All athletes have some sort of pre-game ritual. Even if you aren’t a professional athlete or even the strongest person in your gym, pre-workout rituals are important. These customs allow us to get in the appropriate headspace to perform our best.
This starts with gathering your training essentials. Nothing will throw off your workout like realizing you’ve forgotten something important. For me, this always…ALWAYS involves remembering my wrist straps are lying on the coffee table as I’m loading plates for a military or bench press. Regardless, there are certain things you need when leaving for and entering the gym because one thing is for sure; you aren’t going back home to grab them.
So, what are the essentials? Well, each person is his or her own individual which means an individual grocery list, but here you’ll find five items that should each make their way into your gym bag.
Yes, this is definitively the most important thing you’ll haul to the gym. It’s kind of pedantic, but I stand by it. Without a workout plan, you’ll suffer several unsavory consequences. Namely, you’ll waste your most precious resource: time. Life is too short to wander from machine to machine, squat rack to bench, not knowing what you’re doing. This doesn’t necessitate you be the guy or gal toting a notebook around. No, take a picture on your phone with the exercises, sets, reps, weight and intensity. Trust me, not only will you save time, but a progressively overloaded plan will ensure you aren’t spinning your wheels at the gym.
As a physiotherapist working in orthopedics, I often treat quite high-level athletes. Something I’ve learned is this: never take hydration for granted. Further, just because someone looks like an athlete does not mean they treat themselves as such. I can’t tell you the number of times marathon runners, lifters or team-sport athletes mention how inadequately hydrated they are. It’s not uncommon for the clock to strike 5:00pm, and these folks haven’t had a drop of water all day. Not only will staying hydrated promote your general health and well-being, but the body simply functions better when hydrated. You’ll lift heavier, recover better and be more energized for your next workout.
There is no debate; music is essential while training. Not only does it make high-intensity exercise more enjoyable, but some research(1) suggests that it also improves performance. That said, we’ve all seen the person who sets their phone on a bench (which is its own concern) with music playing way too loud for comfort. And what’s more, it’s rarely, if every quality music. I remember while at university, there was a select group of people who would literally bring a speaker, set it up in the corner of our tiny gym and crank the volume to eleven. Clearly, headphones are essential for everyone involved.
I was once told to never skimp on anything that separates you from the ground. Cars. A quality mattress. And also…shoes.
Not only is training with inappropriate footwear uncomfortable, but it can also make you more injury-prone. The reason you see so many lifters squatting in a pair of Vans for example is because these shoes are markedly flat. Athletic footwear is great if your training involves more dynamic activity such as running or cross training. However, when gearing up for a heavy session of squats, flat-soled shoes are the way to go because they do not unnaturally contour your feet or alter your center of gravity when lifting heavy weight.
Last but not least, taking a post-workout snack is essential. Though the idea of a “30-minute anabolic window” has largely been debunked, it’s still important to receive a bolus of protein in the couple hours post-workout. Some research (2) advocates that this snack have around 0.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight. Personally, I typically opt for a protein bar and glass of milk. In this instance, using a protein powder can be quite convenient and efficacious.
There you have it. This is by no means the definitive list of necessary items for the gym, but instead a quick tally of essentials. Not only will these items keep your training safe and convenient but they also stand to improve performance as well.