You’ve probably seen sandbags in your local gym or watched someone awkwardly try to squat while bear-hugging these giant sacks of sand. Heck, some sandbags are even bright pink, so it’s impossible to miss them.
If you haven’t used them yet, you might be wondering a few things about sandbags – why you should try sandbag training, how you can use them to get lean, some exercises to do with them, and where you can buy them.
What is a Sandbag?
Sandbags are exactly what you’d imagine them to be – large bags made of heavy-duty material filled with sand. You can make one for as little as $15 or buy one for over $150. They can be filled with anywhere between 10 lbs. to over 200 lbs. of material.
Sandbag training has been around for hundreds of years (probably even longer) as a method used by wrestlers and martial artists. More recently it has made it into mainstream fitness as part of the “functional training” movement.
3 Benefits of Sandbag Training
There are many benefits to incorporating sandbag training into your workout routine, here are a few:
1) Unstable Load Training = Good Functional Strength
Training with unstable loads simply means that the weight you are lifting is constantly shifting as you lift it. The idea is that the unstable load recruits more muscle stabilizers thereby making your body stronger in a functional way – one that mimics the lifting of a kicking child, picking up a heavy bag of groceries, or grabbing a large suitcase off of a moving conveyor belt.
Josh Henkin, the founder DVRT Training Systems explains, “sandbags can be thought of as the most ‘uncooperative’ pieces of equipment. They are different because they will change their form as you lift them. Unlike many other training tools, it is almost impossible to develop a specific groove for any lift. This makes sandbags a constant challenge as every repetition will be vastly different.”
This is in stark contrast to free weights where the load of the weight moves in a very predictable pattern allowing the body and nervous system to get comfortable lifting that same exact pattern every time. If your goal is absolute strength (being able to lift as much weight as possible), stable weights are most likely your best bet.
But, if you want to be more athletic and develop functional strength, then using unstable load training like sandbags works really well.
2) Great For Conditioning
Sandbag training can be done anywhere with just 1 piece of simple equipment making it one of the better conditioning tools on the market. There’s even evidence showing that performing a basic set of lunges with a sandbag significantly increased participants’ heart rate when compared to the same lunge with equal weight in dumbbells.
According to researcher David Cornell, a doctoral student in the University of Milwaukee’s department of kinesiology, the 22-person study “found significantly increased heart rate when subjects did lunges holding sandbags compared with the same amount of weight in dumbbells.”1
While this one study is not conclusive by any means, it does show promise for sandbag training. Using a sandbag in a well-designed circuit like the one below can generate a huge caloric expenditure and improve your cardiovascular system.
3) Inexpensive and Versatile
Sandbags are relatively cheap and versatile making them a great option. The possibility of getting an awesome full-body workout with a piece of equipment you can make for under $15 is hard to beat!
Full-Body Sandbag Workout
Here’s a sample sandbag circuit designed to improve your conditioning and burn a ton of calories.
Sandbag weight recommendations:
Choose the warm-up of your choice for 5 to 10 minutes. Get a sweat. Consider this full-body dynamic warm-up.
Move from one exercise to the next with as little rest as possible between exercises. After the circuit, rest for 2 minutes, then repeat for 3 more rounds. Perform each exercise for the specified reps before moving to the next exercise.
Complete a total of 4 rounds before moving on to Circuit B.
|Bear Hug Squat||10|
|Rotational Lunge||10 each side|
Tabata training – 20s/10s work-to-rest circuit for 8 rounds.
|Sandbag Shouldering||8||20 seconds work|
10 seconds rest
Sandbag Exercise Descriptions
1) Bear Hug Squat
Hug the sandbag in a vertical position against your body. Maintain a straight back as you sit back and down into a squat position. Actively keep your core engaged and try to keep a neutral spine throughout the entire movement.
Set up for a strict push-up with your hands on your sandbag underneath your shoulders, your feet together, and a nice straight line from head-to-toe. Squeeze your butt to create tension in your body. Lower down without letting your elbows flare out wide. Think about pressing into the ground as you push yourself up in a controlled tempo. For an instructional push-up video, check this out: How To Do A Push Up.
3) Rotational Lunge
Stand tall gripping the sandbag in front of your body. Step back into a reverse lunge as you rotate the sandbag to the outside of the front foot. As you step forward, rotate the bag in front of your body. Step the other foot back into a reverse lunge and rotate the sandbag to the outside of the front foot. Keep your trunk engaged and try not to let the sandbag pull you off balance.
4) Bent-Over Row
Set up with the sandbag on the ground just in front of your toes. With a slight bend to your knees, bend down to pick up the sandbag maintaining a neutral back. Grab the handles and pull the sandbag into your chest. Avoid rounding your back as you pull the sandbag.
Bend at the knees and hips and grip under the middle of the sandbag with both hands. Lift the bag up quickly and swing the front/top end of the bag back over one shoulder. Drop the weight down and repeat to the other shoulder. Avoid rounding your back and/or trying to pull the sandbag with the arms. The hips and legs should be the main driver to get the sandbag onto your shoulder.
Sandbag Shopping Guide
You have a number of different options when it comes to buying a sandbag for training. From most affordable to most expensive, here’s a list:
Budget Option – Build One Yourself
It’s pretty straightforward to make a basic sandbag. A quick trip to your local hardware store should do the trick. All you need is sand (pea gravel works as well if you don’t have access to sand), an old duffel bag, some heavy-duty trash bags, and duct tape.
Here’s a good video on DIY sandbags.
The only downside is that most duffel bags aren’t built to withstand the constant beatings of sandbag training and will most likely start to wear down quickly. You’ll also be limited by the lack of handles.
Most big box sporting goods stores (Sports Authority, Big5, Dick’s, or Modell’s) will sell basic training sandbags. These are OK, but are not going to be very durable if you plan on using the sandbag often, especially if you train outdoors. I trained clients with one of these bags on the beach and the zipper broke within a few months of use. I made it work with extra duct tape, but it was kind of a pain to use.
If you want to get serious with your sandbag training, I would recommend either of these bags. Both are high-quality, very durable and perfect for the above circuit.
Ultimate Sandbags (affiliate link)
Brute Force Sandbags (affiliate link)
If you’ve never used a sandbag, you’re in for a real treat. You’re going to feel muscles you never knew you had.
Now you know some of the best sandbag exercises to get lean, stay strong and improve your conditioning. I want to know how you guys did with the above circuit, so share your experience in the comments below!
- Johannes L. Weightlifting With Shifting Sand: Do Sandbags Offer A More Complete Workout? Human Performance Sport Physiology Laboratory 2014. Accessed October 2015 ↩
I love this article, excited to train with sandbags. Seems like a no brainer to incorporate sandbags into a training routine as they are so functional. Thanks for sharing an awesome workout and your insights