When I first started lifting, I’d see giant dudes at the gym lugging comically large duffel bags, filled with who-knows-what, and would wonder how anyone thought all of that stuff was necessary. Fast-forward seven years, and now I’m somehow one of those dudes.
Life at the gym used to be quite simple. But as the years went on, and I worked with increasingly heavy weights, I slowly added tools to help me in my quest for strength.
This is the first in a series of posts to document my accumulation of lifting gear, starting with the bare bones essentials to start your gym Odyssey.
When you’re just starting out, the most important items to have with you at every session is a notebook and pencil. I’ve found that a 5×7 notebook to be the perfect size for logging workouts. Alternatively, you could use one of the many exercise tracking apps, but I have yet to find one which isn’t more of a distraction or annoyance. As high-tech as the rest of my life can be, it’s hard to beat an old-school approach, especially when your hands are covered in chalk and general gym grime.
Regardless of your choice in the how, the why of it will be obvious. You may not review your old workouts often, but having a record of your progress over time will go a long way in keeping you motivated. Especially for novice and intermediate lifters, your gym time should be highly structured and planned in advance, so having a reference keeps you on track.
Another important tool in the struggle to keep screwing around to a minimum is a simple stopwatch. Like the notebook, this could be replaced with a phone app, but having a cheap stopwatch you can throw around and not worry about is very convenient.
Understanding the length of rest times between sets will only start off as a way to minimize wasting time at the gym, as you progress it will become a significant factor in how you plan and execute your workout program. There is a world of difference between squatting 10 sets of 3 reps with 1-minute rests and 5-minute rests between sets.
While you’re at the gym, staying hydrated is vital. You’ll want to make sure you keep a good sized water bottle with you; a large recycled juice bottle works wonders for most people. Bringing a water supply saves you from relying on the water of questionable quality from your standard gym fountain, or worse, trekking to the fountain every time you need a drink. In addition to water, it’s also smart to always have a bottle of some sports drink with sugar and electrolytes, in case you didn’t eat well that day or pushed yourself too hard, and the gym starts spinning. Finally, if your caffeine addiction is as crippling as mine, the perfect companion while moving serious weight is a shaker bottle with a simple mix of cold brew coffee, coconut milk, and chocolate protein powder. I find this combination does well to keep me energized when I am pushing my limits, and prevents me from having to fall back to the sports drink.
I commonly see new lifters making the mistake of wearing running shoes while weightlifting. The foam sole meant to reduce impact betrays you, and not only absorbs some of the force you are generating to lift the weight but also creates an unstable surface which can increase the risk of injury. When you’re just new to lifting, a reliable pair of Chucks or anything with a similar hard, thin sole is an excellent choice.
Next time I’ll be going over equipment I added once I started to break into intermediate-lifter territory.