The sandbag is a no-frills piece of fitness equipment that I ignored for years, often choosing iron instead.
I won’t say it was a lost out during that time, but I will say the functional training value of sandbags is enormous.
Sandbag training makes sense. Few objects of mass in the real world setting have a perfectly symmetric distribution of weight. I’ve never bumped into a loaded barbell inside my garage that needed relocating. I’m being a smartass right now and I see the value in barbell training, but the idea is to shed light on the value of non-iron based training.
For those who are seeking the functional training experience, the sandbag IS a premiere training tool because of it’s unique properties. Even more so than suspension trainers and other popular “functional” exercise tools.
No repetition of any sandbag exercise is exactly the same.
It may feel similar, but because sandbags are constantly changing shape as the weight shifts while you move. The shape change is two-fold: the small sandbags inside the outer shell shift while the grain of sand inside of each small sandbag shifts.
The change in shape creates an action-reaction scenario during work sets. Your body must make on-the-go, reactive adjustments to the changes. if you’re going to complete each rep aiming for best possible technique.
With sandbag training, each rep leverages acceptable training technique and body position, not perfect training technique. Again, because the weight moves as you do, stabilizing muscles are called upon during dynamic sandbag exercises.
I say “best possible technique” and not “perfect technique” because lifting odd-shaped objects in real world scenarios often does not allow for perfect repetitions.
In the gym, a modern day controlled setting, we can train “perfect” exercise technique until the cows come home, but real world tasks may require a deviation from perfect.
Sandbag training can prepare our bodies to handle subtle deviations in body position without going overboard, keeping each exercise safe yet challenging.
Acclimating the body to operate on the fringe of “safe” is worth exploring. We don’t always move within the zones that keep us healthy and injury. Sometimes, we have to operate on the fringe, knowingly or unknowingly.
Regarding training safe training, here are a couple of simple questions:
- What is “safe”?
- Can training “safe” actually be unsafe?
Lots of handles, use none of them…
Most premiere sandbag manufacturers have stitched handles all over the outer shells, giving the user a variety of grip options. However, a lot of real world objects don’t have nicely positioned handles, so what then?
However, a lot of real world objects of mass don’t have nicely positioned handles, so what then?
Pick up the bag without the handles. You’ll be surprised how a 40-50lb sandbag can feel twice as heavy while picking it up from the dead floor position without using handles for assistance.
Over the past several months, sandbag exercises continue to creep into my workouts, substituting where kettlebells and barbells used to dominate. Sandbag squats now live where kettlebell and barbell
Now, I use Underarm sandbag squats where I used to use barbell front squats.
Sandbag cleans have also provided an incredible variation using 60-70% less weight previously used with barbell cleans. Performing a clean with a HEAVY, AWKWARD, SHAPE-SHIFTING objects changes how you navigate such an exercise.
A sandbag clean using a sandbag shell that’s 70-80% filled with sandbags is one of the most challenging externally loaded exercises I’ve performed.
Various ballistic sandbag swing exercises have made their way into my workouts where kettlebell and barbell used to exist.
Some of these swing exercises work great and some feel completely unnatural and forced. Keep some, ditch some I suppose.
But the point of this article is to touch on a memorable MetCon Workout Finisher I worked through recently, which I know will leave you all panting.
The beta test on this sandbag finisher turned out to be perfect. Not too much work, not too little, just right.
Here it is…
The 50 Rep Sandbag Burpee Challenge
The Challenge: Complete 50 reps of sandbag burpees.
Time Limit: 5 minutes or less.
Suggested Sandbag weight (sub-maximal)
- Women: 30-40 lb sandbag
- Men: 50-60 lb sandbag
Grip: Neutral (hands facing in) or pronated (overhand position)
The Purpose: Perform as much work as possible in a given timeframe.
Above is my improvised attempt at this 50 rep burpee challenge. I lost track of reps somewhere around 25-30, so I added some extra to the backend to be sure I didn’t cheat the volume. My finishing time was 4:55min/sec. Not a muscle unused, lungs were feeling it.
Changes levels with traditional bodyweight burpees can be extremely fatiguing. If you’ve completed a long set of burpees or worked burpees for intervals, you know this.
Adding a sandbag to clean and press increases the challenge exponentially. As fatigue increases throughout this challenge, the stabilizing muscles begin to play a more important role.
Brute Force Sandbags are my brand of choice. For a workout like this, I suggest using the Athlete model. This will keep the weight sub-maximal, which is important for high repetition work capacity workouts.
Functionally and durability were the determining factors for choosing Brute Force over other brands. I wanted a sandbag with plenty of handle options, but I also wanted the bag to be bulletproof. I am extremely hard on my fitness equipment, and I knew I’d be using these on a variety of soft and hard surfaces (concrete, gravel, wood floors, etc).
To see the complete Brute Force sandbag offering, go here: Brute Force Sandbags
Give this MetCon Workout Finisher a shot!