Sandbags: Unconventional Tools for Functional Strength
Sandbags: Unconventional Tools for Functional Strength
Not every athlete has the luxury of having a professional coach train them multiple times a week. Location, cost, work and family can all hinder one’s ability to train consistently. The lack of a world class training center and a professional coach is no excuse not to be fit. 3-4 hours a week and a few simple tools can get you to a fairly high level of fitness.
One of the most most amazing tools you can acquire if training solo is a sandbag. They’re cheap, easy to come by, easy to build and their awkward size and shape make them great training tools for the real world. They’re a great piece of equipment if you are on deployment and have limited access to more conventional training tools too.
The best thing about a sandbag is how amazingly hard they are. I’ve seen more then one elite-level garage gym coach or fighter walk into a session and get absolutely crushed by these things. They truly are amazing training tools.
How to Build a Sandbag
The first thing you’ll need is a good old military duffle bag. We strongly suggest using the cotton canvas ones that you can find at most any surplus store vs. the nylon blend type with the back pack straps. The older cotton canvas ones will take the abuse better and are generally more durable.
The first thing you’ll need to do is cut anything metal and sharp off the bag, such as the hook that closes the bag. You really don’t need to cut out the eyelet, but can if you really want to. If you’re looking for a nicer bag we suggest buying the bag from MilitaryAthlete.com – they run $50 and are well worth it, this is what we use exclusively in our gym.
Once you get your bag you’ll need to fill it with something. If you live in a cold place the best thing you can use is wood pellets for a stove, down here in Texas it’s a little warm for stoves, so we use a rubber mulch that’s available from Home Depot. We’ve also had good luck with deer corn. Avoid fillers such as pea gravel because they have a tendency to wear holes in the bag from the inside. Absolutely never, ever, use dog food – trust us on this one.
We suggest that male athletes start with a 60 lb. bag, females with a 40 lb. bag. As you get stronger you can gradually add more filling and increase the size of the bag. Our stronger males here use the 100lb bag and usually put on a weighted vest or plate carrier to increase the load. Eventually you’ll get to a point where no more material will fit in the bag. ITS Tactical did a great article a while back on how to make a “pill” for weighted rucksack runs, using one of these is a great way to increase the weight of your bag quickly. A 20lb dumbell also works well.
Once you have your bag loaded up with 60lbs of filler it’s time to close it up. Gutted parachute cord works the best. Take a 20” piece of cord, make a loop and then tie an overhand knot. Make sure you have at least a 5” tail on the short side.
Take the longer running end, go around the bag into the loop, then double back on it ensuring it’s tight. You should be able to really crank on it to keep the filler from trickling out. Keeping it tight, wrap the long end several times around the bag then tie it to the other tail with a simple square knot. If you want, you can use 100 mph. tape to double it up. Now you’re ready to play.
Training with a Sandbag
Almost anything you can do with a barbell you can do with a sandbag – cleans, presses, squats, you name it. The great thing about a sandbag is how unwieldy it is. If you ask me, that makes it an even better training too,l since things in the real world are not always perfectly balanced like that shiny new $300 barbell.
- The first and most important thing to learn, is how to pick one up correctly.
- Straddle the bag with the pigtail facing to the rear.
- Set your back by lifting your chest and hinging at the hips.
- Squat down and grab the bag keeping your back flat.
- Pick the bag up and once it passes your knees explode at the hips.
- Receive the bag in the position appropriate for the exercise.
Once you can pick up your bag safely, the fun begins.
Like I mentioned earlier you can do almost anything with a sandbag that you can with a barbell, below is a list of some of the exercises we do here at our facility. We once had a team competition where teams had to transport a 80lb bag 5 miles over uneven terrain so your imagination is the limit.
Here’s a quick video demonstrating the sandbag exercises outlined below:
- Sandbag Cleans
- Sandbag Clean Squat and Press
- Sandbag Front Squats
- Sandbag Walking Lunges
- Sandbag Getups
- Sandbag Burpee
- Sandbag Curtis P
- Sandbag Drag
Storage and Maintenance
If you live in a warm climate, your bag will get pretty sweaty every session. Always leave it out to dry or place it in front of a fan. We also spray our bags with a light dose of Lysol to keep the funk off. Every month or so, empty out your bag and run it through the washer. If you bag gets a hole in it, a local sew shop can patch it for you for a few bucks.
Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Jake Saenz as a contributor on ITS Tactical. Jake is a former Special operations soldier that lives and coaches in Austin, Texas. His gym, Atomic Athlete, is a performance based strength and conditioning company that focuses on making athletes stronger, faster, and harder to kill. Their training focuses on outside performance and uses well thought out programming and periodization to get athletes of all types to elite levels of fitness. As a partner gym of Military Athlete, Jake has the opportunity to travel across the nation assisting Rob Shaul in preparing soldiers for combat deployments and missions.