These workout tools will help you get the results you’re looking for from your training program.
My gym bag has become a toolbox that ensures my training sessions are never held up by unexpected problems. Tight IT band? Roll it on a tennis ball. All the pulley stations occupied when it’s time for ab pull-downs? Break out the ab wheel. Forget what the last workout was? Check the logbook. Believe it or not, these tools can provide a significant boost to your muscle and strength gains. Here’s a list of gear you’ll always find in my bag.
You’ll need a logbook that’s easy to write in, and holds up to dripping sweat and dropped dumbbells. I started using a surveyor’s field book after I got tired of regular notebooks falling apart. The surveyor’s book has grid lines to help keep my notes legible, and it’s got a tough, wire-bound , cover for easy writing. As an alternative, military-style notebooks are tough too (and sometimes come with instructions on how to call in airstrikes). And don’t forget to bring a pen—pencil fades and markers blur, so stick to standard blue or black ink.
A lifting belt increases the pressure in your abdomen, which in turn improves your trunk strength during lifts like squats, deads, and shrugs. You can use a belt either to increase the amount of weight you move, or to help you focus on targeted muscles. An example of this would be wearing a belt while doing barbell shrugs. The belt won’t make your traps stronger, but it will help you stay upright so that you can fully concentrate on the shrug. Even if you feel like a belt is “cheating,” wearing one helps reinforce safe posture when you’re tired, making it valuable to anyone who lifts heavy. Buy a belt with a lifetime warranty and it’ll become a family heirloom.
A stopwatch is your pocket-sized coach when you circuit train, and is a must have for when you get serious about regimented rest breaks between sets and lifts. Get one that comes in a protective case or keep it in a container so that you don’t accidentally program or set it off by dropping your bag.
A good dusting of chalk enhances your grip and can lessen both callus build-up and tearing. If your gym doesn’t allow chalk, liquid substitutes are a decent second option.
There are plenty of devices out there for sport massage (or, if you’re trendy, “myofascial release”), though a short foam roller and a tennis ball will be enough to work out most kinks before, and after, you lift. If you don’t want to lug the roller, you can hit just about everything except your back with a single tennis ball; when it comes to relaxing your traps and rhomboids and getting some thoracic mobility, supine rolling on a medicine ball can fill in the gap.
You train your grip directly and indirectly every time you hit the gym, which means normal fatigue can make your grip a weak point. Straps help you avoid this, and can double as makeshift handles for pulley and grip exercises. You can even loop them around a barbell and use them as handles during front squats if you don’t have the wrist flexibility to keep the bar stable.
More Good Gear
Years of sports and lifting can wear out your wrists. Wraps will lock your wrists into a more-neutral position and limit pain from heavy benches and long squat sets. On the other hand, I don’t recommend knee wraps for anything other than competition lifting, or sport-specific preparation for a lifting meet. Knee wraps actually grind your patella into the knee joint, and may cause inflammation and cartilage damage if used too much.
Bar thickeners, whether a towel wrapped around the bar or a specialized accessory, can challenge your grip and forearm strength during rows and curls, and also make pressing motions easier on your wrists and elbows.
Resistance bands are essentially giant-sized rubber bands that can instantly, and easily, change the force curve and actual movement of just about any exercise. Light bands (including the bands orthopedists give to rehabbing patients) are great for shoulder stability and augmenting warm-up drills. I have bands of different lengths and resistance levels for everything from stretching to explosive barbell lifts.
Heavy abdominal work can boost your squat and deadlift numbers like you wouldn’t believe. An ab wheel is the anytime, anywhere tool, but it’s not just all about convenience. It’s a unique tool for training your rectus abdominis, i.e., the “six pack” muscle, to resist flexion, while exposing your entire torso to integrated rigidity training.
And that’s my bag. Pick up the essentials and give some thought to the best of the rest. Again, none of these tools will take up much room, and if lean muscle mass and increased strength is something you’re interested in, these accessories are well worth the space.
Additionally 1R would recommned throwing these supplements into your gym bag as well if you're looking to get the most out of your workouts: