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June 13, 2022
Barbells and dumbbells are great tools of strength, but they are not the only tools used to get stronger. A popular addition to the strength training family is the exercise sandbag. The sandbag is what it sounds like. It’s a bag full of sand and these come in various shapes, sizes, and weights depending on their use.
Exercise sandbags can be used as a replacement or substitute for most barbell and dumbbell exercises and are a great addition to your training no matter your fitness level. Sandbags are a versatile training tool that is easily transportable and is used for both strength and cardio training. This article will explain:
The 5 workouts we have for you are:
Ready to go play with sand? Let’s go.
An exercise sandbag is a weightlifting tool that can be used as a replacement for dumbbell and barbell exercises. It’s a weighted bag that is filled with sand or filler bags and comes in various styles and shapes and sizes. Unlike free weights (i.e. dumbbells and barbells), the weight in the sandbag constantly shifts back and forth which challenges your balance and stability while building insane grip strength. Sandbags are space-friendly, a great addition to any home gym, portable, and extremely versatile.
For reference, there are two types of sandbags...
Sandbag with handles, which have weight pouches:
And, Strongman sandbags, which have no handles and a higher weight capacity:
The workouts in this article can be done with either. Both are great training tools.
The constant shifting center of mass while training with sandbags improves your core stability, and balance and trains more of the body stabilizing muscles for improved strength and reduced injury risk. Here are a few more important benefits of sandbag training.
Any form of strength training will prepare you better for the rigors of daily life, but sandbag training takes this to another level. Because of the shifting center of mass, sandbag training will improve your balance, stability, and grip strength to help you move things that are not conveniently fixed like barbells and dumbbells.
Almost anything you can do with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell you can do with a sandbag. Exercises like carries, squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and many more. Plus, it doesn’t take a lot of space, it is easily transportable, and it is relatively inexpensive compared to purchasing multiple dumbbells, barbells, and weight plates. Sandbags can be used to improve cardiovascular condition and strength depending on your fitness goals. And with that, you'll also burn fat like crazy.
Barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells are great, but sandbag training adds some variety and fun to your training. Any pent-up anger, stress, or frustration you can take out on the sandbag. Slams anyone?
There are 3 different types of grip strength, support (holding on to a bar), crushing (like a handshake), and pinching (gripping with your fingers). Now when training with the sandbag, depending on the type of bag you will be training all three types of grip for better grip strength.
The body moves in three different planes of motion sagittal (left and right) frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotational). The sandbag allows you to train in all these ranges of motion for improved total-body strength that has real-world transfer to your activities of daily living.
Due to the shifting center of mass when it comes to sandbag training, your upper and lower body stabilizing muscles are working overtime to maintain your balance. This helps improve your core strength and stability.
Here are 12 of the best sandbag exercises, which we will use in our workouts further below.
A solid overhead press variation and the shifting weight hones in on your technique. You will receive instant feedback in something is off with your pressing form.
Muscles Trained: Anterior core, anterior deltoid, upper chest, and triceps.
Why It’s Good: The neutral grip is easier on your joints.
How to do it: Clean the sandbag into the front rack position and get your feet shoulder-width apart. Press the sandbag up above your head until your elbows are fully extended, and your biceps are by your ears. Return slowly to the start position and reset and repeat.
You will not be able to lift as much weight as your regular back squat, but this is easier on the shoulders and back. If shoulder mobility is a problem this is a solid variation. Plus, this requires more upper back engagement to keep the sandbag in place for improved upper back strength.
Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and upper back.
Why it’s Good: Easier on the shoulders and lower back.
How to do it: Clean the sandbag to the front rack position, overhead press it, and lower the sandbag onto your upper back. Get your feet in your preferred squat position and perform a squat as you usually would. Reset and repeat.
The shifting center of mass makes this a front squat variation you are sure to enjoy. Any hitch in your form, the sandbag will let you know about it.
Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, glutes, and upper and lower back.
Why It’s Good: Front rack position builds upper back strength.
How to do it: Clean the sandbag to the front rack position and get your feet in your preferred squat position. With your shoulders down, elbows high and chest lifted squat between your knees until you reach your preferred depth. Drive through your heels and squat back up to the start position. Reset and repeat.
Although we’re talking about the forward lunge, any lunge variation is good here. Stationary, reverse, side, and curtsy lunges are all good options too.
Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.
Why it’s Good: Strengthens strength imbalance between sides and this variation allows you to aggressively load the lunge.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip width apart. Clean the sandbag to chest height, overhead press it, and then place the sandbag across your back. Step forward with your left foot and sink into a lunge, so both legs are bent until your back knee is close to the floor. Drive your front foot through the floor and return to the starting position and repeat on the other leg. Keep alternating sides for reps.
You can also do walking lunges if you prefer.
The barbell power clean is a staple in a lot of high school weight rooms because it builds the explosive strength needed for a lot of sports. The sandbag power clean is easier to learn and a little more forgiving on the body.
Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings biceps, forearms, and upper back.
Why it’s Good: Less technical and easier to learn than the barbell version.
How to do it: Get into your deadlift position and hinge down and grab the sandbag with a neutral spine. Deadlift the sandbag up while pulling the sandbag with an upright row motion. Dip under the sandbag by dipping the knees and catch the sandbag in the front rack position and stand up. Reverse the movement and repeat.
Almost the same movement as the power clean except you are starting from the hang position and not from the floor. Here you’ll generate your power from a powerful hip hinge and it is a little easier to do than the power clean.
Muscles Trained: Glutes, hamstrings, biceps, forearms, and upper back
Why It’s Good: Easier on the lower back than the power clean and easier to do.
How to do it. Stand holding the sandbag arm’s length in front of you. Hinge down until the sandbag is below your knees. Explosively hinge forward while pulling the sandbag with an upright row motion. Dip under the sandbag by dipping the knees and catching the sandbag in the front rack position. Reverse the movement and repeat.
This total-body move is a mix between strength and cardio and will have you sweating and smiling in no time. Choose a weight you can overhead press comfortably with.
Muscles trained: Quadriceps, glutes, triceps, shoulders, and upper back.
Why it’s Good: Improves total body strength and power.
How To Do It: Clean the sandbag to the front rack position and get your feet in your preferred squat position. With your shoulders down and chest up perform a squat. When you reach your depth, explode up and press the weight overhead till lockout. Lower to the front rack position and repeat.
You can also press it over one shoulder, then on the next rep to your opposite shoulder. You'll still be using both hands for each rep, but just pressing to one side. This is a good way to increase your core stability training.
The barbell Zercher carry is a tough exercise, and a lot of lifters are scared off by how uncomfortable it feels. But you will not have this problem with the sandbag while still training this great exercise.
Muscles Trained: erector spinae, abdominals, obliques, glutes, and hip flexors.
Why it’s Good: Improves your ability to maintain good posture under load.
How To Do It: Set up the sandbag on an elevated surface and squat down and pick it up and place the sandbag in the crook of your elbows. Breathe in, brace, stand tall, and walk with good posture.
With med ball slams the ball bounces up for an easy catch and slam but not so with the sandbag. You’ll have to work harder to perform the slam by squatting down to pick it up and slamming it, hopefully, burning more calories for improved fat loss.
Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings anterior core, and lats.
Why it’s Good: This variation makes you work harder for improved fat loss.
How To Do It: Put the sandbag on the floor in front of you between your feet. Squat down over the sandbag and using a "clean" motion pick the sandbag up and over your head and slam it down explosively. Reset and repeat.
The neutral grip of the sandbag makes this variation easier on your wrist, elbows, and shoulder joints and the shifting sand will give you good or bad feedback on your form.
Muscles Trained: Hamstrings, lower back, upper back, lats, forearms, and biceps.
Why It’s Good: The shifting sand trains your shoulder stabilizers more than the dumbbell or barbell version.
How To Do It: Holding a sandbag in both hands, hinge your hips back, and maintain a neutral spine until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor. With your shoulders down and chest up, row the sandbag to your belly button and slowly lower down until your arms are extended. Reset and repeat.
This exercise doubles as a strength move and a cardio move giving you more bang for your exercise buck. Be careful to keep a neutral spine here because it is a large range of motion.
Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, glutes, forearms, biceps, and shoulders.
Why It’s Good: Trains total-body strength with being hard to do.
How To Do It: Start with the sandbag on the ground between your feet and squat down and grip the sandbag with both hands. Then using your legs, pick up the sandbag and throw it over your shoulder and stand up. Throw it to the ground and reset and repeat.
Being able to use a neutral grip makes it easier on your upper body joints. And your neutral grip is your strongest grip so you may be able to pump out a few more reps with this variation than the barbell/dumbbell version.
Muscles Trained: Forearms, hamstrings, glutes, and lower and upper back.
Why It’s Good: The neutral grip allows you to crank out a few more reps before your grip fails.
How To Do It: Hold the sandbag at arms’ length in front of you with your shoulders down and chest up. Hinge back keeping a flat back until the sandbag is at the mid-shin level. Drive your hips forward, finish with your glutes and reset and repeat.
Below is 5 awesome workouts that act as stand-alone workouts or can be incorporated into your current routine for variety and change of pace. Each workout will be either supersets or circuit training. If the workout routine is supersets and you prefer circuit training, feel free to change it or vice versa.
Try to rest a little between exercises and rest one to two minutes after each superset or circuit, but if you need more rest take it. Start at the lower end of the rep range suggested and then build up to the upper-end rep range. When you get to the upper rep range, increase the weight, decrease the reps, and build up again.
In this way, you’ll always be progressing, and this is the point of your training.
1A. Sandbag Front Squat 6-12 reps
1B. Sandbag Slam 8-12 reps
2A. Sandbag Romanian Deadlift 6-12 reps
2B. Sandbag Zercher Carry 40 yards
3A. Sandbag Overhead Press 6-12 reps
3B. Sandbag Bent Over Row 10-15 reps
Repeat A and B for two to three supersets before moving on to the next superset. Any sandbag squat variation will work here for exercise 1.
1A. Sandbag Hang Clean 6-8 reps
1B. Sandbag Overhead Press 6-12 reps
1C. Sandbag Bent Over Row 6-12 reps
1D. Sandbag Zercher Carry 40 yards
Go A through D for three to five rounds for a total of 12 to 20 sets. Rest as needed between rounds and even exercises (if you must).
1A. Sandbag Power Clean 6-8 reps
1B. Sandbag Back Squat 8 reps
2A. Sandbag Romanian Deadlift 12 reps
2B. Sandbag lunge 12-15 reps per side
3A. Sandbag Ground To Shoulder 3- 6 per side
3B. Sandbag Zercher Carry 40 yards
Repeat A and B for two to three supersets before moving on to the next superset.
1A. Sandbag Squat to Press
1B. Sandbag Bent Over Row
1C Sandbag Hang Clean
1D. Sandbag Slam
1E. Sandbag Romanian Deadlift
This is every minute on the minute workout (EMOM). Do 8 reps, rest the rest of the minute then move on to the next one. Do this for all 5 exercises for three to four rounds.
1A. Sandbag Ground To Shoulder 3-6 per side
1B. Sandbag Front Squat (heavy) 3-6 reps
1C. Sandbag Zercher Carry 40 yards
Perform as a triset. Rest minimally between exercises. Rest as needed after finishing all three. Repeat for 5 rounds. This is a heavy workout, so you really want a considerably heavy sandbag for this one.
Note: These are only suggestions, and you can replace any dumbbell or barbell exercise within your usual lifting routine with a sandbag exercise.
Because the sandbag is so versatile you can perform most dumbbell or barbell exercises with a sandbag. But training with a sandbag is difficult because of the shifting center of gravity and grip requirements. So, it’s best to start with 50-60% of what you would lift with a barbell or dumbbell.
If it’s your goal is to build absolute strength, then performing the strongman workout once or twice a week works well in place of your usual strength training program. But if you’re looking at fat loss and building muscle then the first four workouts will help. You can alternate between the upper and lower body sandbag workouts two to four times per week within a rep range that supports your goals.
Or if you want to improve your conditioning, perform the HIIT workout once or twice a week between strength training workouts works. And when you’re looking for a little variety in your training and want a change of pace, doing the full-body sandbag work in place of your current workout for the day will help put a smile on your face.
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