What every fit chick needs in her gym bag

Benjamin Franklin was a pretty smart guy, and I have to agree with him that, indeed, "If you fail to plan, you're planning to fail," which is exactly why the most dedicated fit chicks always have a gym bag stocked and ready to go. It's a whole lot harder to make excuses to skip a workout if you always have everything you need in a bag at your side.

The trick, of course, is knowing exactly what to pack. Some of the basics should be fairly obvious — shoes, hair ties, deodorant, and a sports bra — but if that's all you keep in your bag, you're probably going to be disappointed. As an exercise physiologist and exercise science faculty member, my life (literally) revolves around fitness, so I'd like to think I've honed the skill of packing my gym bag down to a science. While everyone's needs are a little bit different, let this list be your jumping off point to the perfectly stocked gym bag.

Start with the right bag

There are two basic approaches to gym bag selection: The minimalist approach and the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach. I tend to lean toward the latter. I spend so much time exercising that my bag needs to be large and roomy, should be able to double as a work bag, and should be able to keep my stuff safe and dry.

Large duffels like the Incase EO Duffel work perfectly. This bag features weather-resistant panels, a padded sleeve to store a laptop (just in case), and lots of space to take on shoes, clothing and toiletries. It also comes with a removable shoulder strap so you can easily carry it with you. The clean and simple lines also don't scream "gym bag!" making it a more versatile everyday option. Just keep in mind, this duffel-bag approach allows for lots of storage, but doesn't always provide as many pockets. If you're the "there's a place for everything, and everything in its place," type of chick, consider getting some type of organizer cube set to keep your items separated.

On the other hand, the minimalist approach to gym bags is a good option if you hate carrying a lot of stuff with you. Smaller shoulder bags, like Livewell 360's Accel, provide sufficient space for the basics, lots of pockets for organization, and a few gym-specific features that are really nice. For instance, removable attachments for carrying a yoga mat, roomy exterior water bottle pockets, and an adjustable interior pocket for organization. Of course, there's not as much space overall, so depending on your specific needs, this may not be the option.

A cute water bottle

Staying hydrated is kind of a necessity before, during, and after a sweat session, so it's critical that you keep a reusable water bottle always at the ready. Of course any water bottle will do (as long as you actually use it), but I'm a sucker for cute bottles with a bit of personality, like Ban.do's Work It Out Water Bottle that says "After This We're Getting Pizza." Yes, please. Plus, the sip spout folds down, making it less likely to spill or leak in your bag.

Wireless headphones

Switching from wired headphones to wireless, Bluetooth headphones was life-changing, and I'm not even exaggerating. Not having to fight with a cord or feel tethered to a device makes the entire workout experience more pleasant, especially if you can't get through a session without a podcast or your favorite tunes. I've tried a number of brands over the last couple years, but I'm currently a huge advocate for AfterShokz Trekz Titanium headphones because they use bone conduction technology to deliver sound, so you don't have to actually put earbuds into your ears. These headphones sit right in front of your ears, which allows you to listen to your music while still being able to hear what's going on around you. For me, this has a few benefits. First, during outdoor workouts, it's safer: You can easily hear cars and people approaching. Second, I tend to have very sensitive ears, and wearing anything in my ears leads to headaches. I don't have that problem with this brand because nothing goes in my ears. It's pretty fabulous.

Hands-free phone case

Of course, if you use your phone to access music, podcasts, timers, workouts, or GPS apps, you need a way to carry it with you that won't interfere with your routine. I've tried everything — fanny packs, FlipBelts, wrist bands, and more, but for me, nothing stays out of the way better than a good ol' armband like the Incase Active Armband, available for pretty much every version of iPhone. This band is sweatproof, provides full access to your phone's screen, has reflective strips for extra safety, and even has a hidden pocket where you can store a key, cash, or credit cards. If you don't have an iPhone, try looking for armbands specific to your phone's version — generic-sized bands can work, but they'll never offer the perfect function of an armband tailored to your phone.

Sweat towel

Depending on your gym or your specific workout, you may or may not need to keep a sweat towel with you, but I personally like to keep one on hand so I always have something available to clean up with, whether that's because I broke a sweat during a training session, or because I spilled coffee on myself. These things happen. Apparently especially to me. Anyway…

You can always thrown an old hand towel in your bag and call it good, but if you really like planning ahead, you can't go wrong with Grand Trunk's Microfiber Travel Towel. It's bigger than a standard sweat towel, but it's extra thin, so it takes up almost no space in your bag. And because of its larger size, you can wrap it around yourself and use its button closure to secure it in place, a great feature if you regularly change in the locker room.

Two sets of clean clothes

I can't stress this point enough: If you have the space in your bag, always keep two sets of clothing on hand. If you don't have the space in your bag, at a bare minimum, always keep two sets of undergarments and two tops on hand. Not only does this allow for options when hitting the gym, it gives you options when leaving the gym, too. Say, for instance, you head to the gym right after work. Do you really want to change back into your work clothes after you leave the gym? Probably not. But chances are you don't want to stay in your sweaty workout clothes, either. With two sets of clothing on hand, you give yourself the flexibility to choose comfort after a tough workout.

And personally, I suggest you stock up on workout clothes that can pass for street wear. Given the popularity of athleisure, the right workout clothes can easily double as items you can wear while running errands, grabbing a drink with friends, or heading to a casual event. After lots of (painless) research, if I had to choose two complete (and stylish!) outfits to keep in a gym bag, they would include the DYI Striped Tech Mesh Tee in Black, the DYI All Zipped Up Tight, the Noli Aria Bra, the Titika Bayliss Performance Top, the Titika Simona Jogger, and the Titika Bond Bra. With a selection like this you can dress up, dress down, mix-and-match, show some skin, or keep covered up. And by electing clothing in all black, you don't have to worry about sweat stains. Always a bonus.

A dry bag or pouch

Throwing wet, sweaty clothes into your nice clean gym bag, along with your other nice, clean clothes, is just gross. Don't do it. The easiest solution to keep your sweaty clothes separate is just to throw them in an extra-large Ziploc bag after each workout and zip 'em up 'til you get home, but if you want a more permanent solution, check out the Eagle Creek Pack-It Sport Wet Dry bag. The bag has two sides separated by a moisture-tight lining, so you can keep sweaty clothes on one side and clean clothes on the other without any cross-contamination. Plus, it's machine washable and also has an antimicrobial treatment to help prevent the bag itself from getting moldy or mildewy. Always a good thing.

A post-workout snack

One rule every fit chick has? Never be caught without a snack, especially a post-workout snack. Consuming a small snack or meal after your workout is one of the best ways to maximize your post-workout recovery by replenishing your body with high-quality carbs, proteins, and electrolytes. While there are lots of ways to do this — for instance, you could eat a piece of fruit and a bowl of cereal, a turkey sandwich, or a small serving of pasta with meat sauce — I subscribe to the belief that you should always be prepared and have a bar or shake with you in your bag so you're never in a position to miss post-workout refueling.

My current obsession are GoMacro bars, because they provide a ratio of carbs to proteins between 3:1 and 4:1, which is the suggested ratio for optimal recovery after a workout, and they're also non-GMO, organic, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free. Basically they check all the boxes. They even have versions that are nut-allergy safe, so there's literally something for everyone. Just keep in mind this particular brand is more of a "mini meal," as each bar has almost 300 calories. Definitely not a bad thing, but if you're on a calorie-restricted diet, you'll want to make sure it fits in your plan.

Mini toiletries

One surefire way to end up with your clothes soaked in slimy shampoo is to pack full-sized toiletries in your gym bag. It's a rookie move. Instead, stock up on the mini shampoos, conditioners, and lotions from the travel section at the grocery store (or better yet, the freebies from hotels), put them in a seal-able bag, and toss them inside. This way, they take up less space and even if one of the bottles leaks, it's a minor problem instead of a giant mess. Personally, I don't worry too much about what type of shampoo or conditioner I use, so this method works for me, but I'm more picky about facial products. If you want to keep your more expensive items with you (rather than settling for whatever you've scavenged from hotels), see if you can find high-quality travel-sized products, like Uncommon Goods' Spa To Go Set, or buy travel-sized bottles you can decant your full-sized bottles into.

Dry shampoo

Be honest — you don't always hit the shower immediately after a workout, do you? I know I don't. But if you have to head from the gym to any function that requires you to look even semi-decent, it doesn't hurt to soak up the oil from your hair with a spray of dry shampoo. There are lots of reasonably-priced options at retailers like Target, but after trying three different brands specifically for this article, I'm currently digging Dove's Volume + Fullness version because it's formulated specifically for people like me who have fine, flat hair that looks limp and terrible between washes. The struggle is real, but this product has helped.

Shower-free body wipes

Again, if a shower is just not going to happen after your workout, no one's judging you. But they will judge you if you still smell like sweat. Store a pack of body-safe wipes in your bag, like the Honest Company's Travel Baby Wipes. Sure, they're made for babies, but that doesn't mean you can't use them, too. Plus, the small travel packs can easily be slipped in a side-pocket of your gym bag.

Jump rope

I never go anywhere without a jump rope. Ever. Even if I don't have time to make it to the gym, with a jump rope in my gym bag, I can get a enjoy a quick cardio workout practically anywhere. While I'm in love the the CrossRope jump rope system that allows you to switch out different weighted ropes with your set of handles, it is spendy, so you might want to start with a more basic purchase, especially if you haven't done a lot of jumping rope. You can pick one up from your local sporting goods store, or find one on Amazon, like this one with a fully adjustable length.

Resistance bands

In addition to a jump rope, I always have resistance bands with me. They're lightweight and easy to pack away, making them the perfect training tool for go-anywhere workouts. Again, if you're stuck at the office and have to miss your lunchtime boot camp class, no worries! Just grab your resistance bands and add a circuit of strength training exercises at your desk. This set of bands from URBNFit includes three bands in easy, medium, and hard resistance levels, as well as a door attachment so you can do exercises like triceps push-downs and rows.

Antiperspirant Deodorant

This is one of those "duh" items. And if I were you, I wouldn't keep just one stick of deodorant in your bag, but several. Because you never want to be caught without extra deodorant after a workout, am I right? Plus, because my bag is always with me, if I'm in a rush and somehow forget to apply in the morning, I've always got extra in my bag. Personally, I use Dove Advanced Care Antiperspirant because it offers 48-hour odor and wetness protection (and I'm a sweaty chick), along with a formula designed to help skin keep its moisture balance.

Extra hair ties

Personally, I think gyms should be required to keep hair ties on hand for their customers, because what woman hasn't accidentally forgotten one before? It's a common problem. An easy solution is to keep an extra pack of bands in your bag. Any reasonably-strong set from your local store will do (especially in a pinch), but I'm a big fan of the Invisibobble Power hair bands. They're made from a hard plastic material that doesn't absorb sweat, and won't leave (as bad) of a crease in your hair due to their spiral design.

Heart rate monitor

Heart rate training is an excellent way to monitor your workouts and make sure you're staying in your "training zone," a zone that amounts to a percentage (typically ranging between 50- and 85-percent) of your estimated maximum heart rate. It's a good way to make sure you're not slacking off or overdoing it, and it's also a good way to approach interval training to make sure you're actually giving it your all during high-intensity bouts of exercise.

There are lots of heart rate monitors on the market, including watches with chest straps and various wrist band models, but I'm the kind of person who likes her tools to do double-duty whenever possible. If you're in the market, the FitBit Blaze is a really cool gadget because in addition to offering PurePulse Heart Rate monitoring without the hassle of a chest strap, it also features Connected GPS, on-screen workouts with Fitstar, multi-sport tracking, and of course, all the other health monitoring features Fitbit is known for. It also just looks really cool, with a hi-res color touchscreen and interchangeable bands and frames. It's not your standard fitness tracker. Of course, you don't have to store this bad boy in your bag, you can just wear it on your wrist, but if you have a watch you wear during the day, and want to store your heart rate monitor in your bag for workouts, the Blaze features a five-day battery life, so you really only need to charge it about once a week.

Training shoes

Of course, I'd be remiss not to remind you to pack your shoes. Hopefully you wouldn't have forgotten on your own. While shoe selection is very personal and should be based on your own comfort and needs, I personally keep minimalist gym shoes, like the Vivobarefoot Wing, in my bag (I actually use Nikes, but they no longer sell the model I use). Please hear me: This style of shoe isn't for everyone! Minimalist shoes have almost no cushion or support (depending on the brand and style), and they take serious getting used to. That said, they're great for keeping in your gym bag because they're so flexible — you can literally roll them up or fold them over and stuff them in a pocket.

If, for whatever reason, you don't want to keep your shoes in your bag (who could blame you, really?), the Klitch clip can attach any pair of shoes to any bag with a simple carabiner set up.

Sunglasses

I'm not a big "accessories girl," but I'm a huge sunglasses girl. I keep sunglasses in my car, next to my front door, in my purse, at my desk, and of course, in my gym bag. When workouts take me outside, I want to be able to protect my eyes and avoid the wrinkle-causing effects of squinting. While i have lots of different brands and styles, right now I'm digging the Nike Flex Momentums — they offer performance features, including a lightweight frame and ventilation, but they don't look strictly like sports sunglasses, so you can easily wear them when you're not working out.

Yoga mat

If you're a regular yogi, or if you're like me and end up doing a lot of workouts outside, it's always nice to have a mat at the ready. Look for a mat that's thick enough to feel comfortable when you're using it for core work (at least 5-millimeters thick), and one that's also easy to clean (a major must, especially if you use it outside!). The UncommonGoods Recycled Wetsuits Yoga Mat is a pretty cool 5-millimeter option. This mat is actually made from the neoprene of old wet suits, and because neoprene is is a closed-cell material that won't absorb bacteria or dust, it won't get as gross as many other mats. Plus, if you need to clean it, all you have to do is spray it down with water and hang it outside to dry. Couldn't be easier! Granted, you'll probably need a gym bag that features some sort of yoga carrying strap or sling, because mats do take up space.

Mini foam roller or massage ball

Recovery is a big part of a well-balanced workout routine, and that includes foam rolling and self-myofascial release. While you may decide not to include these tools in your gym bag, I always have them with me. To avoid using up space in my gym bag, I string a Trigger Point Therapy Mini Foam Roller through my bag's shoulder strap, then I throw one of the Trigger Point Mssage Balls into an interior pocket. Since I tend to have a lot of low back and hip pain, having these items on hand gives me the chance to work out the kinks after a workout, or just when I have a few available minutes throughout the day.