Guest Article from Elite Training Programs

by Matthew Palfrey January 05, 2015 0 Comments

I know that we have a number of military personnel who regularly follow the blog here so I was really pleased to hear from Wes Kennedy from Elite Training Programs. If you are in the military or have an interest in preparing for military selection then I recommend checking them out.

As always, I'd also love to hear about some of the ways that you stay fit (besides sandbag training of course!). If you've got any ideas to share then please add them to the comments below. Here's the article:

What the SOF Operator Can Gain From Sandbag Training by Wes Kennedy

I always seek to give clients what they ‘need’ rather than what they ‘want’. I seek to give them simple movements and progressions, before worrying about the flashy-new-super-cool fitness trend. I ask clients to master the basics, before asking for more.

One type of client that I work with a lot is the Special Operations Force (SOF) Operator. For many of them, sandbag training is a logical fit and here’s why:

Easy To Find Implement In Austere Environments

The most obvious reason that I like to use sandbags when training SOF Operators is that sometimes it’s all they have to work with! The types of environments these men find themselves in can provide little to nothing in the way of what you would find in your typical fitness center. What they can almost always count on, however, is having a sandbag or two in their gear and plenty of dirt under their feet. If they find some rope and a rigid length of wood, they can get pretty creative in the weight training implements they devise. Improvised bench press, squat rack, and “dumbbell” set-ups are not out of the question.

Odd Object Training For Real World Physical Fitness

Another reason that I love sandbag training for the SOF Operator is that it provides them with ‘real world’ physical conditioning. While perfectly balanced dumbbells, barbells and other implements certainly have their place, once these men have a solid base of strength I like to challenge them with odd-object training. Objects that are not necessarily easy to grip, that are slightly offset in their weight balance, and that shift when moved: these have great carry over to the SOF Operator’s job. The SOF Operator needs to be able to run around with upwards of 80lbs of gear on his shoulders, a 10-15lbs weapon in his hands, and a 5-10lbs helmet on his head. He needs to be able to throw his buddy on his back and carry him, or drag him across the ground to safety with one arm. He needs to move heavy ammunition cans quickly throughout his fighting vehicle and, at times, needs to engage in unarmed combat and detainee handling. Most importantly, he may need to dig a hole in the ground and construct a sandbag defensive position! All of these tasks make odd objects, such as the sandbag, a perfect tool to use for the SOF Operator’s strength & conditioning training.

Added Variety to Keep Training Interesting Over Time

The SOF Operator can spend upwards of twenty years in this mentally and physically demanding line of work and is required to maintain a high level of physical fitness and readiness throughout. Keeping training interesting and exciting is very important. The sandbag provides yet another tool in the SOF Operator’s strength & conditioning arsenal that allows him to train with purpose and focus as well as variety and fun. Some other implements I enjoy for these individuals is the yoke, atlas stone, continental axle, farmer’s carry handles, tires, hammers, sleds, and strongman logs.

My Favorite Sandbag Movements For SOF Operators

I will always individualize my programming when working one-on-one with an individual but here are 3 of my favorite exercises to perform with a sandbag.

1. Sandbag Drag

In this exercise, the athlete ties a rope to the sandbag and fixes the other end around his shoulder, waist, or hands. If he doesn’t present with any obvious imbalances between his hamstrings, quads, and glutes then I like to have him do equal amounts of backwards and forwards movement. An event placed at the end of a weight training session might look like this:

3 Rounds Of:
50m Sandbag DragForwards @ 97% effort HEAVY
Walk 2:30min
50m Sandbag Drag Backwards @ 97% HEAVY
Walk 2:30min

2. Sandbag Walking Lunges - Underhand Carry 

Since most SOF Operators tend to lack upper body pulling over upper body pressing and since single leg work is so important for them due to the demands of their job I like to incorporate this version of the walking lunge into their training. By placing the load in the front of the body vs. on the back and by using an underhand carry grip, it forces the individual to forcefully engage his lats and back musculature to remain in an upright position. Incorporating it into the beginning of a strength session might look like this:

A: Sandbag WL - Underhand Carry @ 21X1 x 10-12steps/leg; rest 2min x 3-4 sets 

3. Ground Over Shoulder 

Similar to the clean, this movement starts by placing both hands underneath the long sides of the sandbag, finger tips touching. With a neutral back, the athlete stands up to full triple extension before bending the arms and throwing the sandbag over either his left or right shoulder. He can either throw it for distance and take a longer rest in between reps or perform it at higher intensity for multiple repetitions in a mixed modality workout such as in the example below. Before performing this movement, the athlete should ensure that he can perform the barbell clean effectively, and that he can perform the sandbag ground to shoulder effectively in single repetitions before incorporating it into an aerobic power workout such as this one:

10min AMRAP @ 90% effort
10 Sandbag Push Press 40lbs – Alternate Shoulders each rep
10 Ground Over Shoulder 80lbs – Alternate Shoulder each rep
Run 200m

And there you have it! Some quick and dirty insight into why, how, and when I like to use sandbag training with the SOF Operator. Use your best judgment or ask your coach when incorporating new movements and training methodologies into your program and always ask yourself ‘why’. If these movements are in line with your goals, and you have the training background to support it, then have at it!

Matthew Palfrey
Matthew Palfrey