you are spoiled for choice. So what makes a good training glove?
It depends a lot on your own personal preference, but first and foremost, a good training glove must have strong but flexible padding on the palms and bottom fingers. It leaves the top part of your fingers exposed to free up your fingertips for accurate feel and make it more breathable. (Most of us feel clumsy if we are unable to feel and touch with out fingertips, and since the weight and friction of weights are mostly focused on our palms and lower part of our fingers, I see no reason to use a full-length glove. I know full-length glove are available, but I find it to be restrictive and even dangerous, as it takes away a lot of the feeling you have with an "open" glove.)
At the back of your hand the glove is either closed or open to varying degrees to help keep your hands from getting too hot and sweaty and making it as breathable as possible. At your wrist it is fastened by a Velcro strip for quick fastening.
A last but important point worth noting, is the lifespan of your training glove. As already stated, the padded part that protects your palms and bottom part of your fingers, must be tough but flexible. If it is too rigid and hard, you won't be able to close your hand and grip the weight properly. This compromise means that your gloves will get worn down much quicker than any clothing or other accessory. Depending on how often and how vigorously you train, be prepared to replace your gloves as often as once a year. This is no indication of an inferior training glove, but simply the normal wear and tear of constant hard weight training. Luckily training gloves are relatively affordable, so this should not be a problem.
Trideer Ultralight Workout Gloves
These Trideer Ultralight Workout Gloves is an example a good and popular training glove.
Summing It All Up
One theme that you probably noticed that runs throughout this entire article, is the wide variety of options available to you. This is one of the many advantages of working out. You can tailor it to make it as personal and comfortable for yourself as you want to. I have outlined some guidelines I recommend you stick to, but at the end of the day the choice is yours.
If you have ever been into a sports store, you will know that there are a lot of optional extras I left out. I will cover these in a future article. I just don't see it as an absolute necessity, and don't see the need to focus on anything but the essentials for this article.
I hope you found this article helpful and interesting. Let me know if you feel I left anything out.
As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my mailing list to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.
Until next time, take care and let me know if there a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.