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If you’ve got an old duffel bag stashed in your closet and a sandbox in your backyard, you’re unknowingly sitting on a fitness goldmine. Throw a bunch of sand in the bag, zip it up, and you’ve created one of the greatest strength and conditioning tools known to man: a sandbag.
“The sandbag isn’t just another free weight,” says Matthew Palfrey, a sandbag-training specialist in Sydney, Australia, and owner of Sandbag Fitness (sandbagfitnessstore.com). “Because of the constantly moving center of mass, you’ll have to fight hard to control the bag when using it. This develops great grip strength and stability. And when performing exercises overhead, you’ll need plenty of core strength to maintain your technique. It’s this simplicity that attracts many people to the sandbag, because you can get a lot of bang for your buck.”
Ego alert: You won’t be able to use as much weight with a sandbag on a given exercise as you’d use for its barbell, dumbbell, or machine counterpart. The dimensions of the sandbag, its unbalanced and shifting load, and its less ergonomic (or completely absent) handles will collectively make 50 pounds feel like a hundred, if not more.
“People are often put off by sandbag training because on Day 1 they find themselves working with this dynamic free weight that doesn’t cooperate,” Palfrey says. “It’s demoralizing to suddenly drop 50% of what you can normally lift for an exercise. But stick with it. Training with a sandbag will pay dividends.”
No sandbox at home? No problem. A bag of sand at a home-improvement store is insanely cheap. (Think: $4 for a 50-pound bag.) And you can buy a sandbag specifically designed for training for as little as $50 online.
For this photo shoot, we opted for a pancake sandbag, also known as a sandbell. It’s a little easier to maneuver—it’s a sphere, so it’s less cumbersome. This makes it great for slams, throws, and partner tosses, too.
For his money, Palfrey prefers a handleless sandbag. “A sandbag without handles provides a challenge like no other,” he says. “Sometimes even controlling the bag in a rack position is devastatingly tough when you’re tired, but that’s where one of the real benefits of sandbag training lies. It builds fortitude, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve been used in combat sports and by the military for so long.”
Build your sandbag, build your fortitude. Go do it.
The following routines can be performed with a sandbag of any size, but beginners should opt for a sandbag weighing approximately 15 to 30 pounds. Advanced trainees can use a 40-to-60-pound bag. And if you’re an experienced sandbagger (read: an absolute beast), you can try a 100-pound sandbag without handles for a serious challenge.
“While the sandbag can absolutely be used for a whole range of exercises, I prefer to program sandbag exercises where you’ll be specifically challenged in controlling the bag,” Palfrey says. “These workouts are built around complex, multijoint movements that tax the entire body and are supplemented with smaller accessory lifts.”
Workouts designed by Matthew Palfrey