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If you're going to be increasingly on the go and want to make your workouts a reality, equipping yourself with a gym bag is a must. Stocking your bag with the right items not only ensures your workout happens, but also helps you get the most out of your time in the gym — and quickly refuel and clean up after your sweat session.
We’ve tapped top fitness professionals to find out what they stash in their bags keep them on their A-game. Their necessities fall into three categories: Fitness gadgets and tools that aid them in their workouts — from tech-smart heart rate monitors to old-school notebooks; the pre- and post-workout fuel they eat to ensure their bodies perform (and recover) well; and the beauty and hygiene favorites that they swear by to clean up after a workout.
Here are their top picks in each category.
Best fitness tech gadgets and gear
Emily Morano, a yoga instructor at Studio Three, says that she couldn’t live without this bag. “It's water-resistant, fits absolutely everything (extra clothes, tennis shoes, snacks, my laptop), and is chic enough to carry around during the day to/from work but sporty enough to take to the gym.” She says there are the perfect amount of pockets in the bag, plus a removable zip-top pouch for smaller items.
Brooke Taylor, owner of Taylored Fitness in New York, loves using a heart rate monitor for feedback during her workout. “I am all about results,” she says. “I love to monitor what zone I'm in during my training sessions, how many calories are expended per session, and set up weekly goals to attain. It keeps me focused, on track and moving!” Taylor says she loves the FT 60 model or the M430 from Polar, which is also equipped with GPS and a personalized running program with smart-coaching.
Alexis Craig, a personal trainer and coach at Gixo, a live fitness app, swears by these headphones, especially since she prefers outdoor workouts. “You can hear the traffic and your surroundings, while still having a coach in your ears,” she says. The headphones prioritize safety by conducting sound waves through the bones, leaving the ears open so that you can be more alert and aware of your surroundings.
Another item Morano always has stashed in her gym bag is a notebook, where she writes out the sequences and circuits she creates for her classes. “I am constantly writing down ideas for moves I can teach in future classes,” she says. “It's also beneficial to have on hand if I'm looking to get my own workout in at home, at the local gym or at a hotel gym if I'm traveling.”
Some of my clients like to keep their health and wellness schedule separate from their electronic calendars so that they have a dedicated place to focus on themselves without work or family commitments getting in the way. Using old school paper and pencil is a great method.
Editor's note: There are a ton of fitness-specific planners on Amazon. This one is the Amazon best-seller and can track your workout plan, as well as your nutrition.
In terms of shoes, the popular vote for brands among trainers is Brooks and Nike. Morano uses her Nike shoes for bootcamp style classes, and then Brooks shoes for classes that include more running. James Cappola, Crunch Personal Trainer in NYC, says that Nike Metcons are one of his go-to shoes for workouts. He uses them for both cardio and lifting workouts.
“Living in Chicago means a lot of layering during the cold, winter months, says Morano. “I always stash a long sleeve shirt or jacket in my tote that I can throw on after my workout — over my sweaty tank and underneath my coat. I'm not 100 percent loyal to one brand for athletic wear, but a few of my favorites include Athleta, Lululemon and Outdoor Voices.”
Amanda Cerny, a Fitplan fitness professional, swears by these socks. This particular fiber blend helps to wick moisture away from the foot to keep them dry during sweaty workouts or long runs. “I always try to buy the same ones to make matching socks easier and for all of those soldiers lost in the dryer,” she says.
Best nutritional snacks and fitness-forward food
For a quick snack on the go, Stephenie Skaferowsky, an ACE-certified fitness instructor, packs these convenient squeeze packs of almond butter.
Christy Brissette, RD, president of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Chicago, agrees with the choice: “I love almonds and almond butter for both pre-workout fuel and post-workout recovery,” she says. “They're the tree nut that's highest in protein, and one ounce of almonds or almond butter has [approximately] 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and 13 grams of healthy fat.” These nutrients help you feel satisfied longer, and before a workout, you'll get more slow release, sustained energy thanks to the healthy fats. After a workout, Brissette recommends mixing your almond butter with some Greek yogurt and fruit so you get even more protein and the carbs you need to replenish and recover.
Emily Morano, Studio Three yoga instructor, always has at least one RxBar in her gym bag for a quick and healthy snack to eat before or after she works out. “My favorite flavors are blueberry, apple cinnamon and coconut Chocolate,” she says.
Brissette says energy bars are super convenient and can be a great snack, meal replacement or pre- or post-workout option depending on the macronutrient breakdown and how intense your workout is. The most important thing is to look for energy bars that have real food ingredients, and these RxBars fit the bill. For a pre-workout snack, high protein isn't as important, Brissette explains. “You do want some fat and carbs for energy. This bar fits best as pre-workout fuel.” (Post-workout, she suggests a bar that contains higher protein and carbs to help replenish glycogen stores and stabilize blood sugar levels so you feel re-energized.)
“These bars are my obsession right now. I hate to work out on an empty stomach — my head is elsewhere and I’m not focused, I know I’m not giving it my all,” says Dede Lagree, celebrity trainer to clients such as Rihanna and Ashley Graham and owner of Lagree Fitness® Studio. “I know that if I have a bar right before my workout it’s light enough that it won't weigh me down... and has all the essential nutrients to power me through a workout.”
Brissette agrees that Elemental bars make a great pre-workout snack since they are lower in protein and contain carbs and fats for energy.
Best self-care and hygiene products
David “Scooter” Honig, personal trainer to celebs like LL Cool J and world champion fighters, says he loves applying this cream immediately after working out. “It gives the skin an immediate deep hydration without leaving a greasy residue,” he says. He also recommends this product to his male clients who need a little help with relieving stretch mark and scar appearances.
“Stretch marks are not only difficult to prevent, but are also challenging to treat,” says Dr. Quenby Erickson, a board certified dermatologist in downtown Chicago. “They frequently occur during periods of quick growth (muscle building, growth spurts and pregnancy) where the skin gets stretched too quickly to accommodate the new, bulkier underlying structures.” She says products that contain collagen and elastin-building peptides help keep the skin in optimal condition.
Many of my female clients say having to wash their hair is a deterrent from squeezing in a workout. Time to wave goodbye to that excuse. The pros know that dry shampoo is a game changer for squeezing in a workout before work, during your lunch break or before heading to meet friends for dinner. Morano swears by DryBar’s product. The formula, which comes in two different scents, absorbs oils and dirt between washes and reviewers rave at how long-lasting the results are.
MMA coach and world champion fighter Ricky Lundell, author of “1% Better Every Day: Rickey Lundell’s Personal Guide to Back Squats,” loves this oil for both his body and his hair. “I use it in my hair when I'm working out. It keeps my hair out of my face and helps condition it,” he says. “This oil is organic and does not cause eye irritation during strenuous workouts. When I wash it out after a work out, my hair is hydrated and easy to style.”
Erickson agrees, explaining that argan oil can replace the natural oils in our hair and is hydrating to the cuticle. This can be especially important if we are exercising frequently — and washing our hair more often.
What bag is complete without lip balm? When it comes to keeping lips hydrated, this is Skaferowsky’s all-time favorite, and it comes untinted as well as in a range of pink hues.
Erickson explains that since lip butter (which contains coconut oil and lemon oil) essentially adds oil to the lips, it can feel very nourishing and moisturizing, which is especially important if you exercise outdoors. "You may need to reapply lip balm more frequently in the winter because the severe climate can have a drying effect on the skin overall (including the lips), she says. "Extreme climates can cause chapped lips due to the harsh elements you’re exposed to, whether heat or cold."
Morano says these individually wrapped, single-use wipes are perfect for the gym bag. “At the start of a new week I'll grab a handful and throw them in my tote to have handy for removing my makeup before or after class,” she says.
Erickson is a fan of facial wipes when you don’t have time to properly wash and cleanse your face after exercise. “Facial wipes are great for a quick, on-the-go solution post-workout to rid your skin of dirt, oil, makeup and sweat that accumulates and mixes together on the skin while you are working out. Leaving these elements on your skin for a prolonged period of time following a workout can lead to blemishes and breakouts,” she says.
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