Using Sandbags For Strength And Conditioning
By Matt Palfrey, Sandbag Fitness
Is the sandbag the key to elite strength and conditioning? Probably not. But, properly
used, can it help to develop the strength and conditioning unattainable through regular
resistance training? Most definitely.
In this article Iʼd like to present some of the rationale for using sandbag training as both an
additional and stand-alone tool for building strength, conditioning and power.
But, before we go forward, Iʼd like to make it clear that the sandbag is not a miracle tool. It
requires just as much hard work and dedication as any other free weight. There is no
substitute for consistent, hard work in the compound lifts, irrespective of the type of weight
As every serious athlete knows, the tools that you utilise are only ever as good as the way
that you utilise them (kettlebell Gunslinger anyone?). In this respect, I think the sandbag is
often seen as a “poor manʼs choice” for strength and conditioning. There is a distinct split
between those that utilise sandbags (and other ʻodd shapedʼ lifting) and those that train
with traditional resistance, principally barbells. You will rarely find people that consistently
work at both ends of this spectrum. Why?
1. It is difficult to “grease the groove” with sandbag training. Although your technique will
undoubtedly improve over time youʼll still find yourself fighting for most lifts. And people
donʼt like this.
2. Sandbag training, being unstable and constantly-shifting, will invariably prevent you
from lifting as much weight as you can on, say. a barbell. This means that most people
who are training for absolute strength write it off.
3. Sandbags arenʼt always used for their unique properties. Theyʼre used for sandbag
variations of regular barbell exercises and, for the most part, this just means that serious
trainees end up lifting less weight than normal. The comparable results between
sandbag training and barbell training then donʼt look so good.
So, if youʼre considering adding sandbag lifting into your existing training then itʼs
important to qualify what it will, and wonʼt do for you.
The ever-so-slightly annoying “buzz” for functional training has come full circle. People are
now wise to the fact that the modality used (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag etc.) and
exercise selected doesnʼt necessarily make it functional. What makes these things
functional (and indeed anything) is how they relate to YOU and YOUR individual
needs.So, weʼre starting to see a return to programs that are (9 times out of 10) more
functional for most people. Programs based around good, compound lifts are now
common and this is a great thing.
But, does this mean that we should avoid those other “real- life” lifts altogether? I donʼt
think so. But we have to realise why we are including them in our strength and
Most people avoid “odd-object” lifting because itʼs tough and they find themselves
struggling to make many of the lifts – even at moderate loads. This inevitably causes
people to question it – mainly because they find themselves unable to lift as much weight.
For individuals aiming to increase absolute strength this can then become an issue. But,
what Iʼm proposing, is that you donʼt simply substitute sandbag training for barbell training.
You instead use it as an additional tool. Why?
What Makes The Sandbag A Unique Strength And Conditioning Tool
• The sandbag is awkward to lift – this requires that you fight hard to perform exercises
with it, just like working with a “real-life” object or person
• Sandbags require great levels of grip strength to lift and youʼll find that you naturally ʻgripʼ
them in positions like the Bear Hug, Zercher or Shoulder
• The sandbag is malleable – it will adjust to your body and the way that you are using it.
This means it is particularly effective in moulding itself to your body and it is perfect for
carrying, dragging and throwing
• The sandbag is itself unstable and will develop great ʻcoreʼ strength. This is the polaropposite
of most ʻcoreʼ training where the surface you are standing/sitting on will be
unstable. Working with an unstable object is more akin to the demands of real life
• Plus, there is the other benefit of sandbags being inexpensive – perfect for anyone on a
The point is that sandbag training should compliment your regular lifting. Get used to lifting
a 200 lb. bag of sand above your head and, guess what, youʼll be stronger when you go
back to the relatively “stable” barbell. I like to see it as a way to help push plateaus and
also as a means to access some of the unique benefits of sandbag training.
Integrating Sandbag Training
The simplest way to incorporate sandbag lifting is to use the bag as an alternative to your
standard free-weight option for deadlifts, squats, presses and pulls. This, in my opinion, is
not the most effective use of the sandbag but it will give you a taste of the benefits therein.
How you integrate sandbag training into your strength and conditioning will be highly
specific to your own individual needs. But the following 3 options will provide you with
some starting points:
1. Substitute an existing session of lifting for sandbag variations. Replace the lifts you
would normally do with a traditional free weight with the sandbag. Do this 1-2 times per
2. Add in a unique sandbag lifting session. Using some of the unique sandbag exercises
described below, perform a session that is either strength based (high weight, low rep,
high rest periods) or conditioning based (light-moderate weight, moderate-high rep,
minimal rest periods).
3. Utilise sandbags for a sport-specific session. Push it, pull it, drag it, throw it – treat it like
an opponent and be creative.
Sandbag Exercises For You To Try
The following exercises will give you the best of what the sandbag has to offer. Theyʼre
exercises that you probably wonʼt normally do, and thatʼs a good thing.
If youʼve ever tried a Windmill with a Kettlebell or Dumbbell youʼll appreciate it can be a
tough exercise. It requires great flexibility, core and shoulder strength. Do it with a sandbag
and it goes to a whole new level. The constantly shifting load of the sandbag will challenge
your shoulder stability like nothing else.
Sandbag Bear-Hug Load Carry
This is the kind of exercise that the sandbag was designed for. The Bear Hug will develop
the kind of strength that is difficult to get from regular lifting. Couple this with a load carry
(or sprint for supreme conditioning) for a great strength and conditioning exercise. You
could move the bag between platforms (or chairs) or perhaps set out a course to cover.
Sandbag Floor Press with Bridge
The Floor Press is a great exercise for developing pushing strength – and the sandbag
version encourages greater development of grip strength and shoulder stability. Plus, you
can be creative with it – MMA athletes can try escapes and transitions with the sandbag.
For more information on Matt you can check out his blog Sandbag Fitness:
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The Complete Guide To Sandbag Training