Countless exercise tools are available, yet the sandbag stands out as an underrated asset that deserves a place in your fitness toolkit. Our strength specialist Brad Gillingham explains why.
One of the functional strength implements that I frequently use are sandbags. Sandbags are a versatile piece of equipment that can be used for loading carrying, shouldering, and squatting. Similar to the deadlift they can be a total body exercise with lots of emphasis on the posterior chain, quadriceps , biceps, forearms, and grip.
When squatting with a sandbag it becomes a front-loaded squat similar to a zercher squat. They are great to include in strength complexes or strongman gauntlets. Sandbag movements can train both absolute strength and strength endurance. I have sandbags ranging from 50 lbs. up to 350 lbs. at the gym.
We use them with wrestlers, football players, powerlifters, soldiers, fitness training and as assistance for powerlifting movements. With the great range in size and weight sandbags can be used with all athletes. Although, your first exposure to sandbags may be from watching athletes carry them in a Crossfit or Strongman contest; they aren’t just for those competitors.
Why Athletes Should Use Sandbag Training
I have spoken at several NSCA shows about sandbag training. It is hard to put exact science into these movements. There really isn’t a lot of scientific research available regarding strongman training. You will not find an exact recipe of how many reps and sets should be included in each workout, as this comes with experience, rather than from a book.
However, there is research available that indicates that strongman training will improve core, strength, power, sprint start, acceleration, and anaerobic conditioning. 1 Additionally, sandbag training can follow the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) key training variables to a certain degree. As you can manipulate exercise selection and order; intensity; repetitions; repetition speed, volume, rest interval, and frequency. 2 The principal of progressive resistance can be incorporated as you can find sandbags ranging from 25 to 400 lbs. Generally, when I speak to a group at an NSCA event it is part of a hands-on session. Once I get the coaches or athletes trying sandbag movements, they really understand how great of a tool they can be in the weight room.
Sandbags are a brutal way to train, but we have a lot of fun each workout by mixing up our training with new challenges. We have one circuit we call the sandbag pyramid. We stack 3 plyo boxes into a 4-sided platform and place bags on all for sides and then complete multiple sets of 4 progressively heavier (150-200-250-300 lbs.) sandbag loads to the platform. With 3-4 of us following each other for several rounds this is a great way to finish off a workout.
Sandbag loading and squatting are great hip extension movements that really tax the posterior chain, arms, shoulders, forearms, and grip. I like to include them in hybrid type squat or deadlift workouts that include various combinations of heavy slam balls, box squats, rack squats, rack deadlifts, full deadlifts, and log press.
At times we incorporate sandbag carries with sled push/pull and farmers walks, These types of circuits become a great metabolic finisher at the end of a workout.
Sandbags for Military Training
I have been involved the past couple years as a volunteer strength coach for the Minnesota National Guard Comprehensive Service-Member Fitness Course (CSFC). Combined with farmers walk, med ball slams, med ball throws, push-ups and kettlebell press we incorporate the sandbag into 3 or 4 strength complex competitions at the end of our training. During each complex we will have soldiers either pick them up, carry them or zercher squat them. We utilize bags ranging from 50 lbs. to 200 lbs. depending on the strength of the soldier. The soldiers really have fun with these competitions.
Keep Training Fun!
It is always important to add some variety to your workouts to stay motivated. Sandbags can provide this variety. Training with sandbags will increase your strength endurance , hip extension strength, upper back strength, and core strength. They are a great assistance exercise for powerlifters to increase maximum deadlift, and for all athletes looking to increase hip extension strength. Sandbags provide a different way of training than the standard barbell. They help to develop functional strength that you can use in everyday life. I got hooked on sandbag training the first time I picked one up…I know you will also! Good Luck and Stay Strong!
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- Winwood, P.W., Cronin, J.B., Posthumus, L.R., Finlayson, S.J., Gill, N.D., Keogh, J.W. (2015). Strongman vs. Traditional Resistance Training Effects on Muscular Function and Performance, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29 (2), 429-439.
- Ratamess, N. A., Alvar, B. A., Evetoch, T. K., Housh, T. J., Kibler, W. B., Kraemer, W. J., & Triplett, N. T. (2009). Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(3), 687-708. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e3181915670