By the time you do the recommended two weekly weightlifting sessions and at least three weekly cardio workouts, you may find yourself in the gym at least five days a week. Keeping your gym bag packed with a few standard items cuts down on the time it takes to get ready for the gym, get in, get out, and get on with whatever comes next.
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Clean Workout Clothes
Aim for clothing that keeps you cool and lets you move freely, but still keeps your torso covered. That way, you're less likely to get intimately familiar with the puddle of sweat somebody else may have left on a weight bench or machine. If you generate your own puddle of sweat when you work out, extract the sweaty, used clothes from your gym bag as quickly as possible and replace them with a fresh set, so you're ready to go the next day. Even if you plan on wearing your workout clothes to and from the gym, consider packing a clean set of underwear for emergency backup.
Stress and routine changes can affect a woman's menstrual cycle. Having some tampons or sanitary pads in your gym bag, or at least a few quarters if your gym sells them in a restroom vending machine, is a prudent practice. Wet wipes are good for removing makeup from a sweaty face, and either men or women can use them to quickly freshen up if they don't want to shower at the gym. Finally, bring deodorant with you so you can reapply as needed, both before and after working out.
Gyms usually provide small towels, but with no standardization for how the linens are washed or rinsed; thus, bringing your own is the only way to know they are completely sanitary. That way you can also have two towels -- one to use as a barrier between you and sweaty equipment and the other to use on your own body -- with zero guilt and no worries about whether the gym will be out of fresh towels when you arrive.
Sneakers and Flip-flops
Sturdy, well-fitted sneakers provide the best balance between supportive, protective footwear and flexibility of use. You can get away with everything from running on treadmills to lifting weights and doing group fitness classes in a good sneaker. Flip-flops are not acceptable workout wear -- many gyms require wearing closed-toe shoes to use the equipment. However, they provide a lightweight barrier of protection against plantar warts, fungus and other foot problems you can pick up in the locker room and showers.
Many gyms offer music channels, televisions to watch, and complimentary headphones while you're on cardio equipment. But if you need tunes to keep you going while lifting weights too, bring your own MP3 player and headphones with you, and use your own workout mixes as a motivational tool.
No matter how comfortable you feel in the gym, leaving your fitness gear in an unlocked locker is an invitation for theft. Some gyms have keyed padlocks available to rent but you'll save money, and will always have a lock available if you bring your own.