Sandbag training is a key element of CrossFit, martial arts and military exercise. But do you know why this type of workout is so popular?
This form of exercise is also known as odd object training (using things other than standard weights) and is a tried and true practice that can be traced back to ancient civilizations.
It eventually led to the strongman competitions and other shows of elite performance and fitness levels that are still held today.
More recently, the world has realized the great benefits that sandbag training has to offer. Whether it be improving fitness level, increasing strength or weight loss, adding this type of training method to an exercise program is a very effective way to make progress. It also offers many advantages by adding variety to your workout routine.
Odd object training can be anything from carrying logs, moving heavy rocks, lifting and carrying sandbags, and similar activities.
Here, you’ll find out about sandbag training and what it can do for you:
What is Sandbag Training?
Sandbag exercises make us of weighted bags or similar equipment to perform resistance training which includes exercises similar to those performed with dumbbells, barbells or machines. A good example is an overhead press, which can be performed with different apparatus. The unstable load in sandbags gives them the benefit of being able to train more for real-life as they significantly improve balance whilst working auxiliary muscles at a higher intensity than traditional weights.
Other types of instability training, such as wobble boards or exercise balls usually impact the volume of weight that a person can handle that strength training is difficult. But with a sandbag, users can still exert themselves to gain the strength benefits.
The Benefits of Sandbag Training
#1 – Stability Enhancement
Training sandbags are unstable because of the way the sand is constantly shifting in the bag and they don’t have a fixed or rigid shape. The engagement of more muscle groups and stabilizer muscles is required to keep the instability of the load and center of gravity as steady as possible while lifting and through the full range of motion. This type of variable is good for anyone who needs to be able so to manage awkward objects and it can actually help you get past a plateau in your training. It is a great way for anyone to improve their dynamic strength and conditioning for the whole body.
By introducing these sorts of unstable training variables, including a wobble board or stability ball, you can get more out of your exercise routine than you could by simply doing typical weightlifting. Couple that with the general core strength benefits and the calories you burn through the extra effort involved, it makes sense that sandbag training is considered to be extremely beneficial for your fitness goals.
#2 – Cost-Effective Exercise
Commercial training sandbags are very affordable when compared to weights or even a gym membership. Alternatively, a duffle bag or a homemade sandbag for training can be put together for next to nothing! When it comes to adding extra weight to your bag, it will only cost a few dollars for an extra 20kg or you can even get this for free. This makes it very accessible to a lot of people.
#3 – It’s Not Easy
Barbells and traditional weight training are great for building strength. But if you are looking for a real challenging workout, then a sandbag is the training tool that you need. When lifting a sandbag containing the same weight you might lift in the gym, you will find that it is much more difficult. Most weightlifters find that they can only manage around half of the mass they would with conventional free weights and struggle to perform as many reps and sets.
#4 – Portable Workouts
I take my sandbag with me every time I travel! I usually take an empty sandbag and find something to fill it with sand (from the beach) when I get there. It’s an easy way to get a workout without having to worry about locating a gym. I also like the idea of being able to do my exercise routine on the top of a mountain, on the beach or wherever I want.
#5 – Sandbag Training Improves Athletic Performance
If you are looking to train to get better at a particular sport as an athlete, then there are very few training tools that will match the same level as a heavy sandbag. A stronger core and grip strength are just a few of the things that are improved. But they are not only useful for strength but for a cardiovascular workout too. A 2018 study on sandbag resistance training found it to provide a superior metabolic stimulus when compared to treadmill running.
A lighter sandbag (as little as 10lbs) can be used for an aerobic workout and weight can be added to go all the way up to full strength training. A very heavy bag can be considered similar to lifting an atlas stone, making then great for strongman training. They are also great for posterior chain development.
#6 – Functional Fitness
The chaos, instability, and unpredictable nature of sandbags means that they can help with improving your everyday life. The lack of a rigid shape, dynamic resistance and type of movement makes them useful for functional training and replicate the kind of real world movements we do in our day to day routine. Sandbag can also be thrown to the floor without damaging them either. You can’t do that with a barbell without padding.
Specifically, sandbag training has variables that offer benefits to enhance your strength and conditioning. These advantages are aspects such as body positioning, holding positions and planes of motion.
These 3 factors work together to improve your strength training gains:
- Body Positioning – This is the way you stand while you perform the exercise in question. In sandbag training, it refers to the way that you stand while you lift the bag. Due to the nature of a sandbag, you have to sometimes move from the standard stance (your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart during sandbag back squats or bear hug squats) or stagger your legs (during shoulder carrying or drags) or turn your feet. These simple changes can alter the way your body reacts by engaging different muscle groups.
- Holding Positions – This refers to the way you hold the sandbag. There are different hold positions that apply stress to different parts of your body. For example, you will hold a position at the top of a push-up or sandbag clean and press. This training variable is important because you’ll work different parts of your body than you would with a barbell which has less holding positions due to the static nature of the object.
- Plane of Motion – This refers to the three different ways your body moves. There are the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. The sagittal plane is basically the left and right halves of your body and involves the backward or forward parallel movement along that line (think bicep curls, lunges or kettlebell swings). The frontal plane is the front and back halves of your body and involves side-to-side parallel movement (think dumbbell side raises). Finally, the transverse plane is the superior and inferior halves of your body and involves the parallel movement or rotational movement of your waistline (sandbag windmills, horizontal woodchop movements, etc.). Most traditional lifting only calls on the sagittal plane but sandbag training offers the benefit of incorporating all three planes which can give you a better overall workout by engaging all body parts.
Adding Sandbag Workouts To Your Training Programme
Firstly, you will need to acquire one or multiple workout sandbags. You can buy industrial sandbags at hardware stores or you can buy specifically made workout sandbags through fitness equipment companies. You will generally find that these bags are tougher and will last much longer, the Brute Force workout sandbag, in particular, will take a lot of abuse. A good bag should have the following features:
- Easy to grip handles
- Tough materials
- Easy to fill/empty with the use of filler bags
If you are away traveling and you are near a beach, you can fill your sandbag with sand from the beach for a workout!
If you are a seasoned lifter, you will likely find that repetitions for sandbags exercises require a different technique, but there is no need to completely change your routine. It is recommended that you perform compound exercises with a sandbag. This way you can get the best sandbag training advantages by working your core muscles and stabilizer muscles.
You probably see that sandbag training requires you to put more effort into the exercise because the bags are awkward to lift. This increased exertion means you will burn more calories while at the same time requiring more muscle activation. Try reducing your rest period to create a higher demand on the body. It’ll also naturally improve your hand strength tremendously as it calls for a strong grip to hold on to the handles of the bag. The best bag we have found for grip is the SKLZ training bag.
One of the biggest benefits of sandbag training is its ability to strengthen your core as their unstable nature makes you engage your core more so than normal training exercises. This also helps improve your balance. You’ll notice how much stronger you are after regular sandbag training when you approach a normal free weight exercise and see how much easier it feels.
While there is nothing wrong with the basic free weight exercise sessions and workout machines at the gym, switching up your routine every now and then to incorporate sandbags for training can really help you further your gains and develop better stability and grip strength. Odd-object training can be the enhancement your workout needs to get you closer to your fitness goals. Try it out for yourself and see what sandbag training can do for you.