Brute Force Sandbags

Motion

“Odd-object training has been practiced for centuries and the makings of the sport of Strongman can be traced back to ancient history, far before society began to experience the phenomena of physical fitness. For the general population of habitual exercisers, however, this very primal style of training has been forgotten for many years in mainstream fitness as new tools such as barbells, dumbbells and high-tech machines have dominated the common weight room. The practice of moving stones, carrying logs and lifting heavy load is about as practical and accessible as it gets and is not only excellent for training elite level athletes but for mom and pop types as well.”

www.bruteforce.com

I have not always been a fan of sandbag training.

I’ve been familiar with sandbag training for 15+ years and just last year I finally broke down and bought two from Brute Force, the company’s products I am going to review in this article.  

I’m a skeptic with fitness equipment.  The competition in the marketplace is great for consumers because it causes price wars, but it also introduces many poorly constructed low-quality products.

Sifting through what’s good and bad is time-consuming, and with companies on Amazon offering freebies in exchange for 5-star reviews, it’s getting harder to know what’s good and what’s not.  

I’ll research products for months before I pull the trigger.  Doesn’t matter what it is or how much it costs… the research must be done. 

Why the long hold out?  

I’ll admit I’m a big advocate of sandbag training now.  Reflecting on my past position of the usefulness of sandbags, I’ve got that “whoops, should have jumped on that much sooner” kind of feeling.

I felt sandbag training was gimmicky after my initial introduction.  

Why train with a sandbag when I could train the same exercises/movements using dumbells, a barbell or a kettlebell?  Or how about just using body weight for $free.99?

Another major turn off was the obvious niche carving going on.  

Were fitness professionals promoting sandbags because they added a results-oriented value to a workout session?  Or because it was a novel new training tool and consumers EAT UP novel new training devices without a second thought.

Like any industry, fitness experiences periodic market-driven thrusts to create unnecessary niches and products to fit those niches.  Some make it, some do not.

The marketing to use sandbags for fitness reminded me a lot of what Pavel Psatsouline did with the introduction of kettlebells to the Western World in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Kettlebells took off like a rocket ship.  The timing was perfect and the odd-shaped kettlebell introduced a style of training previous unknown to many.  

I’d watch YouTube videos and read articles from self-proclaimed sandbag experts like Josh Henkin and other guys/gals proclaiming that sandbag training was the “missing link” to building athleticism and functional fitness.

To buy a sandbag made me feel like I would be buying something that I could perform 99% of exercises with tools I already owned: kettlebells or barbells. 

Of the fitness equipment I own…

I beat the hell out of all of it on a near daily basis.  My wife can attest to this, since she has to cope with the clanking of iron, grunting, weight hitting the floor and shaking the house, the fans on the rower and airbike, and probably worst of all, the music pumping out of my Bose speaker.       

Despite whatever vibe I project here on the blog, I don’t buy equipment just to buy equipment.  I hate clutter.  I don’t want my gym to look like I’m a hoarder of equipment.

The equipment I purchase must have a justified value.

I also don’t like parting ways with my money if I don’t 100% see the value in what I’m buying, no different than any of you.

Buy cheap, buy twice.  It stings every single time it happens.

So, I’m sorry if I bored you to death, but that’s my personal story with sandbags.  Now, I’d like to share with you the company I settled on buying from and why I did.  

Brute Force Sandbags

Size Options

Brute Force offers 3 different size sandbags:Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 12.10.53 PM

  • Mini Sandbag Training Kit – (5-25lb)
  • Athlete Sandbag Training Kit – (25-75lb)
  • Strongman Sandbag Training Kit – (50-125lb)

If you’re a beginner I suggest starting with the Mini or the Athlete option, strictly based on the weight of the bag.  You can always size up as you get stronger.  

For intermediate or advanced, I suggest buying both the Athlete and the Strongman in one shot.  

Why?  Because the Athlete won’t be heavy enough for some exercises, while the Strongman will be WAY too much weight for other exercises.  They compliment each other very well.  

Plus, the sandbags are interchangeable so you can transfer the filler bags from your Athlete bag to the Strongman, and vice versa.  

Personally, I bought the Athlete and the Strongman, both in the color black.  I would make the same purchase again without thinking twice.  Both serve different purposes within my workouts.

Here are the most important features that separate Brute Force sandbags from others on the market.

Material Choice and Construction

Brute Force makes a durable sandbag using the following:

  • 1000D Military-Spec Cordura
  • Military Grade Velcro
  • 5 Panel Seatbelt Webbing
  • YKK Zippers

1000D Military-Spec Cordura

The outer shell and inner filler bags are constructed with the same military grade material being used by the armed forces.  1000D Military Spec Cordura. Cordura fabrics are known for their durability and resistance to abrasions, tears, and scuffs.

Cordura fabrics are known for their durability and resistance to abrasions, tears, and scuffs.  They’ve been used in the military since WWII, introduced as a type of rayon at that time.  

Personally, I can handle the scuffs.  Scuffs are a part of the ownership of any item.  But when the abrasions evolve into tears, that’s a problem.  

Military Grade Velcro

Plain and simple, crappy velcro sucks.  

You will need two hand technique and some serious pull-apart strength to peel back the velcro on the inner filler bags.  

After my Athlete and Strongman bags arrived, this was one of the first things I noticed while filling the bags with sand.  If the filler bags are crap, the entire bag is crap, even if the outer shell is durable.  

Why?  If the sand leaks out of the filler bags, it’s going to find a way to leach out of the outer shell at some point and you’ll slowly create a mess.  

The inner filler bags of any quality sandbag SHOULD NEVER LEAK.

5 Panel Seat Belt Webbing

The seat belt wrapped around Brute Force Sandbags is the exact same that you trust your life with while driving your vehicle.  

This seat belt webbing is aggressively stitched into the outer shell and leads up into the handles of the sandbag.  

Much of the training you’ll do with a sandbag will utilize the handles. 

The handles must be able to tolerate the weight of the bag when lifting, throwing, carrying or dragging.  

Brute Force did a nice job adding a ton of reinforced stitching between the seat belt webbing and the handles.  Doing so will prevent the gradual handle tear away so many other sandbag companies have struggled to fix.  

YKK Zippers

I’ll be honest.  I had no idea what “YKK” meant.  When it came to zipper the logical feeling was that I didn’t want to deal breakage.  No pulls that pop, herky-jerky sliding mechanisms, teeth that break or lockups.  

But I did some research on YKK zipper anyway.

YKK zippers are produced in Japan and have been since 1934.  The founder of the YKK zippers, Tadao Yoshida, built the company on the foundation of this quote:  “no one prospers unless he renders benefit to others.”  Boom.  I’m on board with that.  

Remember that awesome pair of expensive jeans you bought, but the zipper sucked?  Yeah, me too.  I’ve had a couple pairs of these.  I didn’t think much about the quality of the zipper prior to buying my sandbag, but the reality is I was buying a $100+ dollar pair of jeans that I was going to be physically abusing.  

Zippers matter. Especially if you plan on removing the filler bags frequently to change the weight for a given exercise, or traveling with the sandbag and refilling with your destination. 

Handle Options

I wanted a wide variety of handle options and I got it.  All of the Mini, Athlete, Strongman sandbags have 4 sets of flexible soft-grip handles, 8 handles total.  

The 4 sets of handles offer the user the following grip options during exercise:

  • Neutral Grip (palms facing in)
  • Barbell Grip (overhand)
  • Suitcase Grip
  • End Cap Grip

You may think you’re only going to use 1 or 2 of these grips, but you’ll start exploring sooner than you’d think.  I use them all for a variety of different exercises and various reasons.  

Being able to switch grips on the same exercise can give a different training stimulus and keep training fresh.  


I use the end cap handles the least, but I have used them when playing around with variations.

Filler Bags

I touched on the importance of having good quality velcro above, but what I didn’t mention is each Brute Force filler bag is designed with a double Velcro seal. The Athlete version comes equipped with two filler bags.  One bag has a 50lb fill limit and the other has a 30lb fill limit, for 80lbs of total system weight. 

The Athlete version comes equipped with two filler bags.  One bag has a 50lb fill limit and the other has a 30lb fill limit, for 80lbs of total system weight.  

80lbs in a sandbag feels like twice that weight.  Don’t associate sandbag training with rigid equipment like barbells.  80lbs is going to wear you out quickly, which is the point.  

I’ve not dabbled with going over the suggested weight limits for each bag, and I probably won’t.  Sandbag training thrives off of the oddness of the structure, shape changing, and weight shifting as you move. Few repetitions are exactly the same.

Few (if any) repetitions are exactly the same.

Overstuffing the outer shell with filler bags will leave no room inside for the filler bags to move.  We want the filler bags to move.  

So, overstuffing a sandbag eliminates one of the main benefits of sandbag training, the reactiveness required to handle the sandbag during exercise.  

Some things to keep in mind…

The sandbag might rip, tear and leak.

I just spent 10 minutes of your time and 1000+ words pumping up the Brute Force line and now I’m tossing this out there?  

Damn right.  Ripping, tearing and leaking is a reality, as it is with any fabric-based piece of gym equipment.  

This is why you found this review, isn’t it?  I’d bet that it is.  Outside of design features and functionality of the sandbag, you’re probably curious if Brute Force Sandbag are going to hold up across a respectable amount of time. 

Look, I was in your shoes asking the same questions prior to making my purchase so I get it. 

The most honest answer to that question is this: it depends.  

It depends on the exercises you’re doing (slams, dragging, the frequency (daily use versus just sometimes)

Friction wears things out.  We change our car tires and our shoes because of friction, when we were kids we threw away pencils because the erasers wore down to the metal.   

Friction is a major reason we have to replace the old with new.   

If you plan on high repetition slamming or long distance dragging your sandbags across jagged gravel versus grass or a smooth wood or concrete basement floor…


… then yes, no matter what sandbag manufacturer you choose, the outer shell is going to rip and tear until the inner filler bags are exposed, then those are going to leak.  

I wouldn’t quite refer to this scenario as negligence or product misuse, more a reality of using your equipment aggressively and decreasing the lifespan dramatically. 

But this is common sense, isn’t it?  

Here’s another fact.  Just as no company should tout their sandbag products to be
“indestructible”, no self-respecting company will hint their products could wear out.  

I’ve owned both of my Brute Force bags for over a year, beat the hell of out them, and they still look new.  I am extremely pleased.

You might not find value in every sandbag exercise.

Just because I demonstrate a sandbag exercise I found value in, doesn’t mean you will.  

Personally, I find heavy hang cleans with a sandbag to be inferior to hang cleans with a barbell.  

The pull is awkward, which morphs the technique into something I fear could result in injury.  Probably not, but it’s a hunch I have, so I stay away from it.  Plus, the exercise feels forced.  

What do I do instead?  I don’t use heavy sandbag cleans in my workouts.  I’ll work sub-maximal hang cleans with my Athlete sandbag, mainly as a way to get the bag from a low position to chest height. 

If I go heavy, I use a barbell instead.  Simple as that. 

Keep your mind open to all sandbag exercises.  My suggestion is to start by working common linear exercises first (squats, lunges, overhead pressing) and progressing on to more involved exercises like rotational swings or combination moves.  

Start with light weight, get the feel of the movements, then add weight as you progress.  It’s no different than progressing with any other piece of gym equipment.  Familiarize yourself, then progress to more challenging exercises. 

Sandbags are EXTREMELY functional…

I’m not going to tell you sandbags will change your life, cause you to lose fat that you couldn’t with other tools or increase your conditioning more effectively.  

Can’t do it.  

What I will say, and I alluded to this briefly before, is training with a sandbag is a completely different training experience versus traditional weights.  Sandbags lack structure, so picking them up and stabilizing them is a pure challenge.  

Half of the workout is navigating the bag up to the position you’re going to use for the exercise.

Grabbing a sandbag without using the handles will be a real eye-opener to your grip strength.  

Exercises like squats, lunges, carrying and dragging are ABSOLUTELY ideal for sandbag training.  There are so many alternative variations, holds, grips, and movements you simply cannot do with iron gym equipment.  

Bear hugging a heavy sandbag for squats, lunges or carries is brutally taxing.  

Here’s a squat variation using an underarm hold, which challenges your bicep endurance while you squat…

What I’ve found is that mixing sandbag work has improved my rigid equipment performance (barbells, kettlebell, dumbells).  Picking up a nicely balanced barbell seems convenient now, versus trying to figure out how to lift a 120lb structureless bag from the floor up to my shoulders.  

In daily life, we are often faced with the challenge of moving odd-shaped objects.  There is no way around it.  Every time I load my lawn mower or our bikes into my truck bed I’m reminded of this.  Where are the handles?  None in sight, but the work must be done regardless.  

What makes a form of exercise functional is the transfer it has to help a person become better equipped to thrive with common physical tasks, whether they are sport related or real-world task.  

Few pieces of gym equipment better transfer more appropriately as sandbags.  

MetCon Workouts like this are short, simple but brutally effective.  I used to use barbells for combinations like this, but the sandbag has a much better feel. 

I won’t be shy about my appreciation of the sandbag and the unique dynamic it’s added to my own workouts.  It’s awesome additional to the home

Sandbags make a nice functional addition to the home gym set up or a personal training business for that matter.  

For more information, head over to Brute Force.com

If you’ve got questions, don’t hesitate to ask, I’ve got answers and am happy to help.  

 

Cheers to quality gym equipment,

Kyle

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MetCon Workout Finisher| 50 Sandbag Burpees for Time

Sandbag Training

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.  

Why?

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.  

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 7.25.58 AM.png

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.  

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 7.39.20 AM

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!

 

Cheers,

Kyle