Adding sandbag exercises to your current training program is one of the best things you can do. Since a sandbag doesn’t have a fixed, rigid shape like a barbell or dumbbell does, the neural activation and muscle recruitment with sandbag exercises are superior for building athleticism and motor control.
If you compare the difference between pressing two 50-pound dumbbells overhead to pressing two 50-pound sandbags overhead, you’ll know what I mean.
In the 1990’s, Swiss ball and Bosu ball exercises became the rage. And like any trend that gains traction, trainers sought to one-up each other by coming up some inane exercises such as squats while balancing on a Swiss ball.
Another “gem” from that era was a biceps curl while standing on a Bosu ball. Sure, the Bosu ball made the exercise exponentially more difficult, but it certainly didn’t make the biceps work any harder. In fact, the biceps were performing less work because the load of the movement had to significantly decrease to meet the balance demands. In other words, this exercise made the ankles and hips work harder at the expense of the biceps.
I embrace the concept of instability training. However, the instability should come from the load you’re lifting – not the surface you’re standing on. Sandbags are the perfect unstable loading mechanism because the muscles you’re targeting have to work harder. Sandbags also create a greater challenge to your core muscles, and that’s something we can all benefit from.
Compared to rigid objects, sandbags recruit more motor units, build more athleticism, and increase the metabolic demand of any movement.
When it comes to sandbag training, Josh Henkin is top dog. He’s been a harbinger in teaching athletes and non-athletes how to implement sandbag training into their programs.
I like all the exercise he teaches, but one in particular is the shoveling exercise. This is a terrific exercise that challenges a movement pattern that typically isn’t produced in the gym with traditional exercises.
With regard to the video above, I’ll often modify the shoveling move and add a clean/overhead press into the mix each time my client rotates back to the center.
Another one of my favorite sandbag exercises is the get-up – an exercise that’s more challenging than it looks if the sandbag is heavy enough. I’ll typically have my athletes do the sandbag get-up at the end of the workout to create a large metabolic demand while building athleticism.
Sandbags can certainly be used as a stand-alone workout. However, I recommend you start by spending 10-15 minutes at the end of your current workouts performing a few sandbag exercises that interest you. That way, you can easily add sandbag training to any of my other programs without changing a thing.
I have all of Josh’s sandbags, and they’re made with the strongest, most resilient materials you’ll find. They come in a few different sizes with the “burly” version being the largest. I’ll tell you that his burly sandbag is a monster. It can hold up to 160 pounds of sand and it’ll be the heaviest 160 pounds you’ve ever felt. Just trying to bearhug and squat with the burly bag is a challenge to my biggest, strongest athletes.
My advice is to incorporate a few sandbag exercises into your current program. Spend 10-15 minutes at the end of your workout and minimize your rest periods to create a large metabolic demand. If you do, you’ll get leaner, stronger, and more athletic.
Here’s a sample 10-minute sandbag workout that you can add to the end of three of your workouts each week.
1A Shoveling for 5 reps to each side (10 reps total)
Rest 10-15 seconds
1B Get-up for 6 alternating reps with each leg forward (3 reps per leg)
Rest 10-15 seconds, repeat 1A-1B for 10 minutes