Sandbags

Rough Strength Sandbag

Sandbag is one of the most simple and yet the most effective strength training implements out there. Sandbag strength training is still highly underappreciated nowadays despite all the attempts to popularize it. I think there are two reasons for this:

  1. It is not fancy;
  2. It is brutally hard.

Any exercise performed with heavy sandbag is a test of willpower, and it is so ferocious that will leave you lying in the puddle of your own sweat. If you still doubt that sandbag is one of the manliest training tools out there, I challenge you to try it.

Not long time ago, there were some efforts to revive sandbags. For example, the first person to attract my attention to them was Brooks Kubik.

Brooks Kubik

The author of Dinosaur Training playing with 200 lbs sandbag

His “Dinosaur Training” is the classic read that devotes some attention to heavy sandbag training. However, he uses sandbags as a supplement to conventional barbell and dumbbell training. In my opinion, it is not enough for such a great tool. And even not close enough to describe its tremendous potential.

Here Is Why

1. Sandbags work your stabilizers in the most brutal way possible. Even after the first sandbag workout, you will be sore as hell in places you have not even thought about earlier. Guaranteed. Barbells will feel like a walk in the park after sandbag brutality.

2. Sandbags work your grip big time. Isn’t it a pleasant bonus? Even more. Actually there is a strong correlation between your grip strength and size of your muscles, so do not neglect this benefit.

3. There is a lot of setup work with sandbags. Not good? Think again, man. It’s like a workout in a workout. You will build incredible work capacity after all those cleans and shouldering.

4. You’ll be sweating after the first work set with sandbags. Talking about fat loss and conditioning.

You can read more about the benefits of sandbag strength training here.

The benefits are indisputable. What’s next?

Where to Get a Sandbag?

I can answer this question easily. There are two viable ways. Either has pros and cons.

1. You can order a commercial one (for example, here). They are great for fat loss and conditioning but they definitely lack the weight you can stuff in if your goal is rough strength and size.

2. If you want to build some serious strength and muscle, you will need a ‘monster’ sandbag. You should be able to stuff into it at least 300 lbs (135 kg) of sand. You can check out my article called “How to Make a Sandbag” for more details. There you can find precise instructions on sandbag construction.

Basic Sandbag Exercises

I divided them into categories:

1. Upper Body Push

Sandbag Overhead Press

Sandbag Overhead PressSandbag Overhead PressSandbag Overhead Press

Grab a sandbag off the floor. Clean it with your lower back arched. Press it overhead until your elbows locked.

Sandbag Floor Press

Sandbag Floor PressSandbag Floor Press

Lie down on the floor near a sandbag. Drag it forcefully across your body. Set it up in your hands. Press.

2. Upper Body Pull

Sandbag Bent-Over Row

Sandbag Bent-Over RowSandbag Bent-Over Row

Grab a sandbag off the floor. Bend over. Row. Keep your lower back arched.

Sandbag Shouldering

Sandbag ShoulderingSandbag ShoulderingSandbag Shouldering

Grab a sandbag off the floor. Keep your lower back arched. Pull it forcefully and catch it. Jump and shoulder it in one movement. It is a full-body movement that works the whole body as one unit. So it is not only upper body pull.

3. Lower Body Push

Sandbag Bear-Hug Squat

Sandbag Bear-Hug SquatSandbag Bear-Hug SquatSandbag Bear-Hug Squat

Bear-hug a sandbag. Squat. Keep the weight on your heels, not toes.

Sandbag Zercher Squat

Sandbag Zercher SquatSandbag Zercher SquatSandbag Zercher Squat

Grab a sandbag off the floor. Jump with it and catch it in Zercher position. Squat. Keep the weight on your heels, not toes. Check out this article for more tips on this exercise.

Sandbag Shoulder Squat

Sandbag Shoulder SquatSandbag Shoulder SquatSandbag Shoulder Squat

Shoulder a sandbag. Squat. Keep the weight on your heels, not toes.

4. Lower Body Pull

Sandbag Bear-Hug Good Morning

Sandbag Bear-Hug Good MorningSandbag Bear-Hug Good MorningSandbag Bear-Hug Good Morning

Bear-hug a sandbag. Grab it off the floor and stand up. Lean forward without bending your knees. Stand back up. Keep your lower back arched.

Sandbag One-Arm Swings

Sandbag One-Arm SwingSandbag One-Arm SwingSandbag One-Arm Swing

Take a sandbag in one hand. Swing it between your legs. Keep your lower back arched. It is an awesome exercise for developing grip strength.

5. Carries

Zercher Carry

Sandbag Zercher Carry

Grab a sandbag off the floor. Jump with it and catch it in Zercher position. Carry it around.

Shoulder Carry

Sandbag Shoulder Carry

Shoulder a sandbag. Carry it around.

NOTE: this is just a description of exercises, not an actual instruction. You should consult a professional for proper technique.

Example Sandbag Routine

Here is an example sandbag-only full-body routine:

Monday

A) Overhead Press – 3 x 5

B) Shouldering – 3 x 4 (per side)

C) Zercher Squat – 3 x 6

Tuesday

Off.

Wednesday

A) Floor Press – 3 x 8

B) One-Arm Swing – 3 x 8 (per side)

C) Shoulder Carry – 2 x as far as possible

Thursday

Off.

Friday

A) Bent-Over Row – 3 x 12

B) Bear-Hug Squat – 3 x 12

Saturday & Sunday

Off.

NOTE: this routine is presented here only for example purposes. It may or may not work for you depending on your individual capabilities and conditions.

Closing Thoughts

Is sandbag the ultimate tool in building strength and muscle? Probably not, but it’s pretty close to it. If you ask me would I stop working out with sandbags, my answer would be: “Nope”. Try it and you’ll understand why.

Play rough!

Alex

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

Do you have any additional thoughts? Let’s chat in comments.

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9 thoughts on “Sandbags

  1. Arek

    one question about heavy sandbags Alex – have you ever had back problems after heavy shouldering or heavy sandbag squats? I mean its kind of risky , especially picking up sandbag and setting it in the proper position. Dont get me wrong, Im not disrespecting you approach m I really like your style and Im starting my sandbag workouts (modest weight of 45 kg now) but Im also interested in injury prevention. BTW you should write an article about injuries and how to prevent those sneaky little bastards

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Arek,

      Sandbag training may be risky if you have no patience and don’t follow the basic principle of progressive overload. Otherwise, it is not riskier than any other type of training.

      – Alex

      Reply
  2. Arek

    One thing that I find really hard to perform with good form is picking up heavy sandbag – its really hard to do it without round back, do you think its not riskier than typical, neutral spube deadlifting?

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Everything in this life is risky. You can brush your teeth and strain you upper back. I haven’t experienced any adverse effects from lifting the sandbag off the floor. If you worry about this, then just don’t use it.

      – Alex

      Reply
  3. Arek

    Thats all I wanted to know , I dont want to be nagger, thanks for every info on sandbags , I will just take it easy and follow principle of progressive overload, keep it real Alex !

    Reply
  4. Old Timer

    Love your article. Two decades back and even today, in Northern India and Pakistan, sandbag exercises were heavily followed by wrestlers and local strongmen. Infact carrying loads was a necessity as people often used to carry water, woods, grains in big sandbags from the source to their homes. These training methods have produced top wrestlers like Great Gama. True strength is picking a 100 kg bag filled with grains and loading it on a trailer, that’s what some laborers in India do. Where barbells produce fake muscles (pump) which deflate sooner than a balloon, sandbags give you perpetual strength.

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Well, “barbells produce fake muscles” statement is not true.

      Sandbags build more “real-world” muscles (so to speak) due to more natural movement patterns. That’s all.

      – Alex

      Reply

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