How to pack for the gym…

If your New Year’s resolution to hit the gym means you’ll be showering and getting dressed at the health club, read on. This post is for you. (Men and other minimalists, read it anyway. It will help you sympathize with the rest of us. Connie, this includes you. Doreene and other people who do not sweat during a workout, this also includes you. Read.)

The key to a successful visit to the gym on your way to work or a hot date includes remembering everything you need to make yourself presentable after you exercise. It is too easy to forget an item, and I’ll admit that I’ve paid the price on various occasions — sometimes literally, as I’ve had to stop at a store on the way to work to find a substitute. In other words, I’ve learned what I need and how to help myself remember. You can too.

Personally, I pack my gym bags and load them into my car the night before I hit the gym. I carry two gym bags — one for toiletries, one for undergarments, shoes, and machines (seriously) — plus my hanging clothes (occasionally covered by a plastic garbage bag if it is raining). (Yes, I’m classy like that.)

I know not all of you are as needy as I am. While I carry a shower bag, a towel, and a simple robe with me to the showers, my friend Connie wears her towel and carries one bottle of something magical that does everything. My friend Doreene, on the other hand, carries nothing at all. She doesn’t even shower because she doesn’t sweat. As we coach each other through weight lifting, she says things such as “You’re beading” (meaning I am sweating) or “You warmed the seat up for me” because, as I may have mentioned, Doreene does not sweat. I do. She comes to the gym with her hair perfectly coiffed and ends her workouts neither sweaty nor mussed. I like her anyway.

If you are like me, then you need to carry some toiletries and tools to go from drab to fab after a workout. These are my tips as to how to pack your bags for the gym, with links to items I find helpful and pictures to help where my words may fail.

For hauling my toiletries, I swear by the Thirty-One Gifts utility tote, above. Mine is several years old and doesn’t include the current zipper feature but gets admiration from my peers in the locker room. What I like about it is that the canvas is water repellent, provides a space for my shower bag, flipflops, towel and robe, and offers pockets all around the outside that make it easy to organize my toiletries and easy to see what I have (or what I forgot).

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My mesh bag with toiletries for the shower (my shower sponge isn’t pictured).

My shower bag, above, came in a gift from my friend Jenny years ago. It was a Bath & Bodyworks mesh bag containing a suite of sweet-smelling items but works perfectly for my shower necessities because it holds what I need, allows water to leak out, and I can throw it in the wash with my towels to clean and bleach. (I did find a shower tote recently at Bed Bath & Beyond that might work for me and you.) In my mesh bag, I keep shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, a wide-toothed comb, a shower sponge, and Grandma’s Lye Soap in a fishnet bag on top of a soap saver in a soap dish. (Yes, carrying the bar soap is quite the task!)

[If you want to swim, save your hair by using Malibu C Swimmer’s Wellness products. I also use a spray, leave-in conditioner after I shower. To get the chlorine smell off my skin I use Grandma’s Lye Soap. I lather up from top to bottom while still in my swimsuit (so I wash my suit too), then remove the suit and lather up again. Trust me, if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t bother lugging the soap along. (Leave a comment if you want more information on this.) It’s great for my face, too.]

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My other bag is a glorified gym bag with various compartments — zippered pockets in the front where I keep my panties and bra, any jewelry for the day, my weight-lifting cards and gloves, and various and sundry items. The compartment in the back contains my flat iron and a bag of makeup, while the main compartment holds my blow dryer, my shoes, a camisole if needed, and my personal fan (seriously).

What I like about pockets and compartments is that I can assign a specific location for a specific item. I can fill each compartment and be confident that I will have what I need for the day. My friends, on the other hand, manage by carrying spare essentials at all times. Connie, for example, keeps a spare bra and panties in her gym bag at all times, while Phoebe, who swims every day, keeps an extra swim cap and pair of goggles.

As organized as I am, you’d think my car would be a sparkling source of tidiness, and in those hours between returning from work and driving to work, it is. My routine is to hit the gym on my way to work  — in part because it is a habit, it is on my way to work, and it means I only have to shower once a day. I arrive at the gym, lug my bags to the locker room, work out, shower and get ready for work, lug my bags back to the car, and drive to work. Once in the parking lot, I let it all hang out.

I unzip my gym bag and pour my running shoes and sweaty clothes all over the seat so they do not “ferment,” as my friend Connie says, in the bag all day. I also hang my bath towel, robe, and bathing suit over the backs of the seats to let them air dry. Most days, my items are sufficiently dried by the time my work day is done. I simply return the towel and robe to my toiletry bag, place my dry, used workout clothes in the hamper, and then refresh the gym bag with the next day’s work clothes before replacing them in the car.

Connie advises that you bring a fresh bath towel to your bag before your remove the used one so you won’t forget to take a towel.

“It’s never pleasant to use a sweaty gym shirt to dry off after your shower!” she says.

While it is likely inevitable that some work outs or work days will be interrupted by forgetting an essential item or two, you can learn from your mistakes and figure out how best to pack your own bag for the gym.

I’ve never seen someone pack exactly as I do, but I hope you now have some ideas for what might work for you as you pack for the gym.

Happy New Year’s resolutions! I wish you success. 🙂


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