A staple training tool for the military, martial artists and strongmen (and women), the sandbag has long been recognised as a serious tool for elite performance.
But recently, a whole host of other people have started to recognise the tremendous benefits that sandbag training can bring to anyone who wants to improve their fitness. In this article I’ll discuss some of the benefits of sandbag training, how it stacks up against other forms of fitness training and the most effective ways that you can integrate sandbags into your workouts.
The Benefits of Sandbag Training
Sandbags Build Stability
The nature of sandbag training is such that you’ll have to work hard to control the constantly-shifting centre of mass. This builds strength and stability and has performance benefits for anyone who needs to be able to control awkward objects in their life, work or sport. The vast majority of stability training involves an unstable surface, using a stability ball or wobble board for example. While this has some benefits it’s important that we also train with unstable objects as this produces a different set of strengths and skills.
Sandbag Training Can Be Done Anywhere
I can use my sandbag in the gym, garage and outdoors. Plus, when I travel I often take an empty sandbag with me and fill it up when I arrive. It’s very difficult to do that with any traditional free weight.
Sandbag Training is Affordable
Whether you opt for a homemade sandbag or a commercial model, sandbag training is versatile and affordable. Adding extra weight to your sandbag is either exceptionally cheap (at around £2 per 25kg) or free!
Sandbag Training is Tough!
If you’re exclusively training for absolute strength then the barbell is king. But if you’re looking for a challenging workout that will build strength and conditioning then the sandbag is a great tool. Plus, weight-for-weight the sandbag is an incredibly tough training tool to work with. Most people report that they can lift around 40-50% less in a sandbag than they could on a barbell.
Sandbag Training is Great For Sports Performance
There are few other training tools that offer the same level of challenge as the sandbag. Plus it is perfectly suited to unconventional drills like load carries, sprints, drags and throws - all excellent for anyone who wants to improve sports performance. And the sheer brute strength needed to train with sandbags develops strong shoulders, legs and backs like few other things.
You’ll also realise that you need great all round strength to use sandbag training, something you can often get away with in other training methods. If you cannot Clean the sandbag up to chest height then you’ll struggle to perform exercises like Sandbag Front Squats, Sandbag Overhead Presses and Sandbag Zercher Lunges. While some see this as a limitation, it has the effect of producing incredibly strong, well conditioned and well rounded individuals. It also builds tremendous grip strength, naturally.
How To Integrate Sandbag Training Into Your Programme
Although the sandbag may be a different training tool to the traditional free weights that you’re used to, there is no need to re-write the rule book when it comes to programming. Where possible you should choose bigger compound exercises that recruit as much muscle as possible e.g. Sandbag Back Squats, Sandbag Clean and Press and Sandbag Bent Over Rows. These can be combined into strength-style workouts where you aim to lift more weight for fewer repetitions, or conditioning-style workouts where you work at lighter weights and higher repetition ranges.
The sandbag can also be used for a range of exercises that just aren’t possible with conventional free weights. Some of my favorites are Sandbag Bear Hug Squats, Sandbag Windmills and Sandbag Get-Ups.
Like all training methods the proof is in the doing - give it a try and you’ll see just how effective it can be.
About the Author
Matt Palfrey is a strength and conditioning coach, consultant to the health and fitness industry and the founder of Sandbag Fitness - a specialist blog devoted to the practice of sandbag training for improved strength and conditioning. He’s also authored 2 books on the subject of sandbag training - The Complete Guide to Sandbag Training and Sandbag Training For MMA & Combat Sports.