Sandbag Training – Ultimate Exercise For Building a Lean, Mean MoFo
Sandbags get a bit of a bad rap. I get it though, the allure of the barbell, the precision of the kettlebells and the draw of the dumbbells is hard to beat.
The sandbag, however, is never meant to replace these tools, nor would I want it too. It’s simply another tool in the box to make use of. And what a f***ing tool it is!
Honestly, for most, it can be a much needed breath of fresh air into a program.
We all know and have experienced the pain of seeing gains slowing and progression down to a crawl. The pain of clawing for every hard-earned pound of muscle stacked onto your frame. Or, equally as frustrating, the rapid initial weight-loss is replaced by agony and strife and the scale fails to bend to your will.
The sandbag is often the enjoyable, fun and motivating break from the norm and the key to getting things moving once again.
Like I said above, the sandbag is never meant to replace any of your existing training or programming. It’s an addition to strip fat from your carcass, build up the resilience and toughness required in life, sports and in the gym.
I should note though that my definition of a sandbag is a literal bag filled with sand. Not the ones with handles. Not something that weighs 50lbs. Not something you see on infomercials.
I’m talking a reinforced bag filled with a lot of sand – Think World’s Strongest Man. Only err on the lighter side…
Training with the sandbag for the first time is a very humbling, very eye-opening experience. While a 150lb barbell may cause you no grief, the 150lb bag of sand is far from cooperative.
It will fight you at every turn. No two reps will be the same. The bag will sit on the ground with complete disregard for your mood, attitude or physical state. It will simply fight you.
It’s one of the main reasons the sandbag has been utilized by combat athletes for countless decades. The continual “fight” with the sandbag is an integral part of a combat athlete’s strength and the key to weight loss in non-combat athletes.
The reason? The instability of the bag will require greater stabilization throughout the body, rep after rep. For those new to the sandbag, this instability is inefficiency and as Dan John says about weight loss:
“There’s a funny thing you start to notice about exercise and fat loss: the better you get at the movement, the less effective the exercise becomes for burning fat. It comes down to efficiency, or lack of it. You see, fat loss exercise has to be inefficient.”
There’s more to the sandbag than just that though. There’s the power to build a solid trunk, vice-like grips, “real world” strength –however you want to use that term – and they’re incredibly cheap to make, but rugged, tough and lasting in design.
A worthy addition to anyone’s training arsenal.
The Sandbag Training Ultimate Exercise
The sandbag shines when it’s kept to four movements – Squatting it, pressing it, carrying it and shouldering it.
Now, clearly the barbell is the king of the squat. Pressing, in my mind anyway, the king is the double kettlebell press and as for carrying, it’s hard to beat heavy farmer’s walks with handles.
Shouldering the sandbag is a different deal though.
There is no better movement, because no other tool can replicate it.
Shouldering a sandbag is ballistic, it’s powerful and it’s a very true expression of strength from the ground and the power of the legs and hips. It’s a full body movement that combines strength, brute force, power, grace and balls to the wall, heart pounding, lungs burning conditioning.
First things first though, shouldering a sandbag without acknowledging the technical demands of the movement is a recipe for a disaster. The first stage to shouldering the sandbag is to realize and accept, like anything else in the fitness world, that it is a skill that needs to be learned, drilled and experienced before ramping up the intensity.
The key to learning shouldering the sandbag is to break it down into its biggest elements.
Shouldering a Sandbag
The Set-up (Grip it)
- Stand over the bag length ways, with the balls of your feet roughly at its mid-point with the tail of the bag pointing towards your heels.
- Push your hips back – Find your hinge, maintaining a neutral spine as you do. This is not a squatting movement. You want to maintain near vertical shins throughout and feel your hamstrings loading ready for the power required ahead.
- Dig your hands deep under the bag, taking a tight grip as you do.
- You want to maintain straight, extended arms as you take your grips.
- From here, you want to ensure your alignment has remained. Think gorilla. Flat back, long arms, proud chest, shoulders above hips, hips above knees and a lot of tension throughout the body.
The Pull (Rip it)
- The initial movement is all hamstrings and glutes, with a tightly braced lower back and stomach – It’s not arms.
- The key to the lift is pushing yours heels into the ground hard “pushing the ground away”.
- As you do, MAINTAIN A TIGHTLY ALIGNED BACK THROUGHOUT. Do not bend to the bags will and let your back round.
Explosive Power (Hip it)
- As you push your feet through the ground and the bag reaches mid-thigh, forcefully triple extend your ankles, knees and hips at the same time.
- The power of this triple extension will give the bag upward momentum. Be sure to maintain a tightly braced upper and lower back as well as your stomach during this very forceful, very explosive movement.
- Keep the elbows in close and back, guiding the sandbag to a shoulder softly.
- As you “catch” the bag, stabilize the body. Stand tall, proud and strong with the bag secured on your shoulder tightly.
Tips for Shouldering the Bag
To hopefully help you on your shouldering way, here are a few tips to keep in mind when training the movement.
- There is no rotation during the lift. The hips, knees and shoulders remain square on at all times.
- The power of the movement is generated through the lower body. The arms will pull the bag, but only after the hips have exploded the bag.
- During the pull of the arms, after the hips have generated the power, keep the elbows in tight to the body to ensure the bag stays close.
- This should go without saying, but make sure you shoulder the bag equally both sides…
- Don’t rush the initial set-up. There needs to be solid body mechanics and a lot of tension generated before the bag leaves the ground.
Implementing Shouldering into your Program
Personally, I make use of the movement as a finisher post strength training. It’s a sort of “f***-it,” let’s see how tough you are kind of deal.
Set a timer for 10–15 minutes and get shouldering the bag. If proficiency allows, string together reps. The goal is to maximize output in the given time frame, without compromising form or safety.
Keep pushing and break through any mental barriers that you may come across during this horrendous 10–15 minutes.
With a decent weight bag and a high cadence in the movement, just about anyone will be sweating, heart pounding and be pretty pumped in the forearms, biceps, upper and lower back, the shoulders, the quads and glutes.
Train your body and your mind to get tougher and stronger!