Sandbag Weight Training Tips and Techniques
Sandbag training is one of the best ways to condition your body.
By incorporating just a little bit into your overall workout schedule you will get some excellent benefits, including improvements to your power, explosiveness, strength, anaerobic and aerobic base, coordination, balance, physique and a whole lot more.
Actually, that pretty much covers it, but that’s a load of good ones.
It’s also one of the simplest and rawest forms of lifting weight. And it’s awkward weight, which just adds to the skill-based improvements and neural adaptation you can get from it. And that’s only if you do a bit of sandbag training.
Do a lot, and it will open of the same doors, except much much wider.
There are countless movements and combinations of movements you can do with a bag full of sand, and the more you can cram into your week, the more you are going to improve.
If you’re thinking sandbags are those little 10 pound things you see hanging around the gym sometimes, then think again.
Some of the mil-spec pro bags you can purchase now can easily take up to and over 200 pounds of sand and don’t spill a grain!
Let me tell you this, 200 lbs of sand doesn’t come off the deck as easily as a barbell weighing the same. So, in case all you plate-loving gym purists reckon sandbags are going to be a piece of cake, then get one and find out!
Wrestling with a heavy bag to try and strongman it up on to your shoulder can be like picking up your fat auntie when she’s passed out drunk.
Needless to say, there is some basic technique required to avoid injury.
A lot of that technique is similar to the stuff you’ve already learned with weights; straight back, body alignment, and all that.
With a sandbag, however, it won’t always go the way you expect. My advice is start small and build the bag up as you build yourself up.
One thing I do not recommend, unless you are very aware of your body’s limitations, is rotational work.
A lot of sandbag videos I see online are guys – experienced ones too – that start twisting this way and that, telling you this rotational movement is great for your whatever, but it just isn’t.
The spine does not rotate very much, it hasn’t developed that way.
If we were designed to rotate – especially under load – then that scene in The Exorcist where she does a 360 with her noggin wouldn’t look so flipping weird, and none of us would bat an eyelid.
So, before you get all Cirque du Soleil with a bag of sand, nail down the regular movements first.
That isn’t to say don’t experiment, but don’t experiment with your spine please.
And remember, just because you can squat 300 pounds in the gym doesn’t mean you should get the same weight in a sandbag.
You want something you can do multiple movements with.
The idea is to condition yourself metabolically and add some springy, explosive strength to your repertoire – NOT, go for a 1 rep max, personal best, competition winning motherf#&er of a lift.
About the Sandbag
Sandbags that are used for training vary a lot.
Some people go to the local hardware/construction store, buy the biggest bag of sand they can find and start chucking that around.
That’s great, and if you’re one of those people that get off on doing things on the cheap then power to you.
The problem however is that you are limited to certain things you can do with it.
And secondly, it will fall apart…soon.
On the other end of the spectrum are the super duper purpose built sandbags that have something like ‘Super Duper Sandbag’ written on it and about 5 million handles.
Again, these serve their purpose, but with so many ways of holding it, you might not get the full benefit of training with something as awkward as a sandbag.
You’re supposed to LIKE that it’s got a mind of its own and its weight shifts around, not mitigate those things.
That brings me to the option I settled on, as do many others: a training-specific sandbag with minimal grab handles connected.
I use one from Rogue Fitness (no affiliation whatsoever by the way) and before you say “oh golly, they are expensive” then relax; there are less expensive ones at different places.
I use Rogue stuff because it’s built to outlast a nuclear detonation and I’d rather spend the money once and have something last a while than blow through 5 medium priced bags. Savvy?
The most important thing, however, is just to get one, and go from there.
So, I Have a Sandbag…What’s Next?
Some people overthink this part. The first session of ANYTHING is usually better when there’s no pressure of having a program or specific series of workouts.
Just get the feel of the thing. You can bum yourself out if you go with a rigorous 45 minute workout planned only to be blowing out your backside after 20.
I say this from experience because I nearly puked when I did my first session with my sandbag. I thought 30 minutes would be a piece of cake because I was used to doing pretty tough 1 hour sessions on the weights. I was wrong.
First off, I did it in the park on a hot summer’s day.
Secondly, I hardly rested between sets because it just feels wrong to take it easy.
Once you remove all the distractions from the gym, even moving between machines or waiting your turn, all you have is you and the bag. So you just go for it.
Also, training with a sandbag is more conducive to whole body movements and sets where you go deeply anaerobic, even exercises where you move a distance with the bag. It’s shattering if you aren’t used to the dynamics of it.
So, to answer the question. Go out to wherever you’re going, or stay indoors if you have a room for this (I leave the house because I live above people and I have bare wood floors, and I don’t want to make enemies) and take your new sandbag with you.
Do a nice warm up – dynamic movements mainly, like bodyweight squats and lunges and some running around and pushups and whatever gets your blood pumping. And then start with some basic stuff you already know: Deadlifts, Squats, Cleans, Powercleans and Lunges.
The Deadlift Clean Squat Jump Lunge!
Okay, so that little subtitle is meant to be a bit of a joke, but it has basis in a way.
One of the beauties of training with a sandbag is that you remove a lot of the limitations of using a barbell or machine weights.
If you want to just do a set of deadlifts with the sandbag, then you can. In fact, at the beginning, I advise it.
Once you start realizing the full potential of it though, you can start doing these crazy extended sets that make your heart hammer away and send your muscles into oblivion.
Combos are great, you just string movements together to extend the ‘rep’ and work the whole body.
An example would be starting with a power clean, dropping to a squat then thrusting up with your legs into a jump. Or how about instead of jumping you military press the bag straight above your head to bring your shoulders in.
All you don’t have to do is limit yourself to the gym-brain and do 3 sets of 10 of the same movement, then rest for 60 seconds and repeat.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s always a place for the classic training methods. This liberation with a sandbag should complement your traditional stuff not conflict with it.
Okay But I Want Some More Examples
When I started training with a sandbag, I looked online for videos, and in the beginning it helped. Then when I really thought about it I realized that I’m not stupid, and I’ve been training a long time.
Surely I can figure this out for myself, I thought.
So I went at it alone, but that wasn’t totally right either. Somewhere in between my own creations and inspiration from other people was the sweet spot.
With that in mind, hopefully I can provide you with some decent insights to help you in any way I can.
Going into a workout totally mindless of a plan is not good for productiveness, but I personally can’t work exactly to the letter either.
Once again I’ll say for me it ends up being a happy medium.
Work to a general plot, sure, but you don’t have to remember the whole script.
A bit of improvisation goes a long way, provided you are still being safe an effective. Leave the strict program to the gym, and unleash some fury with the sandbag.
Videos coming…it’s going to take a while to get the mini-videos sorted so watch this space!