Sandbags… what’s all the fuss?


Something so simple and yet so effective, training with sandbags is one of the latest (and greatest) training modalities to hit our shores. Far from being a fad, sandbags are here to stay. They have enormous versatility and programming options that can cater for any individual on the planet, no matter what their fitness level or strength.

Mixed martial artists (MMA Fighters) who are among the most conditioned athletes in the world incorporate sandbags into their regime. Professional fighters need to physically prepare themselves for a situation which is almost like “kill or be killed”. Whether or not this is your cup of tea, the point to be made here is that a warrior must use the most effective training modalities to achieve absolute peak physical condition. Sandbags are a staple training tool for a warrior.

So, you’re not a fighter but hey, to be pound for pound at your optimal potential is surely something we can all strive for, whether you’re a lover, fighter, weekend warrior or elite sportsperson.

Sandbag Training for Warriors

Real life functional strength

Sandbags are a fantastic training tool to develop real life functional strength and conditioning. The constant shift of sand within the bag creates more inertia then a typical piece of gym equipment. For example, in most cases, training with a 20kg sandbag will hit more muscles and achieve a bigger training effect (TE) then doing the same workout with a perfectly symmetrical barbell same weight (20kg).

This is due to a couple of factors. Probably the most noticeable difference people will find is the shifting sand which creates an awkward or imbalanced load. As this happens you are forced to engage more so of secondary muscles in your body, especially the stabilizers of your core.

Secondly, is the holding position, there are multiple holding positions but two to touch on are the pinch grip hold and the handle hold. Using pinch grip hold equates to more shifting sand and naturally better grip strength. Using handles means that there is an offset centre of mass, and this offset weight can be manipulated in several ways so that the training effect can be either much higher or much less.

Think of the following activities:

  • Carrying the shopping bags
  • Walking with a suitcase
  • Using the wheelbarrow
  • Using a hammer, nail gun or a broom.
  • Carrying a bag of cement or a bucket of water
  • Swinging with a baseball bat, golf club, cricket bat
  • Tackling a rugby player who is shifting and resisting
  • Carrying your children.

All of these activities that performed on a daily basis in our lives demonstrate either offset centre of mass or shifting loads and this is why sandbags are as good as it gets when it comes to representing what we call real life functional strength.

These genuine functional strength gains are hugely transferrable to athletes. Sandbag training will result in improved intramuscular coordination, which is the nervous system’s ability to coordinate numerous muscle fibres so that they work in sync with one another. The result being an ability to apply greater force (pound for pound more strength) which transfers into improved performance in activities such as sprinting, jumping, throwing and lifting.

Any athlete in the know understands the value of training with sandbags. More often than not, lifting a sandbag will be a truer representation of how you can handle “real life” load and hence results in strength that is transferrable to their sport. Good examples of these sports include Rugby League, Rugby Union, AFL, Soccer, MMA, Wrestling and Obstacle Course Races.

Our Australian Defence Force who have a no nonsense no frills approach to training is also very familiar with sandbag training. However, it’s not just defence force or athletes who can benefit. Sandbag training will give real life functional strength to people from all walks of life.