Even though sandbag training isn’t necessarily a new concept, it hasn’t been until recent years that it has become more consistently used with fitness professionals and athletes.
Sandbags can mimic most exercises performed with dumbbells, barbells and medicine balls, but the key difference is that they bring more challenge to stability during exercise due to the shifting of the weight. This helps improve core strength and endurance in our postural muscles. Plus, with more of a “dead weight” feel, there is more metabolic demand placed on the body, which creates a great cardiovascular challenge as well.
Lastly, sandbags effectively allow the exerciser to train for movement and in all planes of motion. We need to remember muscles are designed to work in synergy and in three-dimensional space, allowing the body to rotate, move forwards/backwards and side to side. This will help minimize muscle/movement imbalances, decrease risk of injury, improve athleticism and simply improve overall function.
Sandbags themselves come in a variety of sizes and allow for the user to adjust the weight depending on his/her strength or skill level. There are two approaches that can be utilized: a heavier, more stable sandbag or a lighter, less stable sandbag. Specifically, the more the sandbag weighs or is filled, the more strength is emphasized. In contrast, by removing one of the filler bags, the overall weight is less, but it also allows for more shifting of the weight inside of the sandbag, thus placing more emphasis on stability.
Brand-wise I personally recommend the Ultimate Sandbag. They are durable and don’t have any issues with leaking sand like some of the less expensive models I have tried. They offer four sizes based on fitness/strength levels. If you are just starting out I recommend the “core” or “power” bag. For more advanced users, the “strength” or “burly” bag may be the best fit.
Now that you’re ready to give sandbag training a go, here is sample circuit to get you going.
Perform 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions each.
Cleans: Begin with the sandbag directly in front of you. From there, “hinge” at the hips by pushing them behind you, as you lower and grab the parallel handles of the sandbag while keeping your shoulders pulled down and back to lock in the upper body. Pushing through the heels, quickly accelerate by extending at the hips and simultaneously pulling in a straight line with the arms, keeping the bag as close to your body as possible. Allow the bag to roll as you catch it shoulder-level with your elbows up. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Shoulder Lunge: Begin with the flat side of the sandbag resting on your right shoulder. Step forward with your right leg and lower into a lunge position by bending your front leg until you reach a 90-degree bend in your front leg while maintaining an upright posture. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg. Continue for 10 reps total, and then position the bag on your left shoulder and repeat.
Shoveling: Begin with the sandbag in front of the body. Pivot one foot while rotating the bag to the opposite side by the knee. Absorb and decelerate the bag by bending the knee and hinging at the hip. Extend the knee and hip, pivot and swing the bag back to the other side. Continue to pivot and swing the bag back and forth to either side until the set is complete.
Bear Hug Squats: Hold the sandbag vertically by wrapping your arms around the midpoint of the bag at chest level by squeezing the bag, keeping your shoulders down and back. Slowly lower into a squat, keeping your knees slightly outward, keeping weight in the heels and maintaining squeezing pressure with your shoulders back. Return to the starting position and repeat.