Sandbag strength training is a fascination of mine.
I find myself drawn to the sandbag. There’s just something about it.
I’ve pushed myself time and time again. I’ve tested my physical and mental limits too many times for me to recall. I’ve grinded, I’ve endured and I’ve suffered through training.
Yet, despite any and all successes in this pursuit of excellence driven self-abuse – the sandbag manages to continually beat me right back down.
It manages to scare me. It makes me nervous. It tests me long before I even put my hands on it.
I honestly wish I could write that the struggle was solely before I gripped the bag but the reality is it isn’t. It continues long into the training.
The bag finds a way of making every little thing horrendous. It’s smothering. It’s suffocating. It makes you feel like you’re in a dream, wading through thick air trying to catch up to someone.
It doesn’t matter when I use the bag – the outcome is always the same.
The frustration with it creeps in and builds slowly. The mind has to continually be reminding the body it’s capable and should continue through the struggle.
It’s this point where you see how tough or how weak you actually are.
You could just drop the bag. You could look around for support, for pity or for someone to hold your hand through the struggle.
You could drop the bag and brush it off as a joke. Or… you can push through. Choose to stand up to the bag and the struggles and finish the set.
Yes, you’ll hurt, yes you’ll be achy. Your arms will be like noodles and your legs like lead. Your chest will hurt from your heart beating hard inside of it and your lungs will be straining so each breath feels like its own workout.
This is how I see the sandbag and sandbag strength training.
Unfortunately, the fitness industry doesn’t quite share my views on it.
Much like everything else in the industry, the bag has fell victim to marketing and unnecessary complexities.
It’s no surprise I like to keep things simple, I mention it every time I sit down to write, but, the sandbag truly shines when it’s kept simple.
Keep it Simple!!!
Much like the kettlebell shines when it’s kept to the RKC movements: snatch, swing, get-up, clean, press and double front squat/goblet squat. The sandbag should be held in the same regard.
In my mind there are only four powerful movements the sandbag should be used for:
Honestly, getting strong in the four above will get you to 90% of your training goals. The shouldering takes care of the hinge and hip extension. The sandbag squat is a very honest squat and it’s very hard to cheat it. The front loading will force you to keep an upright chest and a tight back while the width of the bag will force you to drive your knees out and sit back into the descent. Pressing the sandbag is all overhead. The bag should start from the ground, get ripped up to chest height and pressed overhead in either a strict manner, push pressed or jerked – no matter, as long as it ends up locked out overhead. The carry can take many forms but sticking with either a Zercher carry (held horizontally in the crooks of the elbows) or bear hug style (held vertically and gripped tightly to the chest) will cover any and all of the benefits the carry offers
The only thing I find missing in the sandbag’s arsenal is a solid pulling movement. Yes, you can row it, but it’s not the best tool for the job. Add in pull-ups between sets of the above four and you’ll be totally covered in a strength sense.
The Right Tool for the Job
What about the rest… things like rotational work… ground work…horizontal pressing… blah, blah, blah…
Well honestly there are better tools for those jobs.
If you want to do swings, why the hell would you use a sandbag when the kettlebell is clearly the best option?
Why do rotational work with a light, handled sandbag when a medicine ball has stood the test of time and has been used by countless athletes through the years?
If you’re looking to do some ground based work, bodyweight crawling drills are tough, scalable and highly effective.
Olympic style lifts… use a barbell.
Horizontal pressing, get under a barbell and bench press of hit the ground and hammer push-ups.
Pulling movements? Like I mentioned above, nothing beats pull-ups.
The sandbag is what it is. A tough bag filled with sand. It’s not meant to have handles and it’s certainly meant to weight heavier than single dumbbell in a commercial gym. Its primary use is to be a bitch to lift. It’s supposed to test your grip, your grit, your toughness and hammer your stabilizer muscles. The lifts therefore need to remain simple: Shoulder it, squat it, press it over head and carry it – This is sandbag strength.
Arguably my favourite workout with a sandbag is one of the simplest looking on paper.
The Aforementioned Bitch Workout
I'm a firm believer that fitness need not be complex. The sandbag is arguably the simplest tool of all – it's a bag… with sand in it… yet, like everything in life, it has succumbed to unnecessary complexity. The sandbag shines when it's kept heavy and it's kept basic. – Lift it off the ground. – Hold it and walk with it. – Squat it. – Shoulder it and press it. Don't believe me? Load a bag up heavily- grip it, rip it, hip it, hold it until you have to drop it and repeat. It's simple, but it's effective.
1a Clean the sandbag up to chest height and hold it for as long as possible.
Or as I like to phrase it: “Grip it, Rip it, Hip it, Hold it ‘till you Drop it – Repeat”
Start a timer and repeat as many times as possible in 15 minutes.
2a. Bear hug Squats x 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
This is a simple ladder rep scheme that adds up to a total of 25 reps. The reason I like this rep scheme despite the moderate reps, is that the bag will need to be cleaned off the floor a total of nine times to get the ladder done. The modest squat reps become pretty gruelling when the bag needs taking from the ground each and every time.
Honestly, it looks pretty simple, but do give it a go. As far as weight goes, to begin, try a bag that’s equal to half your body weight. See how it goes and progress from there. Sandbag strength training is tough, but will build bull like strength with time and effort.
I’m not super into promoting things but when it comes to the sandbag casing, especially when you start working with heavier weights, you need one that’ll withstand the stresses. The two best I currently used and will likely only use from now on are the Iron Mind bags and the Cerberus Strength bags. Both super high quality, both can take a beating and both moderately priced for the life span they offer – Just my two cents.
Get stronger, get tougher in both lifting and life.