Sandbag Exercises

Issue 11 and Volume 7.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” This could certainly be said of some of the “functional” exercises (e.g., flipping tires, pulling weight sleds and lifting kettlebells) that have found recent popularity, because many may well have been discovered as a result of some laborious task.

In addition to being functional, their simplicity adds to their popularity. So these exercises not only provide a great functional workout, but the equipment needed is minimal and requires little to no maintenance. You don’t have to worry about oiling kettlebells or protecting your tires from harsh weather.

The Whole-Body Bag
There’s another piece of “equipment” that’s not yet as popular as some others, but it’s equally as useful and requires very little maintenance: sandbags. If you’ve ever loaded bags of mulch, seed or food products, you can attest to the physicality of the task. Where the bag sits and how you load it determines which muscles are involved, but it’s possible to work the entire body during this one activity. Not only does it work the body in a concentric or lifting manner, but this exercise can work it in a dynamic fashion, much like a kettlebell can.

For example, imagine loading bags of mulch from a pallet on the ground and then loading the bags onto the back of a truck. As the stack from the pallet decreases, it requires you to descend further to grasp the next one. At the same time, the height of the bags in the back of the truck increases, requiring you to throw them higher. This requires a dynamic thrust from the lower body and back, usually coupled with a slight twist. Your whole body is active in this movement, including your grip, which gets quite a workout.

What to Use
Creating a sandbag is simple. I won’t insult the reader by detailing the steps, but if you’re not sure of the type of bag that’s best suited for the exercise, a small canvas or nylon duffle or tote bag with looping handles on the top makes a good choice. Tip: Ensure that the bag is sewn rather than glued to prevent ripping and promote longer use.

Other things to look for: A good zipper ensures that the sand stays inside rather than spilling out when doing some of the exercises. Damp sand has some added benefits in that it not only weighs more, but it also keeps some of the dust down. (Also, you may want to make sure that cats haven’t used the sand as a litter box.)

The Beauty of the Bag
The beauty of the sandbag is that you can easily regulate the amount of weight inside it, but make sure you don’t overload it. Keeping adequate space in the bag minimizes the chance of ripping it, and it allows you to get a better grip on the bag by allowing you to grab more material when you’re not using the handles. Extra room in the bag also facilitates the shifting of the sand inside, which promotes increased muscle stabilization.

Tip: For an added challenge, incorporate multiple bags into a workout. And don’t worry about equalizing the amount of sand or weight in each bag. The beauty of this workout is in its imperfection and functionality.

Specific Exercises
You can get as creative as you want with sandbag exercises. In addition to doing simple things like squats and presses, you can also drape the sandbag over a shoulder and do things like walking lunges or step-ups. You can even take sandbags up flights of stairs and do some high-rise training.

Tip: When performing exercises such as squats or walking lunges, carry a sandbag by grasping the sides instead of the handles to build grip strength. Simply gather the excess bag material, roll it up and hold onto it. You can even mimic a kettlebell swing with a sandbag.

Those proficient in pull-ups can increase their body weight with a sandbag by holding it between their feet as they pull.

Find the Monkey Bars!
You can add sandbags to your current workout or completely change your routine. The empty bags can be kept on your apparatus for a crew workout at the local park. Find the monkey bars and chances are you’ll find some sand (of course, you’ll have to return the sand to the playground when you’re done).

Crewmembers can also choose different exercises for a great circuit training routine. If the weather isn’t cooperating, take the sandbags into the apparatus bay or under a shelter. Expect some sand to leak out, but clean-up is simple.

If your current workout has gone a bit stagnant, sandbags are the perfect way to change things up, prevent boredom and get your crew working out in a way they may never have before.