Gym essentials | A beginners guide to gym gear and gadgets

If you’re returning to the gym after some time off or you’re a complete beginner, you might be wondering what you need to bring with you. Times change quickly, and with so many new and innovative gadgets out there, knowing what gear is essential and what isn’t can get confusing.

Thankfully there are a few simple rules, tips, and tricks to follow that can make a huge difference. We’ve put all the information about gear and gadgets in one place to keep things simple for you before you arrive.

Clothing and comfort essentials

Moisture wicking clothing

Moisture-wicking clothes are a game-changer for gym-goers. Their thin and breathable fabric allows air to enter and leave the garment freely, preventing sweat from lingering on your skin and getting trapped in the fabric of your clothes.

These garments are typically made from specialised synthetic materials like polyester or microfibre. These fabrics work by distributing sweat across a larger surface area, allowing it to evaporate rapidly. This keeps you feeling drier, more comfortable, and less weighed down during exercise.

Moreover, moisture-wicking fabrics help regulate body temperature. By removing sweat efficiently, they prevent overheating, which is crucial for both performance and comfort.

Another advantage is reduced chafing and skin irritation. Wet, sweaty clothing can cause friction against your skin, leading to discomfort and potential skin issues. Moisture-wicking materials minimize this problem.

A change of clothes

Gyms are active places and rips and tears do happen. Keeping a change of the essentials in your gym bag helps avoid getting caught short in the event of an accident.

Packing something warm like an old hoodie or coat can really help during the winter, especially if you travel to and from the gym on foot. Making sure you wrap up is important because your body temperature will continue to gradually drop once you stop exercising.

A good quality towel

If you sweat a lot in the face or are all about intense cardio sessions, a towel is invaluable. Also, nobody likes using machines that are covered in somebody else’s sweat. Wiping down anything you use in the gym helps keep you, and the equipment clean and sanitary.

Good trainers and why they’re important

Whether you’re crazy about cardio or you love to lift, your feet are always the first point of contact with the ground. The last thing you want is arch pain or your Achilles flaring up halfway through your first workout because you wore the wrong shoes.

You don’t have to go for the top of the range either. Put your mind and your feet at ease and consider investing in an affordable pair of padded running shoes for a dynamic and versatile fit.

The right socks

Now you’ve got the trainers, it’s time to think about your feet inside them.

Chances are that the thin cotton blend socks you wear day in, and day out aren’t going to cut it in the gym. That’s because the fabric is thick and dense, causing you to retain moisture inside your shoe. If you’re lucky, you’ll get away with smelly shoes. If you’re not, this build-up of perspiration can cause fungal infections, blisters, irritation, and damaged skin.

Picking up a bulk-pack of moisture wicking (more on this later) socks that allow your feet to breathe will help minimise the smell inside your shoes and give your feet the TLC they deserve during a workout.

Storage essentials

A sports bag or backpack

You don’t need to spend loads on the latest branded gym bag. Your bag should carry everything you need for your workout and everything you need after your workout. If you travel light, a backpack will do.

A good habit to get into when you start the gym is keeping important items like an old hoodie, a set of plasters, medical essentials, and a deodorant. This way, you’re not packing an entirely new bag for every session.

A reusable water bottle

Investing in a high-volume water bottle means fewer trips to the water fountain and more time on the bike or the bench.

Durability wise, a good quality water bottle will last years. Most modern gym bottles are rugged and can be dropped without issue, making them perfect for rough and tough gym environments.

Shop around and find something that works for you design wise. Depending on your price point, features like insulated interiors, sports caps, carry handles, leak-free lids, and built-in straws are all available.

Tech, tracking and advanced training


Headphones come in all different shapes and sizes and are available at multiple different price points. Whether you listen to music, podcasts, or you save your new favourite series for a session on the spin bike, headphones are a great way to distract and motivate yourself in the gym.

To save you time, we’ve broken down the three most popular headphone styles below:

  • In-ear headphones: lightweight and portable, ideal for both cardio and weightlifting. They offer noise isolation and stay secure during movement
  • On-ear headphones: provide good sound quality and comfort, though may not be as secure during intense workouts
  • Over-ear headphones: offer excellent sound quality and noise isolation, but are bulkier and better suited for less intense exercises or weightlifting.

A smartwatch or step counter

Pedometers and step counters are great if you’re all about step counting. Depending on the model, smartwatches can give an insight into everything from stress levels to the quality of your sleep.

Some people find that the data their watch collects gives them motivation to workout, and that’s great, but whilst they’re nice to have, a smartwatch isn’t going to help you exercise.

If you’re new to the gym and are looking for something to track the basics, consider buying a second-hand model to monitor your heart rate and your steps. Popular brands include Fitbit and Garmin. If you like what you see, you can always upgrade further down the line.

Heart rate monitors

Heart rate monitors can help you track the intensity of your workout and ensure you're staying within your target heart rate zones for different fitness goals (fat-burning, aerobic fitness, or anaerobic training).

When you’re starting out, monitoring heart rate isn’t essential. Instead, focus on building a foundation of regular exercise and gradually increasing the intensity over time as you become more experienced.

Several of the modern cardio machines in the gym (the cross-trainer, treadmill, and exercise bike) even have a basic heart rate monitoring function built-in, allowing you to gauge intensity while you’re working out.

Performance tracking apps

When you’re first getting started, performance isn’t important. It’s all about putting the work in and showing up.

In the same way that finishing your first marathon within a certain time doesn’t matter, tracking your fitness metrics with fancy smartphone apps isn’t something you need to worry about just yet.

That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t some great beginner applications out there. Some of our favourites include:

  • Couch to 5k
  • MyFitnessPal
  • Fitbit Coach
  • Map My Fitness Workout Trainer
  • Runkeeper

Health tracking smart rings

As data continues to infiltrate the fitness world, innovative gadgets like smart rings are cropping up everywhere. Worn like a standard ring, these nifty trackers can gauge everything from stress levels to sleep quality, focus, and recovery.

When compared to watches and other monitors, reports of accuracy vary. If you’re already into tracking your health metrics and are after an alternative to your smartwatch, it’s worth considering exploring picking a smart ring up.

If you’re new to the gym and are looking to count steps and occasionally make a note of your heart rate, a smart ring is going to be overkill.

Virtual reality headsets

As is the case with the world around us, the health and fitness space is never sitting still. Virtual reality is already a staple in the world of gaming, and it’s starting to become a popular fixture in the fitness world.

Personal headsets and workout packages are becoming increasingly nuanced, allowing you to engage with workout classes like never before. Virtual reality workouts are still in their infancy and will continue to become more and more advanced as time goes by, giving people access to in-person classes and customised personal training sessions as the technology develops.

Health and recovery essentials

Medical essentials

Keeping important medications, sanitary products, or healthcare related essentials in your gym bag is a must. If you have a serious medical condition, it’s important you carry a form of medical ID for instant identification in the event of an accident or medical emergency.

A massage gun

Massage guns are a relatively new addition to the recovery world. They’re available in all different shapes and sizes and work by massaging tender muscles after a heavy workout. Great for those who regularly experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a heavy workout, they’re a nice bit of kit that can help alleviate the build-up of knots in your muscles.

A foam roller

Foam rollers are cylindrical tubes filled with dense foam. Applying your body weight down onto the roller means you can roll yourself back and forward over specific muscles. This pressure helps relieve soreness and the build-up of knots over time.

Protein powder and other supplements

Beginners can make significant progress in the gym without using protein powder or supplements.

A balanced diet that includes whole foods like lean protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will provide the nutrients necessary to building and repairing the body after a workout. 

It's advisable to prioritise whole foods over supplements, especially when starting out, as they offer a broader range of essential nutrients.

Last updated Tuesday 2 July 2024

First published on Tuesday 12 December 2023