Sandbag Shouldering

If I were on uninhabited island and doomed to do only one exercise, it definitely would be the deadlift. [UPDATE: based on my current experience, I’d say that my pick would be the Handstand Push-Up with all its variations] Its results are proven by centuries and it has the most impact on muscle building and overall strength gains. And, of course, because it’s one of my favorite exercises. But there is one little problem. As a rule, there are no barbells and plates on islands. There is only sand and, if you’re lucky, a thick-cloth bag around. No big deal. Shoulder it!

Shouldering is as old as sandbags are. Old-time strongmen used to shoulder great poundage in order to build tremendous strength. The strongest of them could shoulder a 100 kg (225 lbs) sandbag with one arm! I doubt that there are any men today who can replicate this feat of strength. Sandbag shouldering is lost feat of strength, but it is definitely worth rediscovering. And I’m here to make that happen.

Sandbag ShoulderingSandbag Shouldered

Sandbag shouldering is a simple exercise. Literally, you lift the sandbag off the floor and to the shoulder. No hidden context. But let me warn you, don’t be fooled by its simplicity. It’s hard as hell when done with decent poundage. It’s a test of willpower when done for high reps. Those who say that sandbag shouldering is easy definitely haven’t done it heavy and/or for high reps. Save the whining for those pussies. Real men choose sandbag shouldering as one of the main tools in their arsenal for transformation into rough beasts.

Shouldering is a full-body exercise. The main muscle groups that perform the action are lower back, hips, hamstrings, forearms, biceps, upper back, shoulders, pectorals, calves and quads. As you can see, sandbag shouldering covers almost every area of the body. The only muscle group that doesn’t stay fully involved are the triceps. More on that later. The exercise mechanics are similar to the deadlift and the power clean. However, shouldering requires less weight than the deadlift and involves all muscle groups in a less static and more dynamic manner (which is excellent for MMA fighters by the way), and it is less technically-demanding than the power clean. The whole movement is performed like this:

1. Deadlift the weight off the floor, high pull it and bear hug it underneath.

2. Jump with it and clean it to the shoulder.

Better than thousand words (:

[UPDATE: here is the most important technique point. Keep your lower back as straight as possible throughout the movement. To get this done you need to look a bit up and imagine that you are arching your back]

This variation is the most powerful. It will allow you to use the heaviest weight with good form. You can watch some videos on YouTube where guys do shouldering another way (with the bag too far from the body and in one movement). But believe me, those guys are not even close to using heavy poundage. I mean HEAVY! And as we all know the heavier the bag, the more muscle you can build.

If you are serious about getting as strong as possible, it’s imperative that you should incorporate sandbag shouldering into your routine. It should be in place of the row/lower body pull. For example, you can incorporate shouldering in your full-body routine like this:

A1) Front Squat 5×5

A2) Floor Press 5×5

A3) Shouldering 5×2

Perform all the exercises in circuit fashion (one-by-one). Rest as much as needed between exercises, but not more than 2 minutes. Feel free to add some core or arm work after all the circuits are done if you dare. But no more than one exercise and no more than 2 sets of 5-10 reps.

Here you go. Now you got everything you need to start reaping the benefits of heavy sandbag shouldering. However, there is a little bonus for you.

Everybody knows 20-rep squat routine, some know 20-rep deadlift routine. There is no doubt that these routines packed a lot of muscle, and ordinary guys became extraordinary walls of muscle as a result of using of these routines. These are routines advocated by Peary Rader, John McCallum, Randall J. Strossen, Joseph Curtis Hise and many more. Routines proven by time. For real men only. Here is Rough Strength Solution for those of you who accept the challenge.

20-Rep Sandbag Shouldering Routine

It’s a bloody mess. I dare those of you who are brave enough to try this routine. You will have the most brutal experience in your life. This routine is not for the faint of heart. It’s only for those of you who are 100% serious about their transformation. So here’s the routine.

A) Upper-Body Push 3×5

B1) Sandbag Shouldering 1×20

B2) Light Pullovers (or Rader Chest Pull) 1×20

Keep rest periods between sets short. No need to bother with rep speed. Progressions will be conventional. Once you get all the reps put more sand inside the bag and/or increase the weight in upper-body push movement. You can choose any upper-body push you want. Military Press, Floor Press, Bench Press, Weighted Dips – pick one or couple. You can even pick three and rotate them every training session. It can look something like this:

Monday – Military Press

Wednesday – Floor Press

Friday – Weighted Dips

To say that the shouldering will be brutal is to say nothing. Choose a HEAVY weight (of course, if the technique is mastered). Rep five will be heavy. Rep ten will seem like the end of the set. But your goal is twenty. Remember that and make it to that point. Then immediately perform the set of breathing pullovers or Rader chest pulls. If you have done everything as outlined here, you won’t have desire to do any isolation work. Guaranteed. If not, then you probably weren’t shouldering heavy enough. The next point is workout frequency. Try 3 full-body workouts per week. If you feel that your recovery is impaired, then try 2 full-body workouts per week. Your nutrition and rest should be in check also. Consume enough calories. Drink a gallon of milk a day as old-timers said. [UPDATE: only if you have very fast metabolism and it’s hard for you to gain any weight. If that’s not the case, then read this article carefully] It’s mandatory to sleep at least 8 hours a night (the more the better) and to have a 20-30 minute nap during the day. Those are all the tips I can give you. Don’t overcomplicate things. Keep it simple and it WILL be effective. And be ready to purchase new clothes.

Don’t forget to post your results from this program in the comments.

Play Rough!

Alex Zinchenko

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19 thoughts on “Sandbag Shouldering

  1. Pingback: Full-Body Advantage (Part 1) « Alex Zinchenko's – Gain Strength, Build Muscle, Get Ripped Rough

      1. Gregory

        Hey Alex!

        Great site! Thanks a lot for all the stuff.
        What do you mean by heavy weight, when you talk about 20-rep sanbag shouldering routine?
        We start with 5 reps of shouldering on workout, then we progress to 10 reps and so on…? Or we begin with the weight we can do 20 reps, couple of workouts, and then add more sand??


        1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

          As old-timers said, Gregory, pick the weight you can lift 10 times and do 20. This means that you need to pick up the weight that you can shoulder at least 10-15 times and try to do 20. This will take some serious mental effort so be prepared. And, of course, once you did 20 reps with given weight for couple workouts it is time to add some sand.

          – Alex

          1. Gregory

            Thanks a lot.
            Also about Light Pullovers. It has to be strength (suppose not because it says Light) aerobic, or just stretching exercise?

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  4. Once a fat girl

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    Im impressed, I ought to say. Quite rarely do I come across a blog thats both informative and entertaining, and let me let you know, youve hit the nail on the head. Your blog is important; the problem is some thing that not sufficient men and women are talking intelligently about. Im seriously happy that I stumbled across this in my search for some thing relating to this issue.

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  8. Josh

    This one of my favorite workout articles of all time. I’ve come back to it repeatedly in the years since you first wrote it. I’ve let myself get lazy and out of shape and once I was ready to train again this is the first thing I looked up. Awesome article man.

  9. Gabriel Javier Pieren Salazar

    Hey Alex!

    Thx for the post, awesome as always.

    I was wondering if you could please share with us a video of a heavy one arm sandbag shouldering. I am not sure how is the sandbag supposed to be grabbed.

    thanks a lot!


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