Your workout's success hinges on a lot more than just the number of pounds you manage to bench that day. At Diakadi, we talk a lot about functional training methods and developing good form. But you also need the right equipment. And by that, I don't mean a flat bench and a barbell. Instead, think about the things you need to bring to the gym in order to make your workout great. These are your gym essentials, and they're not necessarily what you might think. Here are my top five:
- Good fuel: Your workout really begins with, and depends on, the nutrition you take on board to fuel it. This includes a balanced meal about 90 minutes before you work out. And, if you are trying to gain muscle, try taking on some carbs shortly before you get started. I always eat a whole-wheat bagel before I begin my lifting and an apple before my cardio—just to give me that extra energy boost. Don’t rely on caffeinated drinks or power drinks to do this for you. You need real food to power your muscles. If you are working out early in the morning, I would recommend a small mix of protein and carbs, but again with real food—not shakes. As a last resort, meal replacements are okay—it's better to have some fuel than none—but you will be better off with substantial food.
- A big bottle: I usually go through about two one-liter bottles of water during each workout. Proper hydration isn't just about quenching thirst. It's necessary to promote healthy oxygen and blood flow through your muscles. Also, proper hydration increases your metabolism. Bring your own bottle. Many water bottles you would purchase at the gym are just too small. You need a big, two-liter bottle. Bringing your own bottle means you are not constantly walking to the water fountain, which will decrease your heart rate and cause you to lose some momentum. And, bringing your own bottle helps you resist the power drinks, which are loaded with calories and sugars. If you are trying to lose weight, this will only add on calories and you will have to work even harder to burn off what you just put in. Finally, buying plastic water bottles every time you go to the gym is seriously bad for the environment. Find one you like and hang onto it.
- The right shoes: Have the proper shoes for your workout and make sure you replace them regularly. If you are a runner, go to a shoe store that measures how you walk and run, so they can pick the right shoe based on your arch and gait. If you are lifting, pick a shoe that will give you enough support, but also that won’t hinder your footing. Some shoes have an extra-high arch in them, so that you rely on the shoe and not on your actual footing for balance. This can actually decrease your ability to properly perform certain exercises—including squats—by not letting you self-stabilize. On the other hand, as shoes wear out, they cease to provide lateral support. This can mean added strain on your ankles and knees. So, you need to replace your shoes often, especially if you run or do a lot of high-impact training in them. Plan to buy new shoes every few months. Rule of thumb: If you can't remember when you bought your shoes, you definitely need new ones.
- Sensible clothes: It's not important to have the latest moisture-wicking clothing; just wear something that allows for proper movement. You want clothing that conforms to the body without restricting it. As long as you’re comfortable, whatever you wear should be fine—assuming it’s not inappropriate towards others as we see so often at the gyms in San Francisco!
- Motivation: This is the one thing (well, other than your shoes) that you really have to remember to bring every single time you come to the gym. You can't buy it once you get there, and you can't replace it with an energy drink. But motivation can be a wide range of things, and for every person is different. You need to really find what you need to keep you motivated, and then make sure you always have it with you. For me, it’s my iPod. If I don’t have my own music pumping into my ears, I absolutely cannot workout. For you, it could be a workout buddy, your trainer, or just the atmosphere you are lifting in. Included in motivation is to have a focus and goal for that workout. I find it helps me build up my intensity if I know exactly what I am going to lift and what I want to get out of it. Sometimes, it’s just stretching and other times, it’s heavy weights—but I have to be focused on what I’m going to do, otherwise my workout can go downhill quickly. Finally, motivation can get sidetracked easily, so try to have a Motivation Plan B just in case. Have an idea of alternate exercises to achieve your goal in case the gym is overcrowded.
About Mike Clausen: Clausen is the founder and co-owner of DIAKADI Body training gym, voted best personal training gym in San Francisco by CitySearch in 2006. He has been actively involved in sports and weightlifting since high school, and continues to use that knowledge when training his clients. Clausen is both A.C.E. and N.A.S.M. certified and has been training clients professionally for six years. He enjoys making his clients stronger, both physically and mentally, giving them the tools to create an efficient body and to do things they thought were not possible.