What’s in your gym bag?!!

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Athletes and coaches; from the ‘weekend warriors’ to world class elite, are embroiled in an endless pursuit, looking for training aids which guide, strengthen and optimise the training programmes put in place (Prabhakar, 2010).

Most literature surrounding these ergogenic aids focuses on the nutritional supplements in the market today (Lopez-Samanes, 2015; Schubert & Astorino, 2013), whereas we as athletes and coaches use all manner of gadgets and tips in the quest for optimising performance!

We carry our gym props, our #gymspiration, our tools for gym-prep and necessary pre-gym rituals in our gym bags.

But what’s in our gym bag? And is it even worth the pre-lifting and energy expenditure to get it into the gym?

I asked my friends to show me theirs!!

My Cute-Stuff CrossFit friend:

My Delightfully Dedicated Gym Friend:

My Lovely Early-Bird Lady:



Thank goodness that there are water bottles in these photos! Loss of water can significantly impair physiological function, when associated with the need for high level sports performance, this is not good!

Judelson et al. (2007) looked into strength, power and resistance exercise performance on differing levels of hydration. They took trained males and under hypohydration of 2.5 and 5% body mass performed a variety of exercises. Although they found no significant differences in jump height, peak lower limb power or force on single bout movements, they did however find significant effects on the total work of a six set back-squat protocol where performance significantly decreased in sets 2-3 and 2-5 for the two hypohydration protocols respectively.

Levels of water in the body fluctuate naturally throughout the day but Maughan (2012) investigated the status of specific levels of hydration and exercise performance studies. In spite of some uncertainties within the reviewed literature surrounding the interpretation of results and the conclusions that standardisation of study outcomes and implementations are difficult to achieve due to the individual variability of participants responses to the conditions placed on them, there is clear evidence that reduction in body water levels severely impair performance. It is also clear that rehydration, in the form of an appropriate drink is of athletic benefit throughout the populations evaluated.

Keep on drinking!!


An ever popular inclusion into the gym bag is the fabulous specialised lifting shoe. But is it a case of having all the gear, and no idea?

You are mainly in one camp or another with regards to preferred footwear with regards to any given lift. You may wear lifting shoes for Olympic lifts, barefoot for deadlifts and trainers for your squats, why? It may be habit, a ritual, your coach told you, your friend told you, T-nation told you, a bit of reading might have told you, but what’s right?

It may depend on what you are looking to achieve as to what is the correct footwear for you. Sinclair, McCarthy, Bentley, Hurst, and Atkins (2015) showed increased rectus femoris activation in barbell back-squats (BBS) wearing trainers compared to barefoot; peak angles at the knee, as well as relative range of motion were significantly increased when in trainers compared to barefoot. So potentially for deeper squats with higher midline central dominance trainers are a good option; however there is research to suggest that barefoot training in the BBS there is also higher dominance of lower limb proprioception, with an increase in strength of the intrinsic ankle musculature (Sato, Fortenbaugh, Hydock & Heise (2013); Sinclair et al., (2015)).

Although is this increase of freedom around the ankle what we want? Sinclair et al. (2015) found the same increase of ankle movement with a significant increase in peak eversion in the barefoot squatting trial compared to shod participants. Within functional movement the subtalar joint needs a good range of motion within in-eversion angles (Kleipool & Blankevoort, 2010); an advantage for athletes who want strength within higher ranges of the coronal plane at the ankle for attenuating risk (Sandrey & Kent, 2008).

The idea behind the weightlifting shoes with its stiff sole and raised heel, complete with strap for increase arch support is to allow the same depth of hip and knee angles into the squat without additional ankle dorsiflexion which allows a more upright trunk, thus decreasing the shear forces through the spine. Ideas which were supported by Sato et al. (2013) in their initial kinematic analyses of BBS when comparing weightlifting shoes with traditional running shoes and furthered by Whitting, Meir, Crowley-McHattan and Holding (2015) at 50, 70 and 90% of 1RM BBS. Results which showed the decrease of peak ankle dorsiflexion in the weightlifting shoe group, with significance also shown from 50-90% and 70-90% but not between 50-70% (1RM), important again potentially for use within training novices to advanced training.

Except for Sato et al. (2013) who used males, but also 5 females, all other studies were carried out on males. Further research certainly needs to be addressed here as to the biomechanical changes, both kinetically and kinematically on the potential for differences due to postural changes between genders; pelvic positions, leading to increased Q-angle for example, also hormonal and general flexibility differences could alter outcomes for generalisation to training populations (Sato et al., (2013).

So are lifting shoes worth the gym bag space (and the expense?) – it looks like yes! If you want to reduce lower back shear, a little bit of safety on those big lifts is a good thing! But maybe barefoot those bad boys if you’re looking for more of a proprioceptive angle to your training?


Once you’ve done your training session, you’re showered and spruced for the next bit of your day, are you hiding some compressions garments under your clothes? How much time are you taking over your recovery in between work outs?

Wearing compression before, during, after?? What’s best? And are any compression garments worth the space in the bag??!!

(Am I biased to this data as my friend collated it? Hehe)

Studies with both supporting  and countering evidence on the benefits of compression on recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) prompted Hill, Howatson, van Someren, Leeder and Pedlar (2014) into their review. They used 12 studies in their meta-analysis into variable comparisons at baseline and 24 hour, 48 hour or 72 hour post-exercise. Analysis showed moderate effect on DOMS reduction, muscle strength and muscle power, as well as measures of creatine kinase (CK). Previous discrepancies of comparable results have been attributed to the range of participants anthropometry, exercise modality, compression type and duration; shown through McRae, Cotter and Laing’s (2011) review; so by including studies with a range of valid data through randomised participants, who were tested with a variable on a baseline and a secondary trial, with both male and female where the garment was worn not after, later than two hours post-exercise; a broad but athlete specific pool of implications for practice can be endorsed. The conclusions gathered allow further evidence for the use of compression garments in both elite and recreational athletes in DOMS reduction, aiding muscle function recovery and lowering of CK levels (generally associated as a marker for muscle damage) (Baird, Graham, Baker & Bickerstaff, 2012).

With a dearth of studies on the subject we look to reviews to aid us in our short and sharp assessments of the use of ergogenic aids in training. So from this do we compress our little legs after a serious session?

Yes wrap away! Get your tights in your gym bag!!


Two things for me when I think of knee sleeves: they look really cool and I have dislocated my knee before and it is horrible; but I don’t wear knee sleeves. Why? I don’t actually know!

So why are they in your gym bag? And are they worth the space in that bag!!??(and am I going to change my mind after writing this??)

Looking at the first lines and the reference lists of the research out there the common theme is surrounding proprioception effect and injury incidence, great tested variables for athletes! However the place I see them most is in the gym with neoprene, colourful and cool knee sleeves being worn by the big lifters, both power and Olympic; but there is no research specifically in this role?

So what does the rest of the research say, and can we generalise for use in strength and conditioning?

Well, Bottoni, Herten, Kofler, Hasler and Nachbauer (2013) looked at the effects of knee bracing on proprioception in healthy knees; van Tiggelen, Correvits and Witvrouw (2008) looked at this joint sense in a fatigued (healthy) knee and the effects of the knee brace upon it, with Mortaza et al. (2012) looking at the different type of knee braces available on some more functional movements, again on a healthy knee.

The above studies conclude mixed results for the favour of knee ergogenic aids; with results showing that neoprene knee sleeves can be used as a preventative method or treatment measure where increase of proprioception is needed (van Tiggelen, Correvits & Witvrouw (2008)) with contrast; that differing styles of knee braces to non-bracing form no significant differences on functional movements (Mortaza et al., (2012), plus that with a braces knee there can be significantly lowered proprioception when in middle range positions of the joint (Bottoni et al., (2013).

In 2000, Hayes, Brigido, Jamadar and Propeck created a mechanism approach to classifying knee injuries where, of the ten mechanism patterns identified only one was solely within the sagittal plane (pure hyperextension) with the others fallen into transverse and coronal planes in varying patterns. Of the above studies only one gave testing protocols outside of the sagittal plane, and even that was part of another variable tested (Mortaza et al., (2012)).

Regarding injury mechanisms then, with the use of knee sleeves advocated for use in a reduction of injury, significantly more testing needs to be carried out, firstly within the more trial-valid closed chain movements, and then certainly moving into open chain and more functional movements, before we can suggest with any scientific clarity or confidence that knee braces can aid us in the gym setting; for injury reduction or indeed sports performance.

So for now, my bare knees will do just fine. And you – well, what else could you fit in your gym bag instead??

Maybe a lifting belt? Let’s see if that’s worth the space below…


A lot of people will use a lifting belt for their big lifts in the gym, unfortunately I have also seen a guy use one in a seated military press; it was a sad day for all.

But is it worth us sane people wearing one within the realms of our lifts? Is it worth the space in our bag?

As soon as this topic was drawn up in my head, I knew the one man that I would look to first: Professor Stuart McGill.

Professor McGill is a Canadian lecturer and researcher with four books to his name, countless articles spanning over 30 years of publishing, plus a successful brand which belies himself as the master of the back and the spine.

In 2005, McGill wrote a review for the NSCA on the use of weight belts and pooling his and other published work, discussed the use of weight belts for both occupational and sporting use. He looked at clinical trials including biomechanical, psychophysical and physiological effects of belt wearing.

In terms of strength and conditioning, biomechanical analysis of weight belts seems to be the most pertinent for practical applications in training so I shall do a little specific digging here (but worth knowing there are other avenues to look at for the use of belts in the gym setting). Within his invited review to the NSCA, McGill identified two specific articles which advocated the use of belts within the biomechanics field, to increase the margin of safety during weightlifting (Harman, Rosenstein, Frykman & Nigro, 1989; Lander, Hundley & Simonton, 1992). Both studies observed ground reaction forces (GRF) and intra-abdominal pressures (IAP) during a BBS and a deadlift respectively; with conclusions drawn that weight belts helps support the trunk by increasing IAP, suggested to reduce compressive disc forces to reduce lifting risk factors. It is important to note that abdominal muscles, supported by the use of IAP increase due to weight belts may not be strengthened as much without, during the training exercise.

Other earlier studies have also suggested however that in the case of the posture and lifting mechanics, some people show positive effects with a belt, whereas others show negative effects (Granata, Marras & Davis, 1997)) with more recent data collected showing the Valsalva Maneourve (VM) in isolation effectively increases IAP; increasing trunk and spinal stability (Hackett & Chow, 2013), aiding gym lifters too?

There is a huge wealth of evidence for the use of lifting belts for repetitive lifting movements for the reduction of risk of injury, by the increase in IAP.; however even with such a positive amount of evidence there is still no firm confirmation to suggest an increase in performance for the non-injured athlete which would have a bearing on their holistic approach to their training goals.

Maybe just get your breathing right??

Next to come in the ‘what’s in your gym bag’ series are more gym gadgets and the nutritional cool bits we love to take!!

Gloves, chalk, BCAA’s, protein, pre-workout, timers, lifting straps, workout logs and more!!


Prabhakar, B. (2010). Ergogenic aids: Nutrition. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(1), pp. 1-8.

Baird, M. F., Graham, S. M., Baker, J. S. & Bickerstaff, G. F. (2012). Creatine-Kinase- and Exercise-Related Muscle Damage Implications for Muscle Performance and Recovery. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2012, pp. 1-13.

Bottoni, G., Herten, A., Kofler, P., Hasler, M. & Nachbauer, W. (2013). The effect of knee brace and knee sleeve on the proprioception of the knee in young non-professional healthy sportsmen. The Knee 20(6), pp. 490–492.

Granata, K. P., Marras, W. S. & Davis, K. G. (1997). Biomechanical assessment of lifting dynamics, muscle activity and spinal loads while using three different style lifting belts. Clinical Biomechanics, 12(2), pp. 107-115.

Hackett, D. A. & Chow, C. M. (2013). The Valsalva maneuver: its effect on intra-abdominal pressure and safety issues during resistance exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(8), pp. 2338-45.

Harman, E. A., Rosenstein, R. M., Frykman, P. N., & Nigro, G.A. (1989). Effects of a belt on intra-abdominal pressure during weight lifting. Medical Science of Sports Exercise, 2(12), pp. 186-190.

Hayes, C. W., Brigido, M. K., Jamadar, D. A. & Propeck, T. (2000). Mechanism-based Pattern Approach to Classification of Complex Injuries of the Knee Depicted at MR Imaging.  Scientific Exhibitions, 20, pp. 121-134.

Hill, J., Howatson, G., van Someren, K., Leeder, J. & Pedlar, C. (2014). Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48, pp. 1340-1346.

Judelson, D. A., Maresh, C. M., Farrell, M. J., Yamamoto, L. M., Armstrong, L. E., Kraemer, W. J.,

Volek, J. S., Spiering, B. A., Casa, D. J. & Anderson, J. M. (2007). Effect of Hydration State on Strength, Power, and Resistance Exercise Performance. Medical Science of Sports Exercise, 39(10), pp. 1817–1824.

Kleipool, R. P. & Blankevoort, L. (2010). The relation between geometry and function of the ankle joint  complex: a biomechanical review. Knee Surgery and Sports Trauma Arthroscopy, 18, pp. 618–627.

Lander, J. E., Hundley, J. R., & Simonton, R. L. (1992). The effectiveness of weight belts during multiple repetitions of the squat exercise. Medical Science of Sports Exercise, 24(5), pp. 603-609.

Lopez-Samanes, A., Ortega Fonseca, J. F., Fernandez Elıas, V. E., Borreani, S., Mate-Munoz, J. L. & Kovacs, M. S. (2015). Nutritional Ergogenic Aids in Tennis: A Brief Review, 37(3), pp. 1-11.

Maughan, R. J. (2012). Investigating the associations between hydration and exercise performance: methodology and limitations. Nutrition Reviews, 70(2), pp. 128-131.

MacRae, B. A., Cotter, J. D. & Laing, R. M.  (2011). Compression Garments and Exercise Garment Considerations, Physiology and Performance. Sports Medicine, 41(10), pp. 815-843.

McGill, S. M. (1993).  Abdominal Belts In Industry:  A position paper on their assets, liabilities and use.  American Industry and Hygiene Association Journal, 54(12), pp. 752-754.

Mortaza, N., Ebrahimi, I., Jamshidi, A. A., Abdollah, V., Kamali, M., Wan Abas, W. A. B. & Abu

Osman, N. A. (2012). The Effects of a Prophylactic Knee Brace and Two Neoprene Knee Sleeves on the Performance of Healthy Athletes: A Crossover Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE, 7(11), pp.  50110.

Sandrey, M. A. & Kent, T. E. (2008). The effects of eversion fatigue on frontal plane joint position sense in the ankle. Journal of Sports Rehabilitation, 17(3), pp. 257-68.

Sato, K., Fortenbaugh, D., Hydock, D. S., & Heise, G. D. (2013). Comparison of back squat kinematics between barefoot and shoe conditions. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 8, 571–578.

Schubert, M. M. & Astorino, T. A. (2013). A systematic review of the efficacy of ergogenic aids for improving running performance. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 27(6), pp. 1699-1707.

Sharratt, M. T., & McGill, S.M. (1993).  The effect of variable breathing pattern on spinal loading during lifting. Medical Science of Sports Exercise, 25(5), pp. 5115.

Sinclair, J. McCarthy, D., Bentley, I., Hurst, H. T. & Atkins, S. (2015). The influence of different footwear on 3-D kinematics and muscle activation during the barbell back squat in males, European Journal of Sport Science, 15(7), pp. 583-590.

van Tiggelen, D., Coorevits, P. & Witvrouw, E. (2008). The use of a neoprene knee sleeve to compensate the deficit in knee joint position sense caused by muscle fatigue. Scandinavian Journal of Medical Science in Sport, 18, pp. 62–66.

Whitting, J., Meir, R., Crowley-McHattan, Z. & Holding, R. (2016). The Influence of Footwear Type on Barbell Back Squat Using 50, 70 and 90% of 1RM: A Biomechanical Analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Publish Ahead of Print, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001180.

Willick, S. E., Cushman, D. M., Blauwetl, C. A., Emery, C., Webborn, N., Derman, W., Schwellnus, J. & Van de Vliet, P. (2015). The epidemiology of injuries in powerlifting at the London 2012 Paralympic Games: An analysis of 1411 athlete-days. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Sports Science. pp. 1-6. doi: 10.1111/sms.12554.

Written by Kristina

I own 2 FITWORXS clinics (est'd '06), am Head Sports Rehabilitator down at Grasshoppers RFC, am a Pilates Instructor who now also teaches for the Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute (APPI), Netball Lover & Happy Woman! "Forever Pushing for a Fitworxs Future!"

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