All you need to lift a weight is just yourself, and the weight. But there are a lot of handy things that can help, and I’ve accumulated quite a few of them in my gym bag. Let’s take a tour.
I have two types of belts, and I love them both.
The black one is a 2pood velcro/fabric belt, 10 cm wide, and approved for use at weightlifting meets (that’s Olympic style weightlifting, where the competitive lifts are the snatch and clean and jerk). I use it for squats and for my heaviest clean and jerks.
The maroon one is leather, 10mm thick, and 7 cm wide. (It’s from Pioneer and has holes spaced every centimetre, instead of every 2 cm.) I bought it back when I did more powerlifting than Olympic lifting. Even though I use the black belt for squats now, I still love this slightly thinner belt for deadlifts. The advice I got when I was first belt shopping is that everybody likes a 10 cm belt for squats, but not everybody likes them for deadlifts. If you’re a smaller person or have a shorter torso, a 7 cm belt might be perfect for you.
That said, not everyone needs a belt, so if you lift casually and don’t compete you can probably do without one.
Another item of attire that lives in my bag is this pair of lifting shoes. I'll walk into the gym in my Chucks, but if I'm going to squat or do any olympic lifts, I'm putting these on. They're hard-soled, they have a bit of a heel, and they're incredibly stable when you're supporting a massive barbell. Mine are Nike Romaleo 3's, and I've replaced the laces with purple ones because it seems half the people at my gym have the same grey-on-grey model.
I carry a pair of teeny tiny micro plates if I'm going to a regular commercial gym. Often the smallest plates you'll find there are 1 kg, but if you want to add a small increment to an overhead press, say, you'll want something smaller. So I bring these 0.5 kg plates, and I make sure they have my name on them in neon orange tape to be sure I won't accidentally leave them there.
If you're training for an axle bar lift, or if you just want an extra challenge for your grip and forearms, Fat Gripz (or similar grips of any brand, I'm not playing favourites) can fit onto almost any standard barbell or dumbbell to make things more interesting.
I could never quite figure out why lifters wore knee sleeves. Anytime I asked, I'd get confusing answers like "they keep my joints warm" or "if you need them, you'll know. Occasionally there was also a "well, if they're really tight they can give you a little bounce out of the bottom of the squat, but mine are just regular fit."
Eventually I gave in and bought a pair just to see what they are like. You know what they're like? Heaven. In a way that's very hard to describe. All I know is that if I'm going to be squatting below parallel, my knees are just...happier this way.
This tripod is my best buddy, standing right next to me at just about every workout. I'm a huge fan of taking videos so I can check my form and document what I've lifted. I love looking back at my old lifts and comparing how my form has improved over the months and years. And since I'm still avoiding the gym due to COVID, I need to send videos to my coach if I want frequent feedback.
Most lifts are best filmed from hip height, a reasonable distance away, not from a phone leaning against your water bottle on the ground. And a tripod doesn't have to be an expensive or bulky item. Search for "selfie stick tripod" " mine was a no-name brand that cost around $20.
I love these figure 8 lifting straps. Most lifting straps are the straight kind with a loop on one end, which are fine for most things, but if you're pulling something really heavy, it's possible for them to unroll as your grip fails.
This figure 8 style is what's used in strongman events where you might be lifting something ridiculously heavy. The most I've ever pulled from the floor is 1 kg " easy peasy since I do a fair amount of grip training " but I bought these when I started doing three-plate rack pulls. They took me all the way up to a 179 kg wagon wheel deadlift at a strongwoman competition. They're the real deal.
Also important, in any gritty dirty gym (unlike my favourite weightlifting gym but very like, well, my garage): a dainty little towel for my head. There is a limit to how dirty I'm willing to get to do a floor press, ok?
I don't go anywhere without my training journal. Even if my workout comes from a spreadsheet or an app, I write it down in my notebook first and then I check off the sets as I do them. I make little charts and progress bars and side notes as the whim strikes me.
I also carry a few "just-in-case" items:
- A first aid kit in case I get hurt
- Headphones in case I forgot my headphones
- Electrolyte tablets (and a snack, not shown) in case I need more than water to get through a long workout
- Athletic tape and scissors in case I need to treat a foot blister or make a tape grip to protect a ripped callus
The other items in my gym bag may vary from day to day, or may not be too different from what's in your gym bag (a spare t-shirt, that sort of thing). But these are my essentials and slightly silly indulgences. What are yours?