Long used by competitors in martial arts, sandbag training is becoming more popular among those interested in achieving exceptional fitness, and with good reason. Training with sandbags helps improve your overall strength and performance, and these improvements can then translate into other areas of your life. “Sandbag training is seen by the general public as too difficult or too specialized to be part of a ‘normal’ workout. In reality, however, this type of training is just about as practical and functional as it gets,” says Andy Laird, PTS, owner of Metamorfit, a fitness training company based in Keswick, Ontario. Laird has trained several national-level athletes in hockey, figure skating, and combat sports.
The trend in recent years has been toward functional strength more than strict muscle building. Functional training strengthens not only the specific muscles being targeted but also the supportive stabilizing muscles, giving you better all-over fitness and conditioning. Because the core muscles are the most important stabilizing muscles of them all, functional training also creates integrated core strength, which makes you better able to carry out tasks in your everyday life, from carrying luggage to moving furniture.
Training stabilizing muscles requires instability. You can see this trend in the exploding popularity in recent years of BOSU balls, suspension bands, and wobble boards. That popularity has now extended to sandbag training, which offers all this and so much more. It rapidly builds superior functional strength, yes, but also offers superior conditioning and fat loss. “Sandbag training utilizes the kind of high-intensity intervals shown in numerous studies to improve fat loss through excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” says Laird. “It also provides the stimulus for increased muscular development. In short, sandbag training can be a very effective training protocol for improving your physique.”
Sandbags are cumbersome, awkward, and their centre of gravity constantly changes. This makes them irritating, but it also makes them effective. If you’re hung up on numbers, then they may not be the best choice because you will probably have to decrease the weight from what you would normally use, but if your goal is results, they couldn’t be better. Their awkward shape and flexibility actually make them better than free weights for certain exercises because they can mold to the body. If you’ve ever found barbell squats too painful on the back of your neck, for example, try using a sandbag instead.
Sandbags are also great for exercises where you hold the weight in close to your body. And they’re an excellent choice if you don’t want to join a gym for financial or other reasons. You can get an incredible workout at almost no cost. The following is a high-intensity sandbag workout that also targets the muscles of your core and makes the most of the sandbag’s superior qualities: weight, instability, and malleability.
Sandbag Hip Thrust
Targets: Hamstrings, glutes, abdominals
Place your mid-back against a bench or heightened exercise surface about 10 to 18 inches tall, and plant your feet flat on the ground, knees bent and butt on the floor . Lay a sandbag across your pelvis and hold it in place. Lightly stabilize the bag with your hands as you thrust your hips up, pause, and lower. Repeat for three sets of eight to 12 reps.
Tip: At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes hard and hold for a count of three before lowering.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors
Stand about two feet in front of a bench, holding a sandbag close to your torso, in the crooks of your arms. Place your left foot on the bench behind you. Bend your legs to lower your body into a squat, ensuring that your right knee does not go past your toes. Extend to stand, and repeat eight to 12 times before switching legs. Do this three times.
Tip: Make sure to keep your body erect and shoulders back throughout this movement.
Squat to Curl and Overhead Press
Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, abdominals, biceps, forearms, deltoids
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the sandbag at arms’ length. Lower into a squat position. Curl the sandbag to your shoulders as you stand and from the squat, and then push the sandbag overhead until your arms are extended. Lower the sandbag back down in front of your shoulders, then extend your arms back toward the ground as you head immediately into your next squat. Repeat for three sets of 10 reps.
Tip: New to sandbags? You can do this exercise as a regular squat or a sumo squat to work your adductors.
Side Plank with Sandbag
Targets: Hamstrings, glutes, abdominals
Lie on your side with feet st acked. Place a sandbag on your hip, making sure your pelvis is facing forward. Stabilizing the sandbag with one hand and stabilizing your body by resting on the other forearm, push your hips up so your body forms a straight line from shoulders to feet. Hold this position for as long as possible, rest, then repeat on your opposite side. Do this three times in total.
Tip: Concentrate on keeping your pelvis facing straight forward through this exercise; otherwise you will tend to roll back to support the weight.
Sit-Up Overhead Press
Targets: Abdominals, obliques, deltoids, triceps
Lie on your back on a mat, knees bent with feet flat on the ground, and holding the sandbag at your chest. Contract your abs and flex from the hips to lift your upper body off the mat, bringing you into a sit-up. As you reach the top, push the sandbag over your head to make a straight line from your hands to your hips. Lower the sandbag back to your chest and reverse to lie back on the mat. Repeat for three sets of 15 to 25 reps.
Tip: If the weight is too heavy you will use more hip flexors than core, so ensure you find your resistance “sweet spot.”
Sandbag Lunge with Rotation
Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, abdominals, obliques
Stand with your feet comfortably apart, holding a sandbag in front of your torso with arms extended. Take a large step forward with your left leg and lower into a lunge, keeping the left knee at 90 degrees. Maintain an upright torso as you rotate through the waist to the right, then to the left, before returning to the centre and stepping back to the start. Immediately lunge forward with your right foot, rotating to both sides. That’s one rep. Complete three sets of 10 reps.
Tip: You can also do this as a walking lunge: after the left lunge, step directly into a right lunge, rotating the direction of your forward leg.