September 29, 2021 8 min read

We all know the importance of heavy lifting for getting built. There are many ways to lift heavy, whether you are in a professional or home gym. While many people opt for barbell or other traditional training tools, we are here to talk about something a little less conventional but just as intense: Sandbag training.

Sandbag workouts can seem intimidating if you have never done them before. When you get down to it, sandbag exercises are easy to learn, fun to complete, and accessible for people of all ages and fitness levels. Let's talk about what sandbags are and how to use them.

What Are Sandbags?

Sandbags are precisely what they sound like – bags filled with sand. They are great tools for weightlifting when bodyweight workouts just won't cut it.

Young man training in the desert

Sandbag workouts will typically replace your heavy lifting for the day. They come in all different weight ranges for you to use during your training. You can use sandbags for nearly any exercise that you would typically use other weights, such as squats or deadlifts.

We recommend that you start your first sandbag workout with a weight that you consider a middle range for weightlifting at your fitness level. After you try out a few moves, you can decide if you prefer to increase or decrease the weight for optimal results.

Where Do You Get the Best Sandbags?

You can purchase sandbags for your home workout from most places that sell weights or other pieces of equipment. There are a few benefits to buying pre-made sandbags. For starters, you can be precise about the amount of weight in each sandbag, making it easier to plan and complete a targeted workout routine. Premade sandbags also come with various handles for you to grab and easily hold the sandbag for different exercises.

If you don't want to buy your sandbags, that's cool too. You can easily make your own at home to save some money. We recommend using an old but sturdy duffel bag lined with trash bags. All you need to do is fill it with sand, which you can purchase at your local hardware or home improvement store.

Once you finish making it, treat yourself to abrand-new  duffel bag to replace the one you just turned into a sandbag.

Another benefit of making your sandbags is deciding how much sand you want to use and how full you want your sandbag to be. Making your own can help ensure you have an appropriate weight limit for your fitness level and allow you to decide how much the weight within your sandbag will shift. The more room in the bag, the more shifting the weight will do.

What Are the Benefits of Using Sandbags?

Strength Training

Building muscle is not just for the bodybuilders in the gym, strength training is a great tool to stay healthy and agile. Studies show that strength training  improves performance in other fitness endeavors, such as running and cycling, making them ideal for crossfit enthusiasts and other athletes.

Sandbag training is heavy duty and hard work. There is no room for slacking off or cutting corners here, making sandbags an excellent choice for those of us that might struggle to stay focused during strength training. The versatile nature of sandbags also makes them ideal for many different types of strength workouts.

Functional Training

Sandbags score high on the functional strength scale. Their often lopsided and non-conforming shape can make them difficult to hold, and therefore more like the types of items you will be lifting in your everyday life. Their weight will also shift as they move, unlike traditional weights.

Consider other training tools, such as dumbbells. While you can get a great workout in with a set of dumbbells, how often will you be lifting something of that shape and size outside of the gym? A somewhat awkward shaped sandbag, on the other hand – Now, there is something more akin to the inconveniently shaped furniture you need to move into your apartment or bags of items that you need to transport.

Sandbags also require you to keep good form while you use them. Unlike other options, such as dumbbells or a kettlebell, you will struggle to lift a sandbag without proper form. We love this from a functional training perspective and an injury-prevention standpoint.

Sandbags Fit in Your Workout Plan

Sandbags are a training tool that can target a variety of muscle groups during your workout. Their versatile nature makes them an excellent choice for any athlete and an easy fit in any workout routine. You can use them for simple movements, such as lunges or squats, or for compound exercises to hit multiple muscles at once.

If you are looking for a workout plan to help you  bulk up, you should know that isolation and bodyweight exercises are just not going to cut it. Instead, reach for a sandbag to lift heavy and get bigger, faster.

Work Your Stabilizing Muscles

In addition to providing the opportunity to target many different muscle groups, sandbags also force you to use stabilizer muscles that you might otherwise overlook. Sandbags are heavy and often shaped awkwardly, meaning that you need every bit of stability and strength to work with them. Once you do so, you will target several smaller, stabilizing muscles that many people miss during more traditional workouts.

Get That Heart Rate Pumping

Sandbags are a heavy-duty workout that will burn fat and get your heart rate up, making them great for HIIT workouts. Utilize fast-paced sandbag exercises to complete your HIIT training, ideal for a home workout because they don't require multiple pieces of equipment.  

A full-body sandbag workout can help you burn fat and build muscle while keeping your heart rate up as you lift that sandbag weight in different moves and positions. You can also supplement your sandbag moves with light cardio for an even more intense workout.

Check out this article about different types of cardio and what will help you get the results you want.

Sandbags or Free Weights?

Sandbags might seem like another version of free weights, but there are significant differences between the two. We suggest that you use sandbags for some of your heavy duty weightlifting but ultimately supplement your free weight training with sandbag exercises instead of replacing either one.

Movement & Weight

Sandbags, especially those that are homemade, can allow for weight shifting during your exercises. The sand inside will move as the sandbag does, making it challenging to hold onto and lift it. This shifting weight forces your stabilizer muscles to work and keeps you working to improve your functional fitness.

Sandbags also tend to be on the heavier side, which is what we want for strength building.

study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that heavy lifting was most beneficial for strength building in athletes. So, if you want to get stronger, lift heavier (and lift sandbags).

Supplement Other Weight Training with Sandbag Exercises

While we love sandbag training, we wouldn't recommend forgoing your other weight training in favor of exclusive sandbag workouts. Sandbag training is a significant part of your workout routine, but we suggest using it to supplement your barbell and dumbbell workouts.

One reason for this suggestion is that it is just more convenient to use iron instead of sand for much higher weight limits, simply because of the sheer volume of sand it can take to equal the same amount of weight. Think about it: a 140-pound barbell will be very different to work with than a 140-pound sandbag.

The Sandbag Workout

Okay, so now that you have the info, let's discuss how to break it all down and create a workout routine that will have you lean and fit in no time.

Warm-Up

Complete dynamic stretches to activate your muscles before getting into your sandbag exercises. A good warm-up leads to a good workout, with less risk of injury.

Lower Body Sandbag Exercises

Sandbag Reverse Lunges (3 sets of 10-12 reps)    

  1. Starting Position: Grip your sandbags with a neutral grip. Stand tall, with your torso straight.
  2. Step your right foot behind you, creating a 90-degree angle in your front and back knees. Your lower knee should be close to the ground but should not touch.
  3. Return your foot to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-12 reps, alternating sides for each rep.

Sandbag Front Squats (3 sets of 10-12 reps)

  1. Starting Position: Hold the sandbag securely at your chest. You can either hold it horizontally, anchored between your elbows, or vertically, held by your arms (think: bear hug). Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  2. Squat down as if you were going to sit in a chair. Stop when your knees create a 90-degree angle to the floor. You should feel this in your legs and glutes!
  3. Straighten your legs to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Upper Body Sandbag Exercises

Sandbag Bent Over Rows

Young mixed-race fit couple doing sandbag bent over rows

  1. Starting Position: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with the sandbag on the ground at your feet. Lean forward and keep a slight bend in your knees.
  2. Keeping your back neutral, reach down and pick up the sandbag. Pull up the sandbag into your chest. Be careful to keep that back straight, not rounded.
  3. Extend your arms to bring the sandbag back down.
  4. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Sandbag Overhead Press (3 sets, 10-12 reps)

  1. Starting Position: Stand tall, holding the sandbag horizontally at chest height.
  2. Press the bag up above your head, fully extending your arms. Try not to use the momentum from your lower body to help you here – This should be an upper-body move. Keep your spine neutral, and don't let the movement pull into your lower back.
  3. Lower the sandbag back down into your starting position.
  4. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Core Sandbag Exercises

Russian Twists (with a toss!) (3 sets of 20 reps)

  1. Starting Position: Sit with your knees bent on the floor, holding the sandbag at your chest. Lift your feet and lean back to a 45-degree angle.
  2. Keeping your lower body as still as possible, rotate your torso to the right side, tapping the ground with your sandbag.
  3. Return to the center and toss the sandbag into the air. As it comes back down, catch it with the weight equally distributed in your left and right hands.
  4. Repeat for 3 sets of 20 reps—alternate sides with each rep.

If this is a little tough for you, complete the same exercise with your feet on the ground. You can also take out the toss, replacing it with a shoulder press or skipping it altogether.

Lateral Pull with Push Up

  1. Starting Position: Get into a high plank position with your arms fully extended and your weight balanced on your toes. Place your sandbag just outside your right hand.
  2. Reach your left hand under your right arm and pull the sandbag across your body. It should end up right outside of your left hand.
  3. Bend your arms, lowering yourself into a pushup. Try to bring your chest as close to the floor as possible. Extend your arms, pushing yourself back up.
  4. Repeat the exercise reaching your right hand under your left arm to pull the sandbag back to its original position.
  5. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.

Cool Down

Now that you finished your sandbag workout, it's time to stretch out those muscles and rehydrate. Drink plenty of water and grab a  post-workout drink to get your body ready for your next workout.

Conclusion

sandbag training can help you get stronger by lifting heavy. Whether you are looking to bulk up or slim down, there is a place for sandbags in your workout plan. They will also help you achieve your crossfit and functional strength-building goals. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your sandbags and let's hit the gym!


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