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The Best Muscle Workouts

The Ultimate Guide to Sandbag Workouts & Training – Fitness Volt

Sandbag training is a unique approach to resistance training that combines the weight of sand (50 to 100 pounds) with…

By admint10m , in Legs , at September 4, 2021


Sandbag training is a unique approach to resistance training that combines the weight of sand (50 to 100 pounds) with the instability of a not-quite-full sandbag. 

Sandbags are a truly unique training tool that can accelerate your fitness on so many levels—not just functional strength, but stability, balance, and even cardiovascular endurance.

If you’re looking to switch up your workouts and try something that will challenge your body in a whole new way, you’ll definitely love what sandbag training has to offer!

Sandbag Training 101

Sandbags are exactly as they sound: bags filled with sand. Typically made from hyper-tough synthetic fabric, the sandbags often include handles that make it easier to hold and lift the bag. They’ll be filled with anywhere from 25 to 200 pounds of sand—men often work with the 80 to 100-pound range, while women typically stick with 45 to 60 pounds.

Sandbag Training
Sandbag Training

What makes sandbags so interesting for your workouts is the fact that they’re not entirely filled with sand. If the bag was filled completely, the sand would be compacted into a single dense mass that moves together and doesn’t shift around.

But that would be just another weight, no different from a solid weight disc. Instead, sandbags are only partially filled with sand—roughly 70 to 80% of the bag—which means that the sand inside is constantly shifting around. Your body is forced to compensate for this ever-shifting weight by engaging more muscles to maintain your balance. Instead of just recruiting the muscles working to perform the specific exercise (leg muscles for Lunges, shoulder muscles for Military Press, etc.), your secondary and core muscles work as well.

The result is better overall fitness—or, as it’s also known, “functional fitness”. 

Functional fitness is more than just muscular strength; it’s strength, power, endurance, and stability that translates into your everyday life. 

Think about the last time you cleaned out your garage or picked up your kids. The weight of those half-filled storage containers might not have been perfectly balanced, or your toddler might have squirmed around in your arms. It wasn’t just the prime movers that did the work—all your secondary muscles had to engage to keep your balance and support the imbalanced or shifting weight.

Sandbags mimic that “real life” instability and ever-shifting weight. The sand moves around inside the bag, forcing your body to compensate. Over time, this compensation leads to stronger muscles better prepared to adapt to unstable or imbalanced loads—the sort of loads you’ll often end up lifting or carrying in your daily life. 

Benefits of Sandbag Training

Training With Sandbags

Sandbag training offers a lot of pretty amazing benefits:

  • Better functional fitness – Many sandbag workouts rely heavily on full-body, multi-joint movements, all of which use the unstable, shifting weight. The result is better fluidity of motion, better balance, and better muscular growth that translates into real-life strength even outside the gym.
  • Improve grip strength – You have to firmly grip the sandbag (either the bag’s body or built-in handles) to keep it securely in place as you transition through the motions of your workout. This will help to develop the forearm muscles that provide the power for your grip.
  • Enhance balance and stability – The more your body is trained to adapt to unstable or imbalanced loads, the stronger all your secondary stabilizer muscles become. This will translate into better mobility and balance in your everyday life. You’ll reduce the risk of injuries to your lower back because every sandbag workout also trains your core.
  • Offer a fresh new workout – Ditch the “old and boring” workout routines you’ve been pushing yourself through every week for years, and get a load of something fresh. Changing up your workouts and adding a new challenge to tackle can be an amazing way to re-motivate yourself to push yourself to greater heights in every training session.
  • Train your muscles differently – Instead of performing the same Lunge, Squat, or Row you’ve been performing for years in your resistance training, sandbag training works your muscles in a new way. Even if you don’t change your workouts significantly, you’ll find that the unstable, shifting weight forces new secondary muscles to engage with every movement, leading to greater overall strength development.

If you’re looking for a challenge that will help you break through fitness plateaus and hit your muscles in a highly effective new way, you’ll definitely want to give sandbag training a try! 

Sandbag Alternatives 

If there is one downside to sandbag training, it’s that sandbags can be fairly pricey, and not every gym has them handy. You can find a few alternatives that will give you easy options for sandbag training.

Sandbag alternatives include:

Punching Bag

Punching Bag Training

Punching bags are virtually the same thing as sandbags, though they may be filled with sawdust, which is much lighter than sand. Their lack of handles makes them a bit harder to grip, and they’re both longer and wider than the average sandbag.

But they still make a great, cheap alternative to a sandbag! If the punching bag is too heavy, you can empty some of the sand until the weight is more manageable. If it’s not heavy enough, replace the sawdust filling with sand. 

DIY Sandbags

There are lots of ways you can DIY a sandbag. All you need is some filler (sand, wooden pellets, or gravel will do) and a bag to hold it, including: 

  • Heavy-duty garbage bags (just make sure to triple-bag it)
  • Duffel bag (military bags are much stronger)

However, I always recommend that you just buy a proper sandbag. They’re a longer-lasting choice and are purpose-built specifically for your sandbag training.

Sandbag Workouts

Time to take this new training method for a test drive! 

There are so many different types of sandbag workouts you can try. Really, if you can do a workout with barbells, dumbbells, weight discs, or kettlebells, you can do it with a sandbag.

Sandbag Workouts

Let’s start with a couple of CrossFit-style high-intensity workouts:

Full-Body EMOM 

EMOM stands for “every minute, on the minute”. That means when the minute starts, you perform the exercise until you complete the correct number of repetitions. Any time remaining in the minute, you get to use to rest and recover for the next set. 

You’ll need a CrossFit/WOD/HIIT timer set to ring every minute on the minute. That’s the signal that it’s time to get started with the next set.

Your workout will consist of: 

  1. Squats – Aim for 15 to 20 reps with the sandbag either resting on your shoulders (Back Squats), or, for greater difficulty, held tight to your chest (Front Squats).
  2. Sandbag Clean – Aim for 10 reps and maintain solid form.
  3. Sandbag Overhead Presses – Aim for 10 reps, though increase to 15 if you can. 

Repeat this circuit 7 times, for a total of 21 minutes. 

To make it harder:

  • Push for 10 circuit completions, or 30 minutes
  • Once you complete the correct number of reps for each exercise, perform alternating step-ups until the timer rings out to signal the next exercise. This will push your leg muscles into maximum overdrive!

Full-Body Circuit

This is a simple yet highly effective full-body circuit training workout that will target every large muscle group in your upper and lower body and core. Brace yourself—it’s a serious challenge!

Circuit #1:

Aim for 10-12 repetitions per set.

Complete the circuit, then rest for 30 seconds before starting the circuit over again.

Complete 3 full circuits before moving on to Circuit #2.

Circuit #2:

Aim for 10-12 repetitions per set.

Complete the circuit, then rest for 30 seconds before starting the circuit over again.

Complete 3 full circuits.

Try to complete all six circuits in under 20 minutes. 

Best Sandbag Resistance Training Exercises 

If you just want to challenge yourself by adding sandbag exercises into your regular workout (not making them the entire focus of the training session), here are a few of the best exercises you can do:

1. Sandbag Side Lunge with Front Raise

This targets not only your lower body (in the side lunge), but pairs it with an upper body movement (front raise) that will shred your shoulders. The transition between each half of the movement will force your core to engage, leading to better abs and lower back strength.

2. Sandbag Squat and Curl

Get ready to push your legs and biceps to their absolute limits with this amazing movement! You drop into the Front Squat, but while you’re deep in the squat, you perform a Bicep Curl using the sandbag. It’s a movement that targets both strength and endurance for maximum functional fitness.

3. Sandbag Burpee and Snatch

Think the Burpee isn’t hard enough? Double down on the difficulty by adding a Snatch (raising the Sandbag above your head) to the end! Your shoulders, abs, chest, and legs will feel the burn in no time.

4. Sandbag Front-Loaded Good Mornings

Good Mornings are an amazing exercise to target your lower back, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. Using the sandbag also forces your shoulders, biceps, and forearms to engage to clutch the bag to your chest, and front-loads the weight to increase the load on your lower back.

5. Sandbag Single Leg Deadlift

Deadlifts are already amazing for your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, but shifting it to an imbalanced, unilateral Single Leg Deadlift brings your abs and hips into the mix. 

6. Sandbag Alternating Shoulder Squat To Overhead Press

The name may be a mouthful, but the movement itself is simple: start with the weight on your right shoulder, squat, and as you come up, press the weight up over your head to shift it to the left shoulder for your next squat. It’s an imbalanced movement that will shred your abs, obliques, and back while giving your legs, shoulders, and triceps one hell of a workout.

7. Anti-Rotational Plank Pull-throughs with Sandbag

If you’re no longer struggling to spend 60 seconds in High Plank position, get ready to take the challenge to the next level with this amazing movement.

Adding in the sandbag (however heavy you can handle) forces your trunk to engage to keep you stable as your arms drag the sandbag back and forth along the floor. You’ll never say this Plank variation is easy!

8. Sandbag Halos

This exercise shreds your core and gives your shoulder an amazing workout. It’s also great for increasing your shoulder mobility and increasing your range of motion—perfect for post-injury recovery.

9. Sandbag Bear Hug Lunges

This classic Lunge gets even more difficult because you’re bear-hugging the sandbag to your chest and trying to keep a tight grip on it as the sand trickles downward into the bottom of the bag. It’ll start feeling mighty heavy by the time you get to the end of your set. 

Sandbag Workouts – Wrapping Up

If you’re looking for a new way to challenge your muscles and force your body to adapt to a whole different range of motion and balance, you’re going to love sandbag training!

The addition of instability and ever-shifting weight load will lead to serious core strength, improve your grip strength, and increase your balance—especially when carrying heavy objects. Sandbag training is an incredibly functional training style that will translate into much better overall fitness in your everyday life.

You’ve already got all the classic barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell and cable machine exercises integrated into your weekly training sessions. Now it’s time to tackle something new and bring some variety into your workouts. I guarantee you’ll love how much fitter you feel thanks to sandbag training! 


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