In strength and conditioning, we can all be found guilty of over complicating our programming from time to time. With the vast array of options available to us it’s hard not to get overwhelmed with what is right for us and our goals. The sandbag is proudly low-tech but high on results. And once you see what it can do for you it may just become your new favourite training method…
Sandbag training has undoubtedly been around for a long time, but it’s perhaps only in the past century when it has been recognised as a legitimate form of strength and conditioning. There are certainly numerous records of the sandbag being used for structured training as far back as the 1890’s, most notably by Indian Wrestlers. They continue to be used by combat athletes today but more and more people, irrespective of any sport specific benefits, are recognizing the sandbag as a serious strength and conditioning tool.
I now train exclusively with the Sandbag Fitness bags but it’s entirely possible to develop your sandbag training program with a homemade bag. The important message here is that you needn’t let your budget dictate your potential results. As a strength coach, this is one of the reasons that I am so passionate about sandbag training – anyone can start right now with the very minimum of investment. I started with an old duffel bag and 100lbs of sand that cost me less than $5.
No matter what type of sandbag you use, the basic qualities remain the same:
While body type, diet and a range of other factors will dictate what an individual looks like, there are a number of key competencies that athletes who train with sandbags exhibit.
Like most training tools, you can use the sandbag as a substitute weight for traditional resistance options like barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells. You can follow standard strength programs like Starting Strength or Wendler 5-3-1 with a sandbag. The sandbag works perfectly well for Deadlifts, Squats, Cleans and Presses. But if this is all you ever do with your sandbag then you are missing out on some of the key benefits to this method.
The sandbag is an unstable, awkward load with inbuilt instability. The further away from your center of gravity that load is, the harder you will have to work to stabilise it. So exercises like the sandbag deadlift don’t have that inherent instability factor. My advice is to focus more heavily on a range of “unique” sandbag exercises – things that just aren’t as effective with traditional resistance tools. For me, that means lots of overhead work and utilizing a range of different grip positions.
The key exercises that you need to follow in any sandbag training program are:
These fundamental movements will give you a strong foundation of strength and conditioning. Furthermore, they all combine some of the best that the sandbag has to offer.
For more experienced sandbag trainees, the following advanced exercises will further develop your skill with the bag. And regular practice will build brute strength, agility and an iron grip.
Some advanced sandbag exercises to try:
Beginners Workout 1: Sandbag Basics
Complete as fast as possible. Men aim for a 60lb sandbag; women aim for 35lbs.
Beginners Workout 2: Jump, Pull, Press
Complete 3 rounds as fast as possible. Men should aim for a 60lb sandbag; women aim for 35lbs.
Beginners Workout 3: The Sandbag Milo Protocol
This training protocol is inspired by and named after Milo of Croton. A greek wrestler from the 6th century BC, Milo was famed for lifting a calf daily until it reached maturity. This was perhaps the first recorded instance of a linear progressive resistance training program.
Repeat this daily, adding 1-2lbs of sand before each lift.
Advanced Workout 1: Legs On Fire
Complete 10 rounds as fast as possible. Men should aim for a 100lb sandbag; women aim for 60lb.
Advanced Workout 2: Boulder Shoulders
Complete as fast as possible. Men should aim for a 80lb sandbag; women aim for 45lb.
Advanced Workout 3: The Centurion
Complete as fast as possible. Men aim for a 80lb sandbag; women aim for 45lb.
The sandbag is an exceptional strength and conditioning tool that, when used effectively, will help you to develop great strength and conditioning. Take a structured approach to its use and include a wide variety of standard lifts (like Deadlifts and Squats) alongside a range of other “unique” lifts like Bear Hug Squats and Shouldering.
Originally published in My Mad Methods Magazine.
Matthew Palfrey is a strength and conditioning coach, author, consultant to the health and fitness industry and the founder of Sandbag Fitness - a specialist company that promotes the use of sandbag training for fitness. Find out more at www.sandbagfitnessstore.com
This is a free-to-share article, please feel free to post it on your website or blog. If you require images to accompany this article then please contact me here