Kettlebells, dumbbells, and barbells are all great for strength training and conditioning, but when you include a sandbag in your weight lifting program, you’ll take your strength building to the next level. It’s a military training staple that is now commonly seen in CrossFit and by professional sports teams. It not only gives you a full-body workout but it helps you build muscle fit for purpose.
Many people say “weight is weight” but this simply isn’t accurate. When lifting and doing reps with kettlebells or dumbbells, you get into a rhythm of lifting the weight and the set becomes easier with every rep.
When lifting a bag full of sand, however, the weight shifts within it, because it’s an oddly shaped object and because it has straps, weighted bags for training are harder to lift, all of which make that rhythm and flow impossible. Every lift is like the first rep of a set and this makes the workout more challenging because you’re engaging your stabilizer muscles over and over again, to stabilize the bag.
When working out with sandbags the rule of thumb is pretty simple: for strength training use a heavier sandbag and concentrate on lower rep sets with longer rest periods. If you want to add in conditioning, get a lighter sandbag and add reps and intensity.
Why A Sandbag Workout Is Great For Building Strength
There are many benefits of sandbag training in general. Here are just a few:
- Due to the movement of sand inside, a sandbag is a generally awkward object to lift. You sometimes have to fight with the bag to lift it and do exercises. It’s just like doing work in real life. They’re very different to a barbell and great news for wrestlers and MMA fighters.
- Sandbags require grip strength to keep them moving. Naturally, when lifting you will try to grip them in positions such as on your shoulder or bear hug. Just holding the sandbag in a single position can sometimes be a challenge.
- They are a great way to get past a plateau. If you can work up to lifting heavy 200lb workout sandbags, you will certainly be developing your power in the process.
- Improvement in core strength is one of the key benefits of a workout with sandbags. This aids stability and all-round fitness.
- They are great for functional training as they will make you stronger for the stuff you do daily.
Sandbags Are Portable
Gym equipment can generally require a lot of space. But sandbags are an affordable and very portable option for weight training making them a great choice for a home gym or workout at home. They are also a very good way to improve your strength when you feel like it or have the time.
You also have the option to take them traveling with you. Packing your sandbag in your suitcase for a holiday is not a big deal. You can fill it with sand from a beach when you get there.
Improve Core Strength
Taking time to improve your core strength will always be considered a good thing to do. By enhancing this core muscle tissue, you will help to prevent future injuries and improve your overall fitness.
With each movement when using a sandbag, you will be engaging your core muscles. This is true even if that particular exercise isn’t focused on your core.
This is due to the nature of the bag’s center of gravity constantly shifting requiring many stabilizer muscles in the body to keep it in place. Switching between sandbag fillers will also add a great variable and diversity to your routine.
Heavy Sandbag Exercises
Here are our top picks of the sandbag exercises to add to your training program for strength and conditioning. You can switch out a traditional free weight lifting session for a sandbag workout session.
This exercise targets glutes and hip flexors, quadriceps and also involves the calves and hamstrings as a secondary muscle group.
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Get into position: stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hold the sandbag on your shoulders, pushed into your chest, elbows bent (fireman’s-carry style).
Begin the squats: Bend your legs and lower your butt towards the ground. Be sure not to let your knees pass over your toe line as this impacts the knee joint.
Never hunch, keep your back straight, and your chin up as you lower your body down to a full squat. Drive upwards through your feet using your glutes to return to the starting position. Remember never to lock your knees at the top of the extension.
Challenge yourself: do up to 50 reps of squats – aim to do 10 reps every minute on the minute for up to 5 minutes.
Clean & Press
A total body exercise that primarily targets the glutes and abs and also targets the forearms, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, and traps (as the secondary muscles).
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Get into position: stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, get into a squat position and grab the sandbag by the handles.
In one swift movement lift the sandbag onto your shoulders while still in the squat position (the bag is caught at the moment it is weightless). Then push up through your heels and extend your arms to lift the sandbag above your head. Engage your abs to prevent leaning back.
Lastly, lower safely to your shoulders and drop back to the floor while maintaining a straight back.
Challenge yourself: do up to 50 reps of Clean and Press – aim to do 10 reps every minute on the minute for up to 5 minutes.
Step up & down
A safe and simple exercise for building leg strength. Targets glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
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Get into position: Start with the right-hand side – hoist a sandbag onto your right shoulder. Keep a high chest, roll your shoulders back and down, and engage your abdominal muscles. Step your right foot onto a 12-24 inch platform, always keep your ankle directly below your knee.
Use your glutes, quads, and hamstrings to push through the mid-foot and raise your body until it’s upright on the platform, left leg is in mid-air.
Slowly lower yourself down to the starting position and repeat the movement with the other leg and switching the sandbag to the other shoulder.
Add in a hill to intensify this exercise. This is a full-body workout that targets shoulders, back, quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Start with a light sandbag, and as your condition and endurance improves, move onto a heavier sandbag. Experts warn to not do sandbag sprints more than twice a week.
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Get into position: hoist the sandbag over your shoulder. Start with 2 sprints, alternating shoulders for each new sprint. Always do an even number of sprints (2, 4, 6, etc) to balance out the right and left, and eventually build up to 6-10 sprints.
Challenge yourself: in between sprints do push-ups or sandbag squats.
Use a heavy sandbag to build muscle strength. NOT the same sandbag you use for sprinting. Sandbag carrying targets abdominal and stabilizer muscles (muscles that stabilize the joints and keep you steady so that your primary muscles can do the job), like the deltoids (in the shoulders) for example.
Practice your sandbag carrying anywhere with enough space – in your yard, on a sports field, around a sports track, but ensure you choose a place with a defined perimeter (you don’t want to be carrying a heavy sandbag a mile from home and you get fatigued, which you will).
- Sandbag Bear Hug – lift the sandbag, bear hug to your chest, and carry it this way while walking.
- Overhead Carry – this is most likely the toughest challenge as you carry a heavy sandbag above your head, arms extended.
- Curl Walk – curl or fold the sandbag, pick it up and begin walking. Maintain an upright position while walking, no hunching! A note on the curl carry, you may need a lighter sandbag as it’s a pretty tough exercise.
For all of the above – set out a distance you want to walk, you can continue in a straight line and turn around, or you can turn left or right and walk in a rectangle. Remember at the end of your distance, rest for 60 seconds and then repeat.
Heavy sandbag training will challenge you to the extreme. So, elevate your workout with the humble, but powerful, sandbag and transform your body and strength. Remember to get adequate rest between your sessions