As readers will have noticed, I have gotten really into lifting over the last year or two. And along the way, I’ve acquired a few items that were a bit expensive. If I were smart, I would have asked for them as birthday or holiday gifts, but last year around this time I wasn’t quite sure what I would end up needing. So this is a gift guide for past me, who might also be you.
Remember, fitness gifts can come off as insulting, but your gift-giver has a free pass if you have asked for a specific thing that will be genuinely useful to you. So if you’re in a position to make a specific ask, or if you expect to get some cash gifts you can cobble together, here’s what you might want to ask for.
If you’re into powerlifting, or really any strength sport where you end up doing a lot of heavy lifts (including squats and deadlifts) you will eventually want to buy a belt. A belt doesn’t protect your back, but it does help stabilise your torso so that you can lift more and give your legs a better workout.
In powerlifting, everybody generally wears a leather or faux-leather belt, the same width all around, with a buckle or lever on the front. In olympic style weightlifting, you’re more likely to see belts with velcro or padding. If you plan to compete, check your federation’s requirements to be sure you choose a belt that’s competition legal. There will probably be limits on its size, for instance.
For powerlifting, you’ll have to decide:
The thickness, in millimetres. 10mm is enough for just about everybody, but if you want something extremely sturdy, there are 13mm belts out there too.
The width, in inches. A lot of belts are 4 inches wide, but unless you’re very tall you may find a 3 inch belt is more comfortable for deadlifts.
The way it closes. Single prong buckles are easy to put on and easy to adjust. Lever belts aren’t adjustable on the fly, but once you have them how you want, they’re easy to put on. Double prong buckles, from what I’ve heard, are kind of a pain in the butt.
Some of the popular belt brands require a custom order, so think ahead. It’s best if you can try on a belt before you order one, so ask around at your gym to find out what people would recommend, and whether you can try theirs out to see how it feels.
I ended up getting this belt in 10mm thickness, 3 inches wide, single prong, maroon with white stitching. I like that it has holes every half-inch to make it more adjustable. (Holes every inch is more common.)
Maybe you’re still wearing running shoes or cross-trainers to the gym. If so, now is a great time to upgrade.
We have a thorough guide to the major types of lifting shoes, but once again you’ll want to try on some shoes if you can, and think through what exactly you want to get out of your new footwear. Specifically:
Do you want a raised heel? If you do olympic weightlifting or if you struggle to reach depth in squats, that’s a yes. Get proper weightlifting shoes. If not, the choice of a raised or flat heel is up to you.
Do you want something thin and flat? Chucks, vans, and other flat shoes are perfect for deadlifts. Some people also like to squat in flat shoes, some don’t.
Do you intend to do more than just lift in your new shoes? There are a few models, like Metcons, that are a hybrid between a cross-trainer and a lifting shoe. If you do Crossfit, for example, you may want a bit of a heel to help with squats and thrusters, but not have to change out of your lifting shoes for a part of the WOD that requires you to run or climb a rope.
If you only do olympic weightlifting, lifters are all you need. If you do Crossfit, something like a Metcon is going to cover most of your bases. And if you’re a powerlifter, you’ll probably want to start with a pair of Chucks and consider getting lifting shoes as your next upgrade.
As for myself, I started with a pair of all black hi-top Chucks, and then added a pair of Nike Romaleo weightlifting shoes.
The perfect gym bag
Here’s a gift that is still personal, but requires less specific knowledge of your sport. Dream up your perfect gym bag, and then start dropping hints to whoever is buying you a gift. Almost every configuration of size, zippers, and straps is out there somewhere. A few questions to consider:
Will you be carrying shoes? Wet or dirty clothes? Some bags have pockets to keep them separate from the rest of your gear.
Do you plan to travel with your gym bag? If so, you’ll probably want it to fit into the carry-on compartment or the personal-item space under the seat.
Which pockets are essential? I love having a pocket specifically for my training journal and other papers. Maybe you’d like multiple small zipper pockets for keys and other small items.
What bags will go inside your bag? If you don’t have a shoe compartment, you might want a shoe bag. If you shower at the gym, you’ll probably want a toiletry kit. And if the inside of your bag feels too cavernous, consider packing cubes to keep categories of items contained.
I have the Adidas Defender III. I use one of the end pockets for my shoes, and the other for my notebook. I’ve also got packing cubes and a shoe bag for extra shoes when I travel, although they aren’t part of my everyday kit.
A membership to the good gym
As a beginner, I’m going to guess you started working out in whatever gym is closest to your house or your workplace. But in time, as your interests get more specialised, you may find yourself wanting more.
Ask around and try to figure out where you’d feel most at home: a weightlifting place with plenty of platforms? A powerlifting gym where you can use chalk with abandon and drop your deadlifts all you want? A crossfit box with a great coach? Every gym will generally be happy to give you a free first session—or at least let you purchase a day pass—so you can work out there and see what you think.
Don’t forget to ask friends about where they work out, where they wish they could work out, and which coaches and trainers they think are amazing.
Personally, I took our classic advice to heart—that your gym should be either super close or super nice—and I belong to both. There’s commercial gym near my house that’s cheap enough not to eat into the budget too much, which allows me to also belong to a weightlifting gym in another part of town.
Or to give another example: I don’t work out at a powerlifting gym myself, but I know people who do, and I took their recommendations to gift my husband (with his enthusiastic permission) a package of coaching sessions there. Remember, the gifter should know for sure what the giftee wants. And if you’re the giftee, don’t be afraid to ask for exactly what you need.