Updated: Jul 10, 2021
Sandbag training is becoming increasingly popular. So much so that there are now bags and bags of books and blogs on the subject. This rise in popularity can also be evidenced by the number of commercial gyms buying sandbags.
The reason why so many exercisers are incorporating sandbags (or power bags – more or less the same thing) into their training has to do with the health fitness benefits that can be derived from them. Though the sandbag is a super simple piece of exercise equipment, it can confer a surprising number of strength and conditioning benefits.
Read on …
Why workout with a sandbag?
Well, for starters, working out with a sandbag is a great way to develop whole-body functional strength. Because sandbags are annoyingly awkward to pick up, heave, and carry your body must recruit an army of muscle groups to execute the movement.
Conventional static exercises typically only transition through one plane. When bench pressing, for example, the bar moves up and down, then up and back down again. And that’s pretty much the extent of the movement.
With sandbag exercises, such as the heave to over-head press, or alternate side rotations, your body is forced to transition through multiple planes while executing the lift.
This attribute of sandbag training develops functional strength, muscular endurance, and core stability.
How do I include sandbags into my training routine?
Simple, the moment you’ve purchased yourself a sandbag, bolt one or two of the exercise below onto the end of your training sessions. What might this look like?
So, let’s say that you’ve completed one of Hungr4Fitness’ awesome circuits, you might just have enough in the tank to work through a 10 down to 1 pyramid of sandbag hang cleans into squats.
Starting at the top of the pyramid (psychologically it’s always better to work down the pyramid) you’ll perform 10 repetitions of the aforesaid exercise. Concluding the 10th rep you could either take a breather, complete the same number of reps of a complimentary body-weight exercise (press-up anyone?), pop out a short shuttle sprint, or immediately hit the next set of 9 reps.
Another easy way to include sandbags into your training routine is to substitute one of the five exercises below for one of your habitual exercises. Before working through your well-trodden Friday evening back and biceps session, have a think about which exercises you could jettison. In their place pop a sandbag exercise and enjoy the immediate pay-off.
The 5 Best Sandbag Exercises
Best Sandbag Exercise #1: Deadlift to Hang Clean to Squat
Muscle worked: primarily, well, primarily all of them. Seriously, no muscle escapes unscathed from the merciless attack of a deadlift to hang clean to squat.
Stand in front of the sandbag with your tiptoes touching its body. Bending at the knees keeping the back straight grasp the handles.
Now execute a perfect deadlift.
When the sandbag is level with your knees, in one clean movement you are to execute a hang clean.
At this point – as the sandbag is sailing silently through the air – you have two options. Option 1: catch the sandbag in the front squat position. Option 2: catch the sandbag in an underarm hug (that’s the only way I could describe it – basically, you’re holding the sandbag as the groom holds his bride when carrying her into the nuptial chamber).
When you have control of the sandbag perform a perfect squat.
To complete the exercise simply drop the sandbag on the floor – don’t worry, they are as unfeeling as a corpse – and repeat.
Do look forward when performing the movement. Looking down will only corrupt your posture.
Do get rough with the sandbag. Listen, sandbag training isn’t about sculpting a vanity Instagram body. It’s about building real strength and functional fitness. Not the illusions of those attributes. Thus, the movements don’t look pretty or polished. But then they’re not supposed to. Yes, you might round your back a little. And you might stiffen at the knee a touch. However, as long as you remain mentally attuned to the movement and focus on maintaining control, you’ll be no more at risk of injury than if you were performing a bicep curl (aka the single most pointless exercise ever conceived).
Don’t hold your breath. Use the inhalation and exhalation of breaths to help power the movements.
Best Sandbag Exercise #2: Side Rotations into Lunges
Muscles worked: same as above. Of course, this exercise primarily targets the quadriceps and core.
However, more or less every other muscle is recruited as a synergist (stabilizer) or to assist the movement. Honestly, I thought long and hard over this exercise and I couldn’t think of a single muscle that isn’t worked. How many static conventional exercises can we say that of?
It would help matters if you already know how to perform a lunge. I’m going to assume that you can. Proceed on to teaching point two.
Holding your sandbag at your front as though it were a shield, lunge forward.
As you’re executing a lunge simultaneously rotate the sandbag to the same side as the ‘stepping leg’.
If you stepped forward with your right leg rotate the sandbag to that side.
Powering away from the floor through your planted foot rotate the sandbag to the central position.
At this point should be back where you started.
Now follow the same teaching points for the left leg.
Do keep your eyes riveted on a fixed point to your front.
Do rotate at the transverse abdominus and not the lumbar region of the spine.
Do maintain control throughout every phase of the movement.
Don’t hold your breath!
When lunging, don’t step too narrow or too long. Stepping too narrow places excessive strain on the knee. Stepping too long can cause you to overstretch at the Achilles of the supporting leg. Also, stepping too long can put you off balance, which makes the exercise unsafe.
Best Sandbag Exercise #3: Baby Carries
Muscles worked: You know it!
The baby carry is sandbag’s answer to dumbbell’s Farmers’ walk (what a weird sentence!). And simple though this movement undeniably is, it is unparalleled for developing whole-body physicality. This accounts for why it has been enthusiastically adopted by the military and subsumed under the ominous title ‘combat training’. Yes, few other exercises better prepare soldiers for the battlefield than do baby carries. Which is kind of ironic considering their name.
Firstly, you need to prepare your runway prior to attempting this exercise. I recommend marking out a 25-metre long track, ensuring that it has been cleared of hazardous objects.
So you’ve got yourself a clear catwalk. Good job!
To perform the exercise, stand in front of the sandbag with your tiptoes touching its saggy body.
Bending at the knees keeping the back straight grasp the handles.
Now execute a near-perfect deadlift.
When the sandbag is level with your knees, in one clean movement you are to execute a hang clean.
At this point – as the sandbag is serenely sailing through the air – you have but one option. Option: catch the sandbag in the underarm carry position.
Strut your stuff as you silkily prance up and down the catwalk.
Put one foot in front of the other.
Look forward with calm confidence.
Own it baby!
Don’t wear high heels.
Don’t stop for a pose, applause, or approbation.
Best Sandbag Exercise #4: Fireman’s Carry
Muscles worked: Need I say it?
Traditionally the Fireman’s carry is an extension of the baby carry. The subtle difference being the sandbag is hoisted up and onto the shoulder – then you walk. However, this version of the Fireman’s carry involves no carrying (aka walking). Instead, you are to cycle through the first phase of the exercise. Basically, you’re repeatedly hoisting the sandbag off the floor onto your shoulder, dropping it, then repeating on the opposite side.
Stand over the sandbag with your feet firmly placed on either side. It helps to have one foot slightly further forward.
Now, squat down and grab the sandbag with determination.
Using quad strength power out of the squat position and in one smooth movement hoist that sandbag on your shoulder. Left or right you choose.
Once on your shoulder ditch the bag like a sack of spuds.
Repeat but this time hoist the sandbag onto the opposite shoulder.
Maintain control throughout the exercise.
Do keep your back as straight as possible. There will be a bit of rounding, but this is acceptable so long as your keep your core engaged.
Don’t place the bag down under control. The return phase of this exercise is where an injury is likely to occur. Olympic lifters don’t use muscle contractions to return the barbell to the floor after each lift. They let gravity solve that riddle. I recommend you follow suit. Just drop it. Honestly, it’s really quite satisfying.
Don’t look down when performing the exercise. Look forward.
Best Sandbag Exercise #5: The Full Monty!
Muscles worked: this exercise works muscles that you don’t even have! It’s that much of a badass.
The Full Monty (and that’s not a recognized name for a sandbag exercise by the way, I made it up) … The Full Monty is an amalgamation of multiple exercises; five to be exact. When performing this gargantuan exercise, you will transition through all muscle groups. Starting from the standing position you are to perform a burpee, then press-up, then back into the return phase of the burpee, followed by a deadlift into hang clean. The exercise concludes with an explosive overhead heave.
Stand in front of the bag.
Squat down, grasp the bag and perform a burpee – but leave legs outstretched. At this point you should be in the high plank or press-ups position, which is perfect because:
Perform a press-up.
Spring your feet back up to the bag.
Stand up with the sandbag as you would when executing a deadlift.
When the sandbag is level with your knees you’re going to perform an explosive hang clean. The aim is to propel – or heave – the sandbag over your head in one smooth movement.
When the sandbag hits the deck, spin round in preparedness for the next repetition.
Do start with a relatively lightweight until you nail the technique.
Do break the exercise down into its constituent parts, practice each part separately and then do a Humpty Dumpty – that is, try and piece it back together again.
Do maintain composure throughout the movement.
Do transition through the exercises smoothly and cleanly: though comprised of five exercises, when executing The Full Monty it should look like one seamless exercise.
Avoid over-excessively rounding the back when transitioning from the burpee into the deadlift.
Don’t rush the exercise; take your time and focus on control.
It’s not up for discussion, sandbag exercises are an unconventional way to improve whole-body strength and functional fitness. Those who decide to include the above five sandbag exercises into their routine will reap the physical rewards.
As well as building superior muscular strength sandbag training also melts fat like the stuff’s going out of fashion. This has to do with the way that sandbag exercises stimulate multiple muscle groups.
These attributes together make the sandbag a complete training tool. With little more than a sandbag, a bit of space, and a sprinkle of callisthenic exercises, you would have yourself a supersession.
When you’ve mastered the 5 exercises above consider having a go at The Best Power Bag Exercises
Heavy Duty Sandbag with Adjustable Weights (£21.00)
This adjustable weight sandbag is ideal for the person who’s just starting out. Constructed from military-grade canvass this affordable sandbag promises to endure even the most grueling sessions. With a maximum load capacity of 20kgs, the weight can be tailored to suit your training objectives. And the multiple handle positions will provide you with a wide array of exercise options.
Heavy-duty Workout Sandbag (£29.99)
This heavy-duty fillable sandbag can be loaded up to a maximum weight of 22kg, making it suitable for both muscular endurance and strength workouts. The six rubber-coated handles enable you to access a diverse range of exercise options. Crafted from toughened synthetic leather it will keep its shape better than canvass sandbags. Also, another benefit of synthetic leather sandbags is that they are more hygienic as they can be cleaned after use.
RDX Sandbag Weight Training Power Bag with Handles (£32.99)
RDX’s sandbag is machine stitched and crafted from 1.5mm thick Maya leather (the same material that most boxing gloves are made from). In addition, it is further lined with a 1" thick layer of reinforced EVA underlay foam. Thus, this promises to be a highly durable sandbag perfect for the toughest training. The four non-slip handles ensure that you won’t be limited to the exercises that you can perform with this sandbag.
Xn8 Power Bag (£42.99)
Xn8 power sandbag is widely used by athletes and professionals of various sporting disciplines for a variety of fitness activities. The compact and versatile design enables you to use this sandbag for all types of training. Manufactured from Lamina hide leather, this sandbag is highly durable as well as being impact-resistant, and washable. Moreover, the additional underlay of premium quality EVA will reduce splits, tears, and punctures. Thus, you can throw, heave and toss this sandbag with confidence.
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.