Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling that occurs when you’ve just rolled up to the gym, ready to crush a workout, only to realize that you forgot your headphones?
Yep, you know the feeling I’m talking about.
It’s that same feeling you get when your only hair tie snaps while you’re putting your hair up or you realize that you forgot to put on deodorant.
Being prepared for the gym can literally make or break your workout.
Over the past few years, I’ve honed in on what items help me stay prepared and maximize my gym time, and today I’m going to be sharing my list of gym bag essentials with you!
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When looking for a gym bag, you want to find something that’s spacious but not too bulky, cute but comfortable to carry, and that will hold up well over time.
Enter the small Nike Brasilia Duffel.
I opted for this bag a few years back, and after too many treks to the gym to count, I’m still incredibly happy with my purchase.
Living in NYC on that 5am pre-office workout grind, I pretty much lugged around my entire LIFE in this bag at one point (I’m talking clothes, shoes, full makeup bag, hair dryer, hair straightener, towel, lunch, oh and… ya know, MY ACTUAL WORKOUT STUFF) and it’s held up so well!
UPDATE FROM FUTURE LYNDSIE: Since originally writing this post back in 2018, my gym situation has changed quite a bit! I now work from home and have access to a full gym in my apartment building, so I don’t need to bring nearly as much with me. If this aligns more with your situation, my new go-to gym bag is the City Adventurer Backpack from Lululemon.
People who intentionally come to the gym without a water bottle? Yeah… can’t relate.
I’m constantly sipping on water throughout my workout, and my go-to for the past 3 years has been my Hydro Flask. I love love LOVE this water bottle.
Why you ask?
Staying hydrated is important to powering through your workout effectively and efficiently, so be sure to keep a water bottle in your gym bag no matter which one you choose to use.
ANOTHER UPDATE FROM FUTURE LYNDSIE: My Hydro Flask served me well for years and was still in great shape when I finally decided to part ways with it a couple of years back. My new go-to for the gym is this stainless steel protein shaker by Smartshake.
Glute bands are one of my all-time favorite tools for warming up on leg day (hellooo glute activation).
Adding a glute band to heavier movements like hip thrusts, squats, and deadlifts can help you feel the burn in all the right places by providing resistance during the ‘work phase’ and the ‘rest phase’ of the motion.
They’re affordable, super-travel friendly, and pack a big punch when it comes to enhancing your workout regimen.
I’m obsessed with these ones from Buffbunny Collection.
Holy shiiiitake mushrooms, this guy (also affectionately referred to as the “death roller”) has transformed my life!
If you’re strength training, foam-rolling can be a beneficial addition to your fitness routine.
Foam-rolling helps to rid your muscle tissue of stubborn knots and increases blood flow allowing for increased range of motion, improved movement, lower risk of injury and faster recovery.
I’ve spent money buying countless foam rollers over the years and have always felt somewhat disappointed.
The RumbleRoller’s price tag kept me away for a long time, but after coming across so many glowing reviews and a recommendation from one of my favorite entrepreneurs and authors, Tim Ferriss, I finally caved and BOY AM I GLAD THAT I DID.
This thing is a magic worker, especially if you can’t afford regular sports massages.
I opted for the smallest size (12 inches) so that it’s travel-friendly and fits nicely inside my gym bag.
Music is an amazing way to pump yourself up, get in the zone, and really focus on your workout, but NOTHING is more annoying when trying to lift than when your headphone cord gets caught on a piece of equipment, hang-manning you and sending your phone flying across the gym floor.
Aaaand that’s why wireless earbuds are a godsend.
When I originally wrote this post, I was using an older version of the Beats by Dre Powerbeats which I loved!
However, in the 5 years since this post was originally written, Airpods have come on the scene and, as someone in a committed relationship with Apple (we’re talking iMac, Macbook, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch), I now use Airpods Pro which is my current recommendation for my fellow Apple aficionados out there!
If you haven’t already, making the switch to wireless earbuds is a game-changer, and once you do, there’s no looking back!
An ankle strap is an essential item for fit gal’s trying to build a booty, but a surprising number of gyms don’t have them. I always keep this one in my bag just in case, to use for exercises like cable kickbacks, donkey kicks, and side lunges.
Along those lines, if you plan to do any heavy barbell work like squats or hip thrusts, having a barbell pad (this is the one I use) is a MUST! I trained without one for a long time and was surprised by how much more I could lift when I no longer had the discomfort (or bruises!) of a metal bar constantly exerting pressure and uncomfortably rubbing against my body with every rep.
Because if you sweat like me, working out with your hair down is just not an option 😅
I always have a hair tie on my wrist, but in those rare times where I’ve taken it off for whatever reason and forgot to grab one for the gym, it’s always a huge relief to have some extras waiting for me in my gym bag.
Sometimes Mother Nature likes to play cruel tricks, and the LAST place you want to be caught off guard is at the gym, so it’s always a good idea to keep a few extra tampons (or other period products) in your bag for peace of mind.
Picture this: you’re in the middle of a killer workout, pushing your limits and feeling the burn, when the sweat starts pouring. That’s where your gym towel swoops in to save the day!
It’s not just about wiping off the sweat (although it’s great for that too); it’s about keeping you fresh, comfortable, and feeling on top of your game.
This little gem is your secret weapon against that sticky, uncomfortable feeling, allowing you to power through your workouts with confidence.
Plus, it’s perfect for laying on benches or machines for a hygienic barrier.
So, toss a gym towel in your bag, and get ready to conquer your fitness goals while staying cool and dry. You’ll wonder how you ever managed without it!
Makeup remover wipes are great for both removing makeup before your workout and removing lingering oil and dirt post-workout, leaving your skin feeling refreshed and clean until you can get home and take a shower.
My go-to are these unscented makeup wipes from Neutrogena.
I’ll never forget the time I finished up my workout and came back to the locker room to find a woman wrapped in a towel freaking out.
During her shower, someone had swiped all of her belongings – her phone, clothes, wallet, EVERYTHING.
It was 6am. No stores were open to buy her any clothes. And she was stranded naked in a locker room.
After that experience, I never left my things unguarded again!
It’s nice to assume the best in others, but I’d rather spend a few bucks and be able to workout in peace knowing I’ll never be in that situation.
Moral of the story: get yourself a combination lock and keep your belongings secure.
When you’re trying to put on muscle, it’s really important that you’re getting adequate amounts of protein. One of my favorite ways to boost my protein intake is with a post-workout protein shake.
As such, I always keep a protein shaker in my gym bag. I love this mini version by Blender Bottle!
This one is for my fellow urbanites who walk to the gym or take public transportation.
I used to have to walk 20 – 30 minutes to the gym each day. There were many times where it was bright and sunny when I arrived at the gym but by the time I was ready to leave, I was stuck completely unprepared, walking home in a total downpour.
Eventually, I got the bright idea to keep an umbrella in my gym bag.
If you’re in a similar situation, I recommend you do the same!
Getting to the gym and being hit with a sudden wave of hunger S-U-C-K-S and can sabotage what would otherwise be a dynamite workout. That’s why I always keep a protein bar or trail mix in my bag to power me through my workout and hold me over until I can eat a proper meal.
This is less of a “gym” essential and more of a LIFE essential in my book. I can’t stand the feeling of dry, chapped lips so I always keep an extra lip balm in my gym bag.
Have you ever drove all the way to the gym only to realize that you aren’t sure if you put on deodorant, and then proceeded to spend the entire workout feeling totally self-conscious? I have. It’s not a great time.
I like to throw an extra deodorant in my bag so that if I ever forget or can’t remember if I put it on, I can quell my anxiety with a simple swipe.
Depending on your situation this may or may not be relevant to you. If you’re getting ready at the gym each day before commuting to school or work, I recommend the following items.
If you know that there’s no way you’re going to be showering and getting yourself together at the gym, then save yourself the shoulder pain, keep your bag light, and skip these items.
If you workout at a budget-friendly gym, there may not be any towels provided (lookin’ at you Planet Fitness 👀) which means you’ll need to bring your own.
Carrying around a bulky bath towel is impractical. That’s why I love using microfiber towels instead – they’re extremely compact and dry quickly while still being super absorbent.
Depending on where you workout, the showers may not have the highest quality toiletries available for use.
If you shower at the gym, I recommend buying small, reusable toiletry bottles that you can fill and re-fill with your own full-sized products from home.
Because nobody should be walking on the locker room floor or shower barefoot… ick. I use Old-Navy flip flops. At $2.50 a pop, they’re cheap and get the job done!
Sometimes you’re in a rush and you don’t have time to wait for your sweaty gym clothes to dry or to throw them in the washer before going about your day.
For this reason, I recommend buying a separate bag to keep your dirty clothes in that is specifically designed to contain odors and keep the rest of your bag smelling fresh!
Rinsing off in the shower takes no time at all. Doing your hair? That’s a whole other story.
When you’re in a rush after your workout, I recommend keeping dry shampoo in your gym bag so you can freshen up your roots and be on your way.
Brushing your hair while wet can cause a lot of breakage.. eek, no thanks!
Fortunately, the Wet brush was designed specifically to easily and safely detangle hair while still wet, making it a definite gym bag staple.
Body spray is the perfect finishing touch to make you feel fresh and clean after your shower!
I have a subscription to Scent Bird, and each month they send me a 30-day supply of a new travel-sized perfume which I can easily throw in my gym bag.
(I also recommend stocking up on the mini sample perfumes that stores like Sephora are constantly giving away, as these are really convenient and won’t weigh your bag down like many standard perfume bottles!)
After getting all fresh and clean, the last thing I want to do is cake my face with makeup.
Tinted moisturizer is a great way to moisturize and smooth out your skin tone post-workout so that you look polished without all of the heavy products.
My personal favorite is Ilia’s Super Serum Skin Tint with SPF 40.
What are YOUR gym bag essentials? Let me know in the comments below!
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