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So, you want to get strong. What are you doing about it? Hopefully, you’ve built a program based on real science rather than bro science; more Jim Wendler and less of the fitness magazines at the checkout counter. An effective workout plan starts with homework, gains traction with proper form, and certainly benefits from arming yourself with the right tools. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your cross-trainers and a $5 protein shake from the front desk are all you need to reach your potential. Seek out the strongest lifters at your gym, and you’ll notice they all have the same fitness equipment in their gym bag. They probably all read the same studies and watch the same videos, too.

When you’re ready to start treating your gym bag like a tool box, be sure to make your money count by considering a few of these essentials.

Blender Bottle

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If a gym bag doesn’t have a Blender Bottle in it, is it really a gym bag? These shaker cups are popular for a reason. Dishwasher-safe plastic is BPA-free and comes clean to save you from yesterday’s protein shake smell. A surgical-grade stainless steel wire ball mixes shakes in a flash because nobody likes to be surprised by a clump of dry whey. Measurement markings in ounces and milliliters help you get the right mixture every time. A secure lid and spout cover prevent spills, and the tapered bottom fits inside standard cup holders. At this price, pick up a few so you always have one ready. All that’s left to do now is choose between chocolate and vanilla. [Buy]

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard

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Now that you have your shaker cup picked out, fill it with Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard whey protein. You can (and should) spend days reading about nutrition and the various supplements available, but whey protein is one basic ingredient almost everyone agrees on. Each scoop of Gold Standard contains 24 grams of high-quality whey protein, 5 grams of branch chain amino acids, and just a few grams of combined carbohydrate and fat. It’s also been tested for banned substances to make sure you know what you’re getting. As a bonus, this protein is instantized to mix easily. There are several sizes available, but the five-pound tub is the most cost-effective. You’ll never go back to low-priced “proprietary blends” that are loaded with sugar and other fillers. [Buy]

Inzer weightlifting belt

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When you stack enough plates to bend the bar, this weightlifting belt from Inzer brings the support you need. Don’t trust the wimpy belts provided by your gym. This heavy-duty tool is 13 millimeters thick with layers of leather and nylon, double stitching, and six metal rivets holding it together. The large buckle locks in place with authority. Pro-level build quality means it’s capable of handling far more than you can dish out. Still not convinced? Inzer belts are guaranteed forever, so this will probably be the last belt you ever buy. Remember that weightlifting belts sit high to provide a brace against your midsection, so follow their sizing guide rather than using your pant size. [Buy]

Adidas Powerlift 4

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You can have plenty of success with a pair of Chuck Taylors but, if you want more support and better geometry for your joints, Adidas Powerlift 4 are what you need. Firm rubber soles provide extra support and will keep your body position more stable during the squat and Olympic lifts. A slightly elevated heel can make it easier to hit depth with reduced stress on the knees. A reinforced strap over the laces provides an extra snug fit. These shoes are great for certain lifts, but you’ll still need a primary pair of shoes for other exercises and getting to and from the gym. Casual lifters might not want to shell out this kind of money for such a specialized piece of equipment, but these shoes are worth every penny and should last years. [Buy]

Friction Labs chalk

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Sooner or later your grip is going to need some help, and that’s when Friction Labs chalk comes in handy. Unlike traditional chalk, this formula is designed to keep your skin healthy by avoiding cheap fillers that leave your hands dry and cracked. This chalk is trusted by weightlifters, rock climbers, and gymnasts because it keeps working even when exposed to sweat and oils. Three sizes are available, and you can choose from Unicorn Dust (fine), Gorilla Grip (chunky), and Bam Bam (super chunky). All three come loose in bags, rather than in a block held together by artificial binding agents. You’ll also find that it stays on your hands longer, so you’ll end up using far less. That should make you and your gym’s cleaning crew happy. [Buy]

Bose workout headphones

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We all have our favorite workout playlist, and yours will sound better through a pair of Bose wireless workout headphones. These are a little more expensive than some of the alternatives, but the sound quality is significantly better. Each pair comes with three soft attachments for a comfortable, secure fit in your ears. They’re also weather-resistant so you can listen worry-free during a sweaty gym session or rainy run outdoors. Touch controls let you change tracks, adjust volume, and answer calls without digging your phone out of your gym bag–not that you’d ever talk on the phone at the gym. These headphones are a great way to tune out the house music, crank up your own playlist, and hype yourself up for a great lift. [Buy]

Rainleaf gym towel

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Sharing weights is fine, but bring a Rainleaf gym towel to prevent sharing more than that. Nobody wants a sweaty bench, and this towel provides a clean, dry barrier between you and the last person’s germs. The microfiber fabric absorbs up to five times its own weight so you can actually get dry after a shower–no more ratty gym towels for you. This towel also dries fast and comes with a corner that snaps into a loop so you can hang it anywhere. All this adds up to a cleaner, dryer towel that gets the job done and won’t stink up your gym bag and car. Affordable prices mean you can grab a few sizes to have separate towels for showering and wiping down gym equipment. [Buy]

Pulse FX massage gun

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When a hard workout leaves you feeling like you got run over by a bus, the Pulse FX massage gun can relieve stubborn knots and get you back in fighting shape in no time. Miraculous might be too strong of a word, but this machine can do some amazing things for sore muscles. The adjustable electric motor reaches deep into dense muscle for fast relief. Five different attachments help you pinpoint pain and get back to training faster. It’s even small enough to throw in your gym bag to help you loosen up before a workout. This is the most expensive item on our list by far, but it’s about as close to an in-home masseuse as you can get. [Buy]

Types of fitness equipment

You wouldn’t wear ski boots to go swimming and you shouldn’t hit the gym with the wrong gear, either. Quality fitness equipment is purpose-built to help you perform at your best. In the gym, that means bringing hard-soled shoes for lifts like the squat and deadlift and running shoes for cardio. Each discipline within weightlifting has some kind of specialized equipment and some that overlap. You won’t find a bodybuilder using a bench shirt or a powerlifter weeping over a food scale, but they both have chalk and a decent belt. Make sure you do your homework and spend your money in the right places.

Key features of fitness equipment

  • Intended use: Fitness equipment is designed for specific uses, so make sure you buy what’s right for your fitness goals. Figure out what kind of activities you enjoy before blowing the budget. Once you decide on a style of working out, you’ll be able to extract the most out of the gear on this list.
  • Price: Some things, like gym towels and shaker cups, can do a great job and save you money. You’ll probably want to stock up with a few of each. Other things, like supportive gear and wireless headphones, will cost more than $100 but last a very long time.
  • Built quality: This is your health we’re talking about, so don’t risk underperforming or getting injured by buying poorly made equipment. At the very least, cheap accessories will wear out and waste money. Supportive items can cause big problems if they fail so it’s better to hurt your wallet than your body.
  • User error: If you don’t know what you’re doing, the best equipment in the world can’t help you. We’ve all seen the guy wearing a weightlifting belt on the elliptical. Make sure you find the right tool for the job and learn how to use it correctly.

Benefits of fitness equipment

There is a lot of snake oil out there, promising to get you “toned” for just five easy payments of $19.99. The good stuff is typically simple, focused, and well-built. Buy right, and you’ll get years or even decades out of your equipment. Good gym equipment can help you perform better, get stronger, and avoid injury. If you’ve been throwing on whatever shoes are at the door and haphazardly going about your workout, a well-informed plan and some solid equipment can revolutionize your fitness game.

Fitness equipment pricing

When you’re buying gear that can either lift you to your potential or let you down, it’s best to save up for the good stuff. Budget fitness equipment can be found for very low prices, but answer this: when you’re grinding out a heavy set of deadlifts, will you trust a flimsy belt you picked to save a few bucks? A slipped disk is a lot more expensive–believe that. The good news is that not everything that’s good is expensive. Snag a shaker cup, gym towel, and some chalk for less than $15 each. When you have more to spend, pick up a belt and pair of lifting shoes that will last years for $100-200 each.

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