FFC South Loop fitness specialist Matt Wallace answers the question, ‘what’s in my gym bag?’ and shares his list of top gym essentials to keep handy when you’re sure you’re forgetting something.
Having the correct gear for any situation can be the difference between success or failure. If you are properly equipped for the gym, your workout can increase your confidence, heighten your intensity, and maximize your gains. (Want some inspiration to do that? Check out a list of my favorite fitness YouTube channels here). That new custom weight belt can lead to new PRs never before possible. Your emergency deodorant will ensure that you can spend as much time as necessary fighting in a shoulder press to finish the set. Who knows – your gym crush might be admiring how clean your shoes are because you know to wear your gym shoes IN the gym and not ON THE WAY to it.
What’s in my gym bag? This list is actually built based off of how frequently I have either solved a problem with said gear or have had to overcome a challenge due to not having it. The following is a list of stuff that should be in your gym bag every time you step into the gym:
Even though you might think these are no-brainers, I can’t tell you how many times I see people coming into the gym to work out in something not quite gym-appropriate, like denim and flannels. The latter being okay as long as the sleeves are cut off and slightly frayed. If this is you, then proceed as planned, lumberjacked. If you’re thinking you might take a break during lunch and hop over to the gym for a quick sesh in your monkey suit, then prepared to be the subject of much discussion. Make sure you have loose fitting clothes that are designed to give you the proper range of motion and comfort level. Clothes that you’re supposed to look sweaty in. T-shirt, gym shorts, sweat pants. Don’t head back to the office looking like you just worked out. Coworkers and gym-goers will thank you. Now that the obvious but necessary precursor to this list has been established, we can continue with the real list….
#1 – Shoes
No matter what modalities you train in, the kicks are an essential part of your gear. Some think footwear is to gym-goers as the katana is to the Samurai. One thing the samurai never let their sword do was touch the ground, so you shouldn’t let your shoes touch the ground either. Buy a pair of shoes that you do not wear anywhere else besides your gym. If you run outside, buy a pair specifically for that. If you work out inside, buy a pair you never let touch the ground outside. It might be a little more costly upfront, but the money you will save not having to replace a trashed pair of shoes every six months is a great incentive.
My recommendation – I LOVE the Metcons by NIKE. As someone who mixes a lot of agility and plyometric work with compound powerlifting these are easily the best mix of traction, response, and support I’ve ever worn. I’ve had the same pair since March 2017 and I’m just starting to see signs of wear and tear. They have a hard sole so acquiring the correct foot proprioception while lifting is a cinch. The crazy grippy web design on the outer sole allows you to cut confidently on turf and the rubber floor most gyms have. However, they do not do well on basketball courts, so I would advise against trying to work on any type of wood flooring.
#2 – Socks/Underwear
Again, it’s just proper hygiene to have a pair that you change into after your workout so that your shoes aren’t squishy and smelly, and you’re not putting nasty undergarments back on. The key to socks and underwear is to get pairs that don’t retain the odor after wash. You might notice some of your gym clothes will start to stink when they get wet, even if they come out of the washer still slightly damp. This is a huge pet peeve of mine.
My recommendation: Stance makes great athletic socks with an array of interesting designs. They last a long time and the comfort level is top notch. Every time I wear a pair of Stance socks I get compliments from gym-goers, and praise from my feet. Where underwear is concerned, I have a healthy obsession with a company called Ethikia. They’re basically just the “Stance” of underwear. They have over 100 models for men and women, they stretch, they’re dry fit, and I have never chaffed in them once.
#3 – Water Bottle
This is possibly the most important piece of gear on the list. Every time you enter the gym or set off for a run you NEED a water source. Especially one that is YOURS and yours only. Many people neglect to purchase and bring one to the gym because there are water fountains or packaged water for sale. That’s fine and dandy but having your own water bottle will make you WANT to drink water. Not just at the gym or during your workout, but it will keep you hydrated all throughout the day. Slap some stickers on that bad boy and you’ll be stoked to start sipping life giving essence from your personalized water receptacle.
My recommendation: Huge fan of the Klean Kanteen. They are durable, look cool, and keep your water cold all day long. The key is to get the wide mouth models because they are easier to wash. I currently have a narrow mouth bottle and have to use a toothbrush to reach the bottom of the bottle.
#4 – Lacrosse Ball or Foam Roller:
These are huge for muscle release and preventing tightness in specific areas. A large percentage of us sit at a desk most of the workweek and as a result develop muscular imbalances. Sitting all day long creates a shortening of the hip flexors and over time they adjust to this length becoming tight and weak. The lacrosse ball is a great way to get inside those areas that are hard to hit with large foam roller. The lacrosse ball is very stiff and can be quite intense for tightest of areas – a great alternative is a tennis ball, which has a little more give than the former but still able to reach those tough spots. The foam roller is great for release in large areas like the quads or the back. If you want to know more about these tools do some research on trigger point and myofascial release.
Related: the only guide you need to reaping the benefits of foam rolling.
My recommendation: Rogue has been a go-to for most of the fitness industry when it comes to anything mobility. Foam rollers and lacrosse balls have all sorts of different shear designs, from smooth surface to more robust. It’s personal preference, but I like the company and their aesthetic.
Post written by FFC South Loop fitness specialist Matt Wallace.
Matthew Wallace is a Chicago native and personal trainer at FFC South Loop. He specializes in strength training and sport performance, teaching clients to improve their compound lifts, and crafting unique workouts and programs custom tailored to his clients’ needs.
“To see someone turn their goals, wishes, and desires into a reality, and to be entrusted with guiding that process, is a feeling that can’t be described. I chase this feeling every day in my professional and personal life.”
Matt holds a bachelors of arts from Columbia College Chicago, is certified personal trainer by NFPT, competes on the world stage of the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation, and spent 5 years active duty in the United States Marine Corps. Contact Matt by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone to set up a complimentary consultation today. You can also follow along with him on Instagram here!