If you’re sticking to dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells inside the gym, you could be missing out on a super-functional training tool: sandbags. OK, when you look at a bag, it doesn’t exactly look enticing, but the fact is, what makes it unattractive—being hard to hold on to and sometimes lopsided—is also what makes it stellar. A sandbag workout delivers an exceptional training stimulus.
“Sandbags offer a specific training feedback called ‘dynamic variable resistance,’ which means that the resistance or weight—in this case the sandbag—is always changing slightly (or greatly) as you move the bag,” says Andy Speer, CSCS, trainer at Performix House in New York City and Peloton Tread instructor. “This forces an increased demand on your core and stabilizer muscles.”
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Sandbags also simulate many real-life situations more accurately than weights, for example, carrying a heavy backpack or grocery bag, or even carrying a person. With that said, they’re full of nuance and specific technique, says Speer. “Two things to know for beginners: start light, and find a great tutorial or coach to help you with the basics. Even if it’s less weight than you would use with a barbell or dumbbell, the stability demands are a different skill. Master the light weight, and then work up.”
Willing to give them a go? Below, Speer offers two beginner-friendly sandbag workouts.
Sandbag Workout #1
Time: 5 minutes
Do: 60 seconds on, rest 15 seconds
Walk Out to Spider Lunge
For this sandbag workout, start standing with your feet together. Reach both hands toward the ground and, without moving your feet, walk out into a high plank position. Bracing through the core, bring your right foot outside your right hand, creating a 90-degree angle at the knee. Bring your foot back down to the plank position. Repeat on the opposite side, then crawl back to standing for one rep.
Bear Plank Step Backs
With your hands and knees on the floor, lift your knees a few inches off the floor and hold. This is your starting position. Engage your core and keep your hips neutral, then step back a few inches with your right foot. Return to start for one rep. Repeat on the left. Continue, alternating.
Shoulder Carry, Right Side
Clean the sandbag to your right shoulder. Engage your core and walk 200 meters.
Shoulder Carry, Left Side
Clean the sandbag to your left shoulder. Engage your core and walk 200 meters.
Time: 20 minutes
Rest: 20 to 30 seconds between moves
For sandbag workout number two, start with your feet hip-width apart and the sandbag in front of you. Clean the bag to your left shoulder. Keeping your torso upright, lunge forward with your left foot until your right knee grazes the floor. Press through your right heel to stand; repeat on the opposite side for one rep. Do five reps, then lower the bag, switch shoulders, and do another five.
Start in a high plank with the bag outside your right hand. With your left hand, reach under and across your chest, grabbing the bag. Drag it under your body to your left side for one rep. Repeat with your right hand. Do 10 reps per arm.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a sandbag by the handles at waist height. Hinge at the hips and lower your chest toward the floor, keeping your hips square and your back flat. This is your starting position. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to prevent your back from rounding. Pause at the bottom of the movement and then bend your elbows and draw your shoulders back to pull the sandbag to your chest. Return to start for one rep. Do 10 reps.
Walk-Over to Push-Up
Start in a high plank with a sandbag vertically on the ground next to you on your right side. Do a single push-up. Then, walk your hands up onto the bag and over to the other side for one rep. Do 10 reps, going back and forth over the sandbag.
Time: 5-minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible)
Burpee Jump Over Sandbag
How to Do a Burpee: From standing, drop your hands to the ground, kick your feet back into a push-up position, and then drop your chest and thighs to the floor. Push up, jump your feet toward your hands, and press through your palms to propel yourself to a standing position. Jump laterally over the sandbag for one rep. Do 10 reps.
Bodyweight Russian Twist
Start in a seated position, lifting your feet in the air. Lean back on your seat bones. Keeping the abs tight, twist toward the right. Repeat on the opposite side for one rep. Do 20 reps.
Mountain Climbers with Hands on Sandbag
Start in the high plank position with your shoulders lined up directly over your wrists on top of the sandbag. Keep a slight bend in your elbows so as not to hyperextend. Drive one knee toward your chest without lifting your butt into the air for one rep. Repeat quickly with the opposite leg. Do 30 reps.
Sandbag Workout #2
Time: 5 minutes
Do: 60 seconds on, 15 seconds off
Start standing with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Hinging at the hips, reach down and grab your toes. Slowly squat down, lowering your hips into the bottom of a squat position. Return to the start, maintaining a hold on your toes and feeling a nice stretch up the back of your hamstrings, for one rep.
Elevated Hip Bridge
Lie in front of a workout bench with both hands directly next to your sides, palms facing down. Walk each foot onto the bench. Engage the glutes and press through your heels to move up into a hip bridge, creating a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Lower your hips for one rep.
Farmer Carry, Right Side
Grab the sandbag with your right hand. Engage your core and walk 200 meters.
Farmer Carry, Left Side
Grab the sandbag with your left hand. Engage your core and walk 200 meters.
Time: 20 minutes
Do: 4 rounds of 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off
Bear Hug Squat
Stand tall, hugging the sandbag as if you were giving someone a bear hug—close to the body. Engaging your core, send the glutes back, and lower into a squat. Press back up to the start for one rep.
Start in a forearm plank. Keeping your hips level, push up into your right hand, then follow with your left. You’ll be in a high plank. Lower back down to the start, one hand at a time.
Stand behind a sandbag with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Squat down and grab the sandbag with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest up, pull your shoulders back and look straight ahead as you lift the sandbag. Lift to thigh level and then return under control to the start for one rep.
Hang using an overhand grip, and then pull your shoulder blades down toward the floor—down and away from your ears. Continue until the bar is just below your chin. Lower back to the start for one rep.
Do: 4 rounds, no rest
This sandbag workout is your punctuation mark. Stand over a sandbag on the floor, a foot on each side. Hinge forward and clean the bag from the middle over your right shoulder. Set it down in the same fashion you picked it up; repeat on the opposite side. Repeat for 60 seconds.
Hold a plank for 30 seconds.
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