The Sandbag workout may not be the most technologically advanced training methodology out there, but it is certainly effective. The qualities of sandbags that are construed by many as impractical and problematic are just the qualities that make the bags so beneficial for training. Let’s review these unique sandbag characteristics as well as other excellent benefits of the ‘bag.
Unless the sandbag is packed FULL of sand, there will be an uneven weight distribution every time the trainer moves the weight. This instability calls upon the core muscles (abdominals and low back) of the body to activate and stabilize to control the motion of the bag. This muscle recruitment will not only lead to a stronger core, but will teach the body to find its centre of mass when the equilibrium is challenged (proprioception).
When compared to a traditional weight training workout, the sandbag workout challenges more of the stabilizing muscles of the body, as the odd shape (which changes every time the trainer moves the bag) will force the trainer to recruit muscles in different patterns and sequences each workout. It’s much more than simply lifting and lowering the weight. The body will have to shift throughout various planes and angles to accommodate the awkward shape and distribution of the sandbag. So take note: it’s not going to be easy… but it will be worth the effort.
Sandbag lifting is similar to kettlebell lifting in that they both challenge not only strength, but also endurance. A good bag will allow for some movement within the bag itself, thereby forcing the trainer to maneuver and adjust to the awkward weight. This causes the body to recruit more musculature, thereby expending greater energy.
‘Functional’ training has been very trendy the past few years, but the fact is, it’s not a fad. We NEED to be able to perform, and not just look good. Sandbag training forces the body to become stronger and more agile in different planes and patterns; it trains us to move more efficiently and to perform regular, daily activities more easily and effectively. We are forced to go beyond exercising in one plane or another; we have to control this unstable object through the planes, which mimics activities of daily living.
Grip strength is something that tends to wane with age, and it’s also something that many ‘traditional’ lifters don’t work on. With sandbag training, you don’t really have a choice. Without easy-to-grab handles, you have to dig your fingers into the bag to get a decent grip for your lifts. This will definitely increase your ability to hold and lift other objects in your everyday life.
You really can do Sandbag workouts anywhere. Indoor, outdoor, in your bedroom, in a hotel room… as long as you have a bag, you’re good to go. And because you don’t need fancy machinery or a gym membership, it’s definitely cost effective.
I’m not suggesting that you drop the iron and live a life of sandbag exclusivity. You can certainly use Sandbag training as your primary form of strength training if that suits your lifestyle. But I think that using the sandbag workouts to complement your traditional resistance training (dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, etc.) will give you the biggest returns. Many people have dramatically increased their strength on overhead lifts by supplementing regular dumbbell or barbell presses with sandbag exercises.
The most obvious benefit of Sandbag training seems to be the sheer simplicity. You don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars on a coach (although they are out there for the hiring), or read page after page of biomechanics text books to understand the basics. You certainly have to pay attention to your form and posture while doing these lifts, but half the fun of the workout is figuring out just how you’re going to lift the bag!
There is immense variety when it comes to sandbag training, which makes it tough to get bored with these workouts. Not only are there many different exercises that you can try, but when those get old, you can throw in different hold and carry positions to increase the difficulty. You are really only limited by your imagination.
Go Get One!!!
You can either purchase a sandbag that is specifically designed for use as a strength and conditioning tool, or you can make your own. The commercial bags will likely be more durable and may have bonus features like handles for some exercises that need them. For our Status Fitness Magazine photoshoot we enlisted one of the bestbags in the industry. AlphaStrong Sandbags. They are made extremely well and you can fill them with otherBut if you want to save the money, you can simply get yourself an old gym bag or rucksack that you don’t mind beating up a little. While the sand you use isn’t that important, you can get builder’s sand for a better price, and it generally produces less dust.
Below are just a few of the many exercises that you can employ with sandbag training. Give them a shot and see how quickly your results come!
Upright Row / High Pull
The upright row has been used by athletes of all disciplines to challenge the upper body and core. Add the challenge of gripping the sandbag and you’re taking things up a notch.
Take it one step further by starting the movement from a deadlift. Complete the deadlift and go right into the Upright row to complete the sandbag High Pull.
The Good Morning is a fantastic exercise to strength the posterior chain of the body (hamstrings, glutes, low back) and focuses primarily on hip extension. The slow and controlled movement of the exercise, along with the instability of the sandbag, really makes this an effective movement. The sandbag can either be held in the front of the body (held close), or held just behind the neck.
One of the foundational exercises for both form and function, the deadlift will also focus on the posterior chain of the body, with more focus on the hamstrings and glutes.
Another very important exercise that focuses primarily on the muscles of the back, the bent-over row also works on the lifter’s stability and core strength.
A traditional lunge is difficult enough, but adding the instability of the sandbag over one shoulder definitely challenges the core and proprioception of the lifter. Be sure to complete repetitions on both sides to ensure symmetrical strength and form.
Now that you know the fundamentals of Sandbag training, the world is your oyster! Throw in a sandbag training day to kick-start your results and fight off boredom.