Getting ready to hit the gym for the first time?
Congratulations! Just getting there and in the door is a major step toward your physique and health goals, so you should be really proud.
But you might be wondering as a newbie: What are the best gym essentials for beginners to pack when they hit the gym?
You actually won’t need all that much, believe it or not. Not when you’re first getting started.
The big things to figure out are:
- What to wear (the right socks, shoes, bottoms, and top) depending on your workout
- Hygiene products (if you’re changing and showering at the gym)
- Any workout-specific gear you need
- A good gym bag to keep it all in
But let’s dive in a little deeper on what to bring to the gym, plus some things you might need eventually, and some things you likely won’t need at all.
Your Gym Bag
Let’s start with the actual bag itself. Unless you want to carry your gym gear around in an old grocery bag or something like that.
You won’t need anything super fancy. I just use an old duffel bag I have lying around, though it’s starting to form some holes and tears and I’ll be looking to upgrade soon.
If you’re in the market for a good gym bag, I’ve got my eye on something in the style of this Under Armour duffle on Amazon.
It’s simple, looks great, and has a vented compartment for shoes and other smelly unmentionables.
(And check out my guide to the best backpack for transitioning from the gym to the office.)
Supplements & Hydration
You don’t need much in terms of supplements to get a great workout, especially as a beginner.
But there are two key things I’ll recommend and remind you of:
A good preworkout
Preworkouts are basically caffeine drinks that give you energy (and often some other goodies that help with performance and recovery) for the gym.
They are completely optional, but some studies have found they do give a bit of a performance boost — even if it’s only a placebo.
Plus, they’re tasty and give you energy, so that’s always a good thing.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, but staying hydrated while working out is key for your safety and can also help you perform better.
I usually lift weights at the gym and grab water from the fountain while I’m resting, but if you’re going to be glued to a cardio machine for a while, you may want to invest in a good water bottle.
(By the way, protein shakes are a great way to get more protein in your diet, but I’m not including them here for two reasons. First, they’re not necessary by any stretch of the imagination. Second, you really don’t need to be one of those people consuming protein during their workout — the anabolic window is not that small!)
Clothes & What to Wear
OK, let’s talk gym outfit.
This is probably the biggest decision you have to make. What kinds of shoes should you wear to the gym?
The rest of your outfit isn’t that important. You can usually get away with any kind of tank top and yoga pants or relatively fitted shorts or pants for guys, no matter what workout you’re doing.
But the shoes you wear will have a big impact on your performance and comfort and will vary greatly for different exercise styles.
If you’re not sure what you’ll be doing in the gym, or you like to do a bit of everything, you can’t go wrong with a good pair of cross-trainers or CrossFit shoes.
If you’ll be specializing in running, weightlifting, or other kinds of work, you should buy shoes meant for that.
(You might also like my guides on:
- What types of shoes for the elliptical?
- What type of shoes for a rowing machine?
- What type of shoes for a stationary bike?)
Pants, Shorts & Bottoms
This will depend heavily on the kind of workout you’re doing, but it’s a lot less complicated than choosing shoes.
As long as your pants or shorts are comfortable and appropriately fitted, you should be fine.
Women can’t go too wrong in most cases with basic yoga pants or athletic pants, while guys can usually get away with plain athletic shorts or jogger-style sweats.
(Check out my separate guide on the best pants for weightlifting.)
Shirts & Tops
Again, this isn’t too complicated.
Just choose something comfortable and breathable. If you’re doing yoga or any kind of workout with inversions, just make sure you grab a top with some elastic that won’t ride or fall up too much.
You might also consider bringing a zipped warp-up, tracksuit top, or hoodie to the gym when it’s cold.
I usually do my warm-ups and sometimes my first exercise in long sleeves during the winter until my muscles and good and warm.
(I’m talking about something like this half-zip running top from Nike on Amazon. These are amazingly handy for working out in cold weather — just slide it off when you’re warmed up and ready to go.)
This isn’t that important. Just grab a pack of all-purpose athletic socks and you’re good to go.
(For the love of God, don’t wear cotton socks to the gym.)
You might consider specialized deadlifting socks if you’re training the deadlift, but as a beginner that’s probably down the road for you.
Again, anything specifically designed for athletics is good.
Regular cotton underwear will be your enemy here. It’s just not designed for the movement and sweating you’re going to do!
For women, athletic thongs can be a good option to go under tight pants. But you’ll probably be more comfortable in something with better coverage.
My best overall tip for gym clothes: Don’t be afraid to invest in this. When you look good, you feel good, and you’ll be more motivated to work out! Plus, you won’t want to waste money by not using all the gear you bought. Get yourself some nice stuff!
Whether you bring hygiene and toiletry items to the gym will totally depend on your workout style and your schedule.
I usually just go right home after the gym to shower and get dressed. But if you’re going straight to work or straight out to a social gathering, you might want to bring everything you’ll need to get cleaned up:
Deodorant / Shampoo / Conditioner / Bodywash / Other toiletries
I’ll just lump these all together. Bring whatever you need to get clean in the shower!
Just a word of advice: Use a toiletry bag or something similar to protect your clothes and belongings from a leaky shampoo bottle.
You can try a small, zipped-up organizer like this one on Amazon.
Shower shoes or flip flops
You might have heard that gym showers and locker rooms are breeding grounds for bacteria.
Walking around barefoot is a good way to get a nasty case of athlete’s foot, or worse.
Bring some cheap flip flops, water shoes, or shower shoes to protect yourself in the locker room.
Some gyms will offer towels, but many don’t.
Better bring your own so you’re not caught unprepared!
If you’ve got your outfit, your shower stuff, and your bag all ready to go, there shouldn’t be a whole lot more that you need.
Unless you’re a complete barbarian, you’ll probably want to be in the zone with some music or a podcast while you workout (rather than listening to everyone else around you grunt).
I’m obsessed with my Apple AirPods (Amazon link).
They’ve completely changed the game for me at the gym. You’ll forget they’re even in your ears and the sound quality is fantastic.
Workout specific gear
Going into the gym with a plan for what you hope to accomplish is SO important. You should know what kind of workout you’ll be doing and what you might need in advance.
For example, I bring a weighted dipping belt for dips and pull-ups, and sometimes some fractional plates (1.25-pound plates) for microloading barbells.
Depending on the workouts you do, you might need tension bands, a yoga mat, ankle weights, a weighted vest, or any number of other pieces of equipment.
What You Definitely Don’t Need
There are a few things you might be curious about adding to your gym bag, but I wouldn’t recommend them.
If you plan on lifting weights, you might think you need a pair of weightlifting gloves.
Chances are, you don’t.
They don’t protect your hands from calluses as well as you think, and they can actually make your grip worse in certain exercises. Plus, they can impact the positioning of the weights in your hand and your range of motion.
Learn to lift without gloves and then experiment with them down the line if you must.
You don’t need protein or carbs during your workout for “fuel.”
All you need is hydration.
The exception MIGHT be if you’re working out fasted and want to sip on BCAAs, but that’s another more advanced tactic and, even then, not necessary.
You should wipe down your equipment after you’re done, but you don’t need to bring your own wipes!
It’s amazing how often I see this on gym essentials lists.
Any gym worth their salt will have wipe stations all over the floor for you to use after you’re done sweating.
What You Might Need Eventually, But Not Now
As you get more advanced in your workout progress and journey, you might consider these things.
Weightlifting belt and/or wrist straps
For lifting, you don’t need a belt or straps until you get REALLY strong and start moving some serious weight.
It’s better to learn how to lift “raw” and then only incorporate extra tools like these when you’re having trouble progressing any further without them.
(For example, your grip might start to become a limiting factor in your deadlift, so straps may help you crack a new PR.)
I’m mostly talking about creatine here, which is a supplement that helps your muscles grow and recover while improving your strength performance in the gym.
But there are also BCAAs and other interesting supplements you can experiment with for gym performance.
In the beginning, you won’t need any of them to get started and make amazing progress. Down the road, you can definitely give them a try.
Your gym bag doesn’t need to be complicated as a beginner.
Your job is to pick something to wear, grab your headphones, throw your toiletries in a bag (if you’re showering there), and get your butt moving.
Later on, when you become more advanced and start experimenting with things, you can try new gear and equipment.
Ideally, you’ll make getting to the gym as easy as possible on yourself so you can start to build the habit for life.
Hope this helped, everyone!