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Sandbag Training

[back to budget body equipment]


Time to take it Old School!  I find it humorous that with the endless variety of fitness gadgets and high tech equipment that is in the market in this day and age, primitive training regimes like sandbag training have renewed life.  Personally I love it.  There's all kinds of terminology that you will hear for this kind of training... underground training, primitive training, gladiator training... it all comes down to performing strength training exercises with non-standard objects that you typically won't find in your local health club or spa.  At the top of the current list of primitive training techniques you will find tractor tire flipping, sledgehammer training, log training, stone training, sled dragging and pushing, and of course sand bag training.

Zercher Front Squat

For hundreds of years sandbags have been an integral training tool for athletes, specifically wrestlers. They are an inexpensive tool that is incredibly versatile and can offer the benefits of unstable training with a challenging load. This is a benefit that many of today’s unstable gadgets can not provide. However, the benefits don’t stop there. Greater stabilizer, trunk, and grip strength can be developed with sandbags as well as sport-specific drills, and mobility work.  They are a great conditioning tool.

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.

Sandbags work your body in ways you could not approach with a barbell alone. You get into the muscle areas you normally don’t work. You worked the heck out of the stabilizing muscles.  Increasing the strength of the stabilizers can both decrease your risk of injury and improve performance.

Bent-over Row

The non-cooperative nature of sandbags makes it crucial to use every muscle possible to lift them. More stable and predictable implements can cause the body to find a particular groove. Once this groove is established then one becomes more efficient at performing the lift and the body actually decreases the amount of muscles utilized.

With explosive sandbag lifts such as cleans, throws, snatches, and shouldering, the trunk muscles (including those of the low back and abdominal area) have to work harder to stabilize the body against the awkward load while moving very quickly. This is very unique to sandbag training.

With sandbags we can also create amazing rotational drills that place the body into ranges of motion that would normally occur during sport. Working through such ranges of motion with a load prepares the body more appropriately for the demands that sport produces.

Sandbags may be the perfect tool for combative athletes as they are the only tool that can come close to representing an opponent. The constant shifting weight of a sandbag makes it an ideal training environment for combative athletes as it prepares the athlete for the unpredictability of a fight on the mats on the ring.  They also develop the back and side muscles in movements that are identical to the lifting and pulling movements of wrestling.

Sandbag lifting shares a lot in common with kettlebells in regards to their ability to challenge not only strength, but endurance as well. A good bag will allow for some movements within therefore always forcing the lifter to maneuver and adjust to the awkward weight. This definitely causes the body to use more muscles and expend greater energy as it is hard to get into one consistent groove.

EVERYONE can benefit from greater grip strength. Many trainers believe that most of the carpal tunnel and arthritis problems that our society experience’s is closely related to the lack of hand training.  There is no piece of equipment that frustrates people as much as sandbags. When using sandbags there is not a convenient place to grab.  You have to constantly search for an open spot and then crush grip. However, unlike most pieces of equipment I find that not only is your crushing grip challenged, but pinching grip as well. For those that are into grip training you will appreciate the distinct difference between the two.

Because sandbags are so different they are often a breathe of fresh air for most people’s training programs. Even taking common exercises such as squats and presses and using a sandbag give these exercises a new feel and challenge while continuing to meet the original goal of the exercise.  Grab, rip, and lift. You definitely want to pay attention to lifting posture, but outside of that most of the fun is trying to figure out how to lift the bag.

Clean and Press

Recently, I decided to make a few sandbags of my own and add a few exercises to my workout.  I bought a military duffle bag on eBay for about $12, and couple 50 pound bags of play sand from Home Depot for about $4 each.  The military duffles are great because they are sturdy canvas bags that hold up real well.  I filled a couple of Husky Contractor Clean-up bags with sand and duct taped them shut, then put them in the duffle.  In order to make my bag adjustable, I have a 50 pound trash bag and a couple of 25 pounders.  So basically, when I have all 3 bags in the duffle I have a nice 100 pound sandbag to heave around.  Sandbags are a low cost, high return investment that can make a fun and challenging addition to anyone's workout routine!  

excerpts from The Rise of Sandbag Training by Josh Henkin



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