Workout Tips

Add Sandbag Training to Your Workout

Sandbells - neoprene bags designed to be filled with sand or steel shot - are making their way into top strength and conditioning programs.

Add Sandbag Training to Your Workout

Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden, associate director for strength and conditioning at the University of Texas, is no card-carrying Luddite who would rather see his players lifting car axles and engine blocks instead of more advanced forms of weight. In fact, Madden oversees one of the most sophisticated training facilities in all of college football and has played a significant role in molding more than 100 NFL players, 32 of which were first-round draft picks.

Yet despite overseeing the technologically advanced Nassar Al-Rashid weight room on the UT campus, Madden isn’t blind to the benefits of low-tech tools. We talked with him about his use of sandbells ( as he prepared the Longhorns for the 2009 campaign.

Q: How do sandbells factor into your training?
A: You can use them every way you can use a medicine ball, but because they’re free form, the shifting weight really works on grip strength and wrist torque. And they’re really good for forearm development. We’ve got them from 5 pounds up to 100 pounds.

How do they compare to medicine balls?
I’ve been a strength and conditioning coach for 27 years, so sandbells were a great change for us, something a little different for the athletes. One advantage is that we can use them in all kinds of weather. Leather medicine balls get sloppy and seams starting tearing when they get wet, and rubber balls get slippery.

What specifically do you do with sandbells?
Just about everything. We do farmer’s walks, rotational twists or throws. We’ll do chest passes, which is the same as the basketball chest pass. Overhead throws, where you have the weight extended overhead and you take a step forward, squeeze through the abs, and then torque your upper body and throw. But probably our best move is the slam. It’s something I don’t think a lot of people are doing. You extend the sandbell overhead with both hands in a triple extension - meaning everything is extended up as high as you can go. Then you squeeze your abs as tight as you can and then very forcefully throw the sandbell to the ground as if you’re trying to throw it through the ground. It’s a very violent motion in which your body works like a whip. It really works your core.

Do you think they’ll be around for a while?
I’m impressed. I’ve got mixed martial arts guys using them like they’re a body because of the shifting weight. I think they’re the real thing.