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I originally titled this post “Gym Bag Essentials” but quickly changed it because there are hundreds of blog posts and articles online that will tell you useful things to have in your gym bag, things like makeup wipes, deodorant, etc. But there’s only one blog post that will tell you five things that are in my, Natalie Slater’s gym bag. And that’s the kind of information that keeps you all coming back here time after time for nearly 18 years now, am I right? So let’s take a look inside and see what we find:

buff garfield

A Bag of Bags

When I became a full-blown gym rat I upgraded from a vintage Garfield duffel bag to a pretty expensive Stella McCartney/ADIDAS duffel that has loads of pockets. There are pockets on each side large enough to fit a pair of shoes in each, inner and outer zipper pockets, and a removable pouch that is either for shoes or underwear, I don’t really know.

But when it was just me, my Garfield bag, and a heart full of hope, that Garfield bag was organized with lots of other bags inside. I had a zipper pouch to keep all my small toiletries together – lip balm, hygiene items, makeup wipes, a mini deodorant, etc. I’d also sometimes stash a couple of dollars in there if I was at the gym without my wallet. I had a drawstring pouch for shoes, to keep whatever was on the gym floor from touching all of the other things that would go in my bag. Finally, I had a waterproof bag that I could throw my sweaty clothes in if it would be a while before I got home, or even a wet bathing suit.

Now that my bag has built-in pouches and compartments, I still have my Beavis and Butt-Head zipper pouch for my lip balm and little things I mentioned above, and I also keep a ChicoBag in there in case I stop at the grocery store on my way home.

person in black activewear practicing plyometrics

Shoe Carnival

I walk to the gym from my house, and I change into other shoes once I’m in the gym. Maybe if I was just going to get on an elliptical, treadmill, or bike, I wouldn’t bother, but my feet are all over that place – on mats, in the squat racks, and on all the machines. So I don’t want to put dirty “outside” shoes on all that.

Two years ago I got a pair of lifting slippers that I wear on days when I’m doing deadlifts, or basically anything that isn’t running, biking, or squats. Some people like to lift weights barefoot or in their socks, but I’m a person who wears Crocs slides around my house because I hate the feeling of hard floor under my bare feet. But when you’re lifting weights, it’s important to feel the ground under your feet, and to have plenty of room for your toes to spread out, so these barely-there slippers are perfect for that. They provide some traction, and the feeling that I am not barefoot, while also letting me grip the floor with my toes and feel the ground underneath me.

More recently, I also invested in a pair of squat shoes. The first pair I bought cost nearly $300 and were wildly uncomfortable. Luckily I was able to return them, but what I’m getting at is 1) you might have to kiss a few frogs and 2) more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. Eventually I found some Adidas shoes that were around $130, comfortable, and made from vegan and recycled materials. If you’re doing squats and squat variations, these specialty shoes provide stability with a wedge shape, stiff sole, and a strap you can pull tight against your midfoot.

If you’d rather just have one pair of shoes that you can wear for squats, deadlifts, machine work, and low impact cardio (we’re talking walking, but not running) you could grab any pair of Vans or Converse with a flat sole and they’re going to work pretty well for you.

close up view of a person putting talc in his hands
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Straps and Gloves and Chalk, Oh My

A real-deal weightlifting gym is probably going to provide some form of chalk – dry or liquid – and if you’re already at one of those gyms, you probably don’t need to keep reading this entire post. But most mainstream, “regular” gyms not only don’t provide chalk, but don’t allow it because if can get all over the equipment. After I failed to find a pair of lifting gloves that helped me more than they hindered me, I did sneak in some chalk, but I had to spend extra time wiping it off everything and ultimately while it did help prevent calluses, it didn’t help once my lifts got heavier and more strenuous on my wrists.

I ended up ordering some straps, and have been a strap girl for deadlifts ever since. There are literally hundreds of variations of these online, but for me, a simple wrist loop with a strap you wrap around the barbell for grip is exactly what I needed.

faceless bodybuilder lifting barbell on street in daylight
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Belt It Out

Last year my coach gifted me a vegan lifting belt she had specially made for me. Leopard print with “Lupo Vegano” (vegan wolf) in big letters on the back. Belts can really help with your form, and once you start lifting heavy, can take the pressure off your lower back and refocus it on the muscle groups you’re trying to work. A lot of lifting belts are leather, so keep an eye out for that, but I’ve found tons of vegan alternatives online too. You might want one that you need to manually hook (like a regular belt) or one with a quick release latch, and consider the distance between your hips and your bottom ribs when you’re looking at the height measurement. I’m a shorty, and my ribs damn near touch my hips, so my next belt will be as short (narrow) as I can get it so it’s not pushing on one bone or the other when I use it.

This photo isn’t me, it’s another lady with tattoos who likes to do gym stuff. 😉

The Dreaded Hip Thrust

Hip thrusts are TikTok’s favorite booty exercise, and while I’ve seen it hotly debated whether or not they’re even necessary when lunges are possibly more effective at growing your glutes, chances are, you’ll be doing some hip thrusts in your lifetime. Setting up a barbell hip thrust (if you don’t go to a gym that just has a hip thrust machine) takes FOREVER. You have to drag a barbell over to a bench, drag all the weights over, put everything together, drag a mat over, get yourself all situated, do the exercise, and then, when your butt is as sore as possible, you have to get up and put all that shit away. It’s annoying. And if you work out at home, you might not even have all that stuff to begin with.

Dumbbell hip thrusts are a good alternative, but balancing a heavy dumbbell on your hip bones might be uncomfortable, and as you get stronger, you might find it hard to keep a heavy enough weight on your pelvis. If you’re on gym Instagram, you already know what’s coming… the Bella Booty. I bought this contraption two years ago when I got sick of setting up barbell hip thrusts and now it’s always in my bag. It has two side straps that you can use with dumbbells or plates, which means you can go a lot heavier than you could balancing a dumbbell on your hips. And the weight is close to your body, and I think more challenging. Now I never have to wait for a barbell, or drag weights all over the floor. I just grab two 30-40 lbs dumbbells, strap them in, and hump the air like there’s no tomorrow.

back view of a student answering a problem on the chalkboard
Photo by Yan Krukau on Pexels.com

Bonus: Fractions? I Hate Math

This is a bonus entry because I do not keep my fractional weight plates in my gym bag, I actually wrote my name on each one and I keep them stashed on a high shelf in the locker room at my gym. They’ve been there a year and no one has stolen them yet. Fractional weights are little tiny weighted plates that increase the weight you’re lifting by as little as 1/4 pound. They’re a good way to keep making gains on tough lifts. For instance, bench presses are tough for me, and making the jump from what I can currently bench to the next amount with my gym’s regular plates is too much. But I can keep pushing my PR higher and higher with these incremental increases, which keeps me motivated.

What non-essential doodads and thingamabobs are in your gym bag? Tell me in the comments!