Sandbag training is beneficial for many strength athletes, from powerlifters to Crossfitters..
The top 7 benefits of sandbag training are:
- It can be done anywhere
- Sandbags are quiet and don’t take up a lot of space
- Sandbags are affordable
- Sandbags improve stability
- Sandbag training is a good way to add variety to your routine
- Sandbag training carries over to the real world
- It helps improve grip strength
Despite the benefits, sandbag training comes with one drawback that needs to be considered when incorporating it into your routine, which I’ll discuss below.
In this article, I’ll talk about the benefits of sandbag training, who can benefit from sandbag training, and provide some sample sandbag workouts.
What is Sandbag Training?
Sandbag training involves using a sandbag instead of a barbell or dumbbells to add resistance to your exercises. Because the sandbag filler shifts every time the sandbag moves, your body is forced to constantly rebalance itself as you work through each movement.
Sandbags with handles are more versatile and can be used for static and dynamic movements. Strongman sandbags are more difficult to handle and are intended for throws and carries.
Another difference between the two types of sandbags is that sandbags with handles typically don’t go higher than 125-150lbs, while Strongman sandbags can go up to 400lbs or more.
My favorite sandbag is made by Rogue. Check out my Rogue Sandbag Review to learn about the pros and cons of this bag.
7 Sandbag Training Benefits
1. It Can Be Done Anywhere
Unlike a barbell and plates, it’s easy to bring a sandbag with you when you travel.
With a sandbag, you can keep up with your training even while you’re on vacation. If you’re going somewhere within driving distance, you can easily throw your filled sandbag in the car. If you’re flying, you can pack an empty sandbag and fill it up once you get to your destination.
2. Sandbags Are Quiet and Don’t Take Up a Lot of Space
If you live in an apartment or don’t have room for a home gym, a sandbag is a great training tool that doesn’t require a lot of space.
A sandbag can easily be tucked away in a corner or in a closet when you’re not using it, so you don’t have to worry about it taking up too much room in your living space.
Sandbags are also quiet, as long as you’re not doing sandbag slams or dropping them from your shoulders. You’re less likely to disrupt your neighbors or other family members when you use them.
3. Sandbags Are Affordable
Barbells, squat racks, plates, and dumbbells can cost several hundreds of dollars. The cost of a sandbag is much more reasonable.
And even though you have to fill sandbags on your own, the cost of the filler material is minimal compared to the cost of gym equipment.
4. They Improve Stability
Because the filler in a sandbag shifts every time you move it, your muscles have to work harder to stabilize the weight. The unevenness forces the body to continually make adjustments to maintain control of the moving object.
Sandbag exercises such as weighted carries can also help improve core strength and stability. In a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers noted that the core muscles make up for strength deficits in the hips and lower back when performing weighted carry exercises such as yoke carries and Atlas stone lifts.
While the use of sandbags wasn’t analyzed in this study, one can assume that weighted sandbag carries have a similar effect on core strength and stability as other weighted carry exercises.
5. Sandbag Training Is a Good Way To Add Variety to Your Routine
Unless you’re a competitive athlete and you need to focus on a specific type of training, adding variety to your workouts is a great way to become more physically well-rounded. It also prevents burnout or boredom from doing the same thing over and over again.
Since you can use a sandbag for both strength and conditioning workouts, you can switch up your routine whenever you feel like you need a change of pace.
There are also a ton of different movements you can do with a sandbag (detailed below), which is beneficial for anyone who gets bored easily and likes to try new things in the gym.
6. Sandbag Training Carries Over to the Real World
Lifting a heavy sandbag emulates the action of picking up heavy, awkward objects in your everyday life. It also teaches you how to brace your core properly when picking up odd or unstable objects.
As such, sandbag training has real-world applications because it emulates the action of picking up a heavy bag of groceries, a heavy suitcase, or your kid.
7. It Helps Improve Grip Strength
A study conducted by a master’s student at SUNY Cortland showed that gripping a sandbag results in greater muscle activation in the hands and forearms than holding a barbell with the same amount of weight.
It’s not known if the sandbags in this study had handles, but since the subjects utilized a pinching grip when lifting the sandbag, it’s likely that they used sandbags without handles.
Related Article: Rep Fitness Sandbag Review: 12+ Months of Testing (Honest Thoughts)
1 Drawback of Sandbag Training
One drawback of sandbag training is that you can’t load most sandbags with the same amount of weight that you would put on a barbell. While sandbag training can be used to help build strength, the weight limitations make it an ineffective method for building maximal strength.
The instability of a sandbag provides challenges that make up for the lower weight, but the lower weight can give people a false sense of security and make them think they can push the intensity more than they should.
Like other forms of training, sandbag training requires proper technique in order to be effective, especially with movements such as sandbag cleans. Even if you’re using a sandbag that’s a fraction of the weight you’re used to lifting, you should still exercise caution to avoid accidents or injuries.
Who Should Do Sandbag Training
Sandbag training can be done by anyone, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced athlete. It is especially beneficial for certain groups of athletes.
Odd-implement training is popular in CrossFit. Sandbags have shown up at the CrossFit Games frequently, usually in the form of sandbag carries or cleans.
Events with D-ball medicine balls are also common in CrossFit competitions. While they’re not exactly the same, a sandbag is similar to a D-ball in many ways. CrossFitters that don’t have a D-ball can use a sandbag as a substitute.
Sandbag training can also help CrossFit athletes develop the muscular strength and power that is necessary for exercises such as cleans, snatches, and sprints.
Sandbags are found in almost every Strongman event, as are weighted lifts such as Atlas stone lifts. For Strongman competitors that don’t have access to Atlas stones, they can still practice the movement with a heavy sandbag.
Military Men and Women
Sandbag training is excellent for military men and women because it helps them build the aerobic capacity and core stability necessary to carry heavy equipment for a long period of time.
Sandbags are also convenient training tools for deployed military personnel who don’t have access to gym equipment.
Wrestlers, MMA Athletes, and Martial Artists
Sandbag training is beneficial for wrestlers, MMA fighters, and martial artists because it emulates the dynamic resistance of an opponent. And since grip strength is an important part of grappling, sandbag training can be used to strengthen athletes’ hands and forearms.
Researchers have also discovered that sandbag throw training is effective in testing the readiness of collegiate wrestlers for wrestling matches. Because sandbag throws require both explosive power and endurance, coaches can use them to determine how prepared their athletes are for a 7-minute wrestling bout.
Individuals Who Compete in Other Sports
Sandbag training has a lot of carryover to other sports, especially those that require a lot of power.
Research has shown that Strongman-style training, including sandbag holds and carries, is beneficial for football players, hockey players, and rugby players. This is because the dynamic resistance of sandbag training emulates the unpredictable external forces created by opponents.
Sandbag training is useful even for individuals who don’t compete or participate in other sports. As I mentioned above, sandbag training has a lot of real-world applications. Anyone who is training for general health and wellness purposes can benefit from sandbag training.
How to Determine What Sandbag Weight to Use
Many people think that sandbag training is easy and they can use the same weight that they’d use with a barbell or dumbbells.
However, because the weight of a sandbag isn’t distributed evenly, it’s not exactly the same as lifting a barbell or dumbbell. This presents a whole new set of challenges, so you shouldn’t fill your sandbag with 50lbs and expect it to feel the same as a 50lb dumbbell.
Sandbags should be filled to about 70-80% of their full weight capacity. If they’re not filled enough, the filler will shift too much and the sandbag won’t be as effective. If they’re filled too much, the filler won’t move around at all. This will make the sandbag more similar to a static barbell or dumbbell, which defeats the purpose of sandbag training.
How much weight you fill the sandbag with will depend on your experience level and the intended training stimulus. A good starting point is to fill your sandbag with 40-60lbs for men and 20-40lbs for women.
If you’re training for strength, you can start at the higher end of these ranges. If you’re training for endurance or general physical preparedness, you should start at the lower end. You can always add more inserts if the sandbags are still too light for you.
Sandbag Programming Considerations
How you incorporate sandbag training into your routine will depend on several factors, including whether or not you’re a competitive athlete, what sport you’re training for, and your desired training stimulus.
Below I provided examples of different types of sandbag training that you can use as a starting point.
Strength and Muscle-Building
The sample routines below follow a structure similar to a powerbuilding routine, where the primary movement is done for strength with low reps and the subsequent movements focus on hypertrophy.
If you’re able to, I’d recommend using a heavier weight for the first movements and lower weight for the subsequent movements. If you’re not able to easily change the weights of your sandbag mid-workout, increase the sets and reps for the overhead press and squat to 4×8-12 and use the same weight for all movements.
- Overhead press – 3×5
- Shoulder-to-shoulder push press – 4×8-12
- Bent over rows – 4×8-12
- Hammer curls – 4×8-12
- Triceps extension – 4×8-12
Lower Body and Core
- Squat – 3×5
- Reverse lunges – 4×8-12 (each leg)
- Romanian deadlift – 4×8-12
- Sandbag plank pull-throughs – 4×12-15
This workout is best done with a sandbag with handles.
15 Minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)
- 100m sandbag carry
- 15 sandbag side-to-side thrusters
- 10 pushups with lateral sandbag drag
The sport you train for and whether or not you’re a competitive athlete will dictate the best way to incorporate sandbag training into your routine.
Strongman competitors will benefit from sandbag training at least a week. Competitive CrossFitters should also train with sandbags at least once a week, especially during competition season. This way, you’ll be prepared if a sandbag event shows up in competition.
For powerlifters, sandbag training is best done in the offseason so it doesn’t interfere with your meet prep. I recommend the same for athletes in other sports so it doesn’t affect your recovery in between games or competitions.
Non-competitive athletes can add sandbag training to their routines two to three times a week. To get the most benefits out of frequent sandbag training, you should incorporate both strength and conditioning workouts and make sure you’re hitting different muscle groups each time.
Sandbag training is an under-utilized form of training that anyone can benefit from. While it’s not an effective method of building maximal strength, it has a lot of real-world applications and can enhance the performance of various groups of athletes.
If you’re looking to buy a sandbag, check out the article Rogue Sandbag Review: Pros, Cons, Is It Worth It? to determine if the Rogue sandbag is right for you.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.