For any of y’all thinking that barbells, dumbbells and squat racks are the only way to build strength, it’s about time you expand your repertoire.
One key piece of equipment that you should take into your arsenal for serious strength training is a sandbag.
Variety is an element that far too few take into account when putting together a strength and conditioning workout. Repetition of actions and lifts is essential in training to develop your muscles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that barbells and common gym equipment are the only way to do it.
What is a sandbag workout?
A sandbag workout involves resistance training with a sandbag in place of your usual weights, be it dumbbells, barbells or otherwise. Sandbags are not quite the primitive sand-filled thatched sack that you may have in mind; the most common type found in the average gym is a cylindrical bag with handles, which can be tossed and slammed, and they come in a variety of weights.
How does using sandbags help to build strength?
Strength building is all about understanding the true meaning of an overall body workout.
Dumbbells may be best suited to isolation exercises, but the shifting weight and shape of a sandbag afford you the opportunity for whole body training.
You see it all the time: bodybuilders in the gym reach a plateau using only barbells, which is suddenly overcome by injecting dumbbells into the mix. This is where sandbags come in.
A fixed range of motion is necessary for one respect – the high-frequency repetition of resistance on a targeted muscle group will tear, grow and strengthen that muscle. But it doesn’t always help to build the strength of the smaller, auxiliary muscles and tendons that support the bigger muscles that you routinely pump.
In other words, it’s about balance as much as it is about building strength and muscle. You are not restricted with a bag held tight in your grip as you are by a long, cumbersome barbell in your hands or across your shoulders, which can limit your dexterity and natural range of movement.
Benefits of sandbag workouts
Training with a sandbag in place of other resistance equipment can provide the following benefits:
Because of the shifting weight and shape of a sandbag, your core is put to work and developed, along with the smaller muscles that help you to balance. It can therefore also help to improve your posture if you have been sitting for too long during the day.
By this, we also mean functional strength. Because you are not limited to a fixed range of movements in the way that you are with isolating exercises, it will transfer to functional movements, which can benefit labourer- type work and other sports.
You Can Do It Anywhere
Well, just about. But one of the main benefits of sandbag training is that with this one simple piece of equipment you can exercise just about anywhere.
It is Hard Work
This may sound like bad news to some people looking for an easy ride, but for anyone trying to spice up their workout and are looking for a real, serious training session, it is certainly difficult to cut corners when sandbags are involved.
Sandbag exercises for strength
Begin by standing with your feet shoulder- width apart holding a sandbag across your upper chest as you would with a barbell during a front barbell squat. Without arching your back, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Drive your heels down and push yourself explosively up to your starting position.
Clean & press
Perform your standard clean movement, keeping your feet parted at shoulder- width and holding the handles of the bag instead of the bar. The action is the same, as is the press, only you will be conscious of engaging your core to stay balanced as the bag becomes airborne.
Single leg deadlift
This provides an excellent exercise for your posterior chain, including your lower back, glutes and hamstrings, but does so by working each side independently. It’s natural to allow your stronger leg to take the brunt during a standard deadlift, but this means that you will be correcting troubles with symmetrical strength.
Burpee & snatch
This is another superset action that the sandbag affords you in a way that a barbell does not as it allows you to slam it and press your weight against it without fear of injury or damage to the equipment during the burpee, while then allowing you to perform a snatch with the same firmness as you would with a bar.
Hold the bag by the handles, resting it across your shoulders. Standing upright, engage your core and glutes and bend slowly at the waist so that you are at a right angle, then straighten again and repeat.
Round the world
Holding a sandbag with both hands in front of your thighs, lift it up over your head and twist it around your head in a clockwise motion. When you arrive back to starting position, repeat it in the other direction.
Lunges (& reverse lunges)
Place the sandbag across your back and step forward, sinking into a lunge, so both legs are bent and your back knee will be as close to the floor as possible. Drive yourself back up and repeat on the other side. The same applies to reverse lunges.
These bad boys build the thickness of your arms and involve the meaty part of your forearm nearest the crook of your elbow. Hold the handles of the sandbag with your palms facing inwards as if you are holding two hammers. Engage your core, keep your upper arms still and curl at the elbows.
This is your standard crunch but with added resistance. Hold the sandbag across your chest or in front of you by the handles and crunch as you usually would.
Russian twist & toss
Begin in a sitting position with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Holding the sandbag without the handles, engage your core for a tall spine and lean back about 45 degrees until you feel your abs engage. Lift feet off the floor and find balance on your sit bones. Keep your lower body still and rotate your torso to the right to tap sandbag on the floor. Return to center and toss bag into the air. Catch bag with both hands. Then repeat it on the other side.
Take home message
Sandbag exercises make use of this accessible piece of equipment, which can also take a beating that the likes of barbells and dumbbells cannot, meaning you can throw down and work as hard as you need to. Resistance training, at the end of the day, is about the resistance against your muscles. How that is achieved is entirely up to you.