Sandbag Training

May 9, 2011 // Al Kavadlo

Editors Note: This is a guest post by personal trainer and sandbag enthusiast Matt Palfrey.

For centuries, the sandbag has been used as a means for individuals to build high levels of
strength and conditioning. Far from being a poor alternative to traditional free weights, the
sandbag is actually an effective, versatile tool that offers many advantages. If you haven’t tried sandbag training then you’ve been missing out!

Ultimate Stability Training
The constantly shifting weight of a sandbag is perfectly designed to add instability to your
training program. While many are keen to introduce stability training into their exercises by
using all manner of aids like stability balls, wobble boards and *ahem* the Shake Weight, doesn’t it make more sense to use a naturally unstable load?

Keep it Real
The major advantage of training with an unstable object, rather than on an unstable surface, is that it has greater ecological validity or real world application. Most loads, in real life, are not equally weighted. Therefore, training with the sandbag prepares the body to deal with an unstable load. The craze for stability training typically involves making the surface on which you are standing unstable – the complete opposite of most real world situations.

This is one of the reasons that people often find that they cannot lift as much weight in a sandbag as say, on a barbell. This isn’t a bad thing though – I like to consider it as “real-world” strength as opposed to “gym” strength.

Poor Man’s Weight Training
Another great benefit of the sandbag is that it is inexpensive and readily available for most people. I originally started training with sandbags when I didn’t have the time or money to get to the gym – I started with just a 55 lb. bag of sand and some tape. This cost me just $3. In fact, I now have around 350 lbs. of sand in my garage that cost me around $15. If I had purchased the same weight in plates or dumbbells it would have set me back at least $300. While sandbag training is not designed to take the place of traditional free weight training, if you are on a budget, it is a great weight lifting choice. Sandbags are available from most hardware stores or builders merchants. Or you could fill a duffel bag with taped bags of sand – be creative!

Integrating Sandbags
The best advice for individuals who want to add sandbag training into their existing workout is to simply make substitutions. Just take basic exercises like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses and perform them with a sandbag instead of a barbell, kettlebell or dumbbell. Don’t be surprised if your poundage drops, this is natural and is testament to the challenge that the sandbag provides.

Matt Palfrey is a strength and conditioning coach who specializes in working with MMA athletes. Matt holds a degree in Sport Science and Biomechanics and is the author of Sandbag Fitness – the low-cost, high tech resource for developing strength and conditioning using sandbags and other exercises.