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What to bring to the gym - young athletic woman holding a gym bag over her shoulder

What to Bring to the Gym: 9 Must Have’s For Every Athlete

Feeling nervous about going to the gym? Guess what? You’re not alone! Research shows that up to 50% of people feel ‘gym fear’ at the beginning. On the flip-side, 94% of gym-goers who set goals are still succeeding after nine months. Additionally, working out in a group can increase your effort by 21% and your workout time by 10%. 

But before all that, we need to figure out what to bring to the gym in the first place right? So, to increase your confidence, here are the most important essentials, the good stuff, and what to avoid.

Gym Bag

There are many opinions out there for the best gym bag. A lightweight backpack or duffel bag with separate compartments for damp clothes or shoes should be number one on a list of gym essentials.

An eye-catching gym bag can make a statement, but equally important is the fabric. You’ll be carrying a variety of items, so look for a waterproof or water-repellent fabric that’s easy to keep clean.  

Try to avoid storing sweaty workout clothes or running shoes in your everyday work bag or backpack. Odors and bacteria accumulate, so your post-workout clothes and shoes are best kept separately and washed or aired out as soon as possible.   

Gym Shoes & Socks

athlete lacing up workout sneakers

Gym shoes are necessary to bring. Well-run gyms generally require members to have on the proper footwear for safety reasons. Your choice of gym shoes is an investment in your physical health, and the best gym shoes should last you for a year or more with regular use. 

So what exactly is best? It can depend on your activity. High energy spin classes call for a chic, lightweight sneaker, while treadmill running demands a specific type of running shoe like lightweight racers or low profile cushioned trainers. 

Well-known brands, like Converse, offer a blend of function and fashion. But these are mostly reserved for hardcore lifters who need a flat, stable base. With these, you won’t get the shock absorption your foot needs if you’re playing an active sport or doing any type of running. For bodybuilders, however,  the sturdy heel on a Converse does provide more stability. 

Now, think gym socks. Look for a comfy, cushioned sock that’s snug, not loose or tight – an ill-fitting sock can make your feet blister. And stock up! It’s always a good idea to have a few pairs of socks tucked in your gym bag.

Earbuds or Headphones (And a Good Playlist)

iPhone headphones on a blue background

After decades of research, it’s a well-known fact that exercise and music are a winning workout combo. Listening to a good playlist during your workout elevates your mood, increases your endurance, and distracts your mind from fatigue or pain.

As far as listening goes, earbuds or headphones are an essential piece of equipment. You need to consider how active you are during workouts and the noise levels around you. Generally, smaller inner-earphones or earbuds are best for fit, comfort, and convenience. Many athletes also favor wireless earbuds for freedom of movement. 

While headphones are bulkier, not the best fit, and allow more outside noise (unless you get noise canceling), anyone with a shallow ear canal or sensitive earlobes should go with on-ear headphones. And if you’re in a gym where people are lifting heavy equipment, you’ll want to hear what’s around you. 

So what about your playlist? You may think you need fast techno music, but research shows that a mix of upbeat tunes and slower songs that bring up good memories are equally motivating.  

Gym Clothing

fit woman leaning up against a brick wall in workout clothing

Whether you’re working out alone, in a group, or with a personal trainer, you’ll be moving and sweating. So another vital thing to consider is comfortable gym clothes.

For women, that means a breathable top, sports bra, and workout shorts or leggings, and a breathable top and workout bottoms for men. Anyone with long hair should bring a hair tie. When you feel comfortable, you feel great too.

Some gyms are reinforcing a “no towel, no workout” policy to safeguard their members. Bring two towels in your gym bag, one to whisk off sweat during your workout (this should be a hand towel size, not a full-size towel), and a clean towel for showering. Don’t go barefoot in the locker room or shower–flip flops or slippers protect you against Athlete’s foot. 

Some gyms offer disposable towels for sale, and colorful, compact microfiber towels are great at absorbing moisture. 

After your workout, store your damp workout clothes in a separate pocket in your gym bag. Also, bring a clean change of clothes if you’re going back to work. And fresh underwear is a must to cut odors and bacteria.

Shower Essentials

gym shower essentials

Travel-size toiletries are a good fit for your gym bag. Pack a small kit with shampoo, conditioner, or even dry shampoo if you don’t have time to shower. Body wash, soaps, or shower gels eliminate lingering odors and invigorate you from head to toe. Deodorant is the final step. Basically, if you’re showering at the gym, bring small sizes of the essentials you would use at home. 

Reusable Water Bottle

reusable water bottle on white background

The human body retains up to 75% water in our skin, throughout our organs, even our bones. Your body needs optimum hydration for health, so drink water before and during your workout.

Some gyms may offer water fountains and others don’t. The most hygienic way is to bring your water bottle. A reusable water bottle is better for the environment, and besides, your water will stay more refreshing for longer. 

I bring a 40 oz ThermoFlask which has all the water I need for my workout. It also keeps it cold since it’s double insulated. Plus I don’t have to wait in line at the water fountain.

Notebook or Fitness Tracking App

fitness tracker and iPhone

You’ve never kept a diary before. Time to start! All you need is a physical logbook or notebook, cell phone, or even wearable tech like a heart rate monitor or a fitness tracker.

Consider this your fitness GPS: your map of where you’re going on your workout journey. Having your exercise sets and reps planned out makes your workout easier to follow, and it’s a great motivator to tick off exercises you’ve completed and track your progression. It also makes it harder to skimp on workouts during the days when you feel tired and unmotivated. 

Post-Workout Snack 

post workout snacks and nut bars on table

It’s important to refuel your body with a post-workout snack to maintain your blood sugar. The best thing is, these snacks are easy to tote in your gym bag – a protein bar or shake, walnuts, an apple, or a banana. You do want to eat protein – whether in a bar, shake, or meal after your workout though because your body is primed for absorption. 


You’ve got the perfect gym bag, and you’ve packed all the right gear. You need to ensure your stuff is safely locked while you’re on the gym floor. Some gyms might have locks to rent or borrow, but it’s always a good idea to bring your own. 

Affordable locks are readily available at retail or on Amazon. While keyed locks are still popular, you might want to consider a combination lock if you don’t want to carry keys around. 

Optional Workout Gear 

man wrapping lifting straps around an olympic barbell

There are many different ways to exercise that may call for optional workout gear. For instance, you’ll want wrist wraps and chalk for CrossFit-style workouts. Wrist wraps support the tender wrist joints during heavy overhead lifts, and athletic chalk dries sweaty hands to ensure a solid grip on explosive lifts.

Bodybuilding also requires some specific gear, namely a weight belt for squats to increase stabilization and allow you to lift heavier weights. Chalk is also vital for bodybuilders to maintain grip because they’re lifting heavy and can’t afford to slip.

Lifting straps loop around the wrists and wrap around dumbbells which helps you lift heavier without burning out your grip strength. And think about your own set of clamps for the bar as well. Depending on the gym, sometimes the clamps are hard to come by so having a pair of your own is a good idea. I bought a few pairs of these and they work great. 


When you’re starting out on your fitness journey, don’t let not having some of the items above deter you from starting. The truth is, these are recommendations and nice to haves. The only things you really must have are workout clothing and a good pair of shoes. The rest will simply make your experience better (like having music and a workout playlist) and make your workouts more enjoyable. Either way, get started today and don’t let anything hold you back!

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