The Essential Sandbag Workout for Strength Athletes

If “functional fitness” is your bag, it can sometimes get a little hard to defend barbell training. If your goal is to be able to lift and carry real things in the real world, well, how often is that going to be a perfectly grippable, symmetrically loaded weight that’s strictly moving in one plane of motion?

This question is why the rise of functional fitness has coincided with a rise in multiplanar movements and nontraditional weights, and that’s where sandbag training comes in.

A Bag of Sand? Seriously?

“Sandbags provide for variety in strength training,” says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS owner of JK Conditioning and a trainer who is known for his punishing sandbag workouts. “You can perform traditional exercises, such as deadlifts, cleans, squats, rows and presses; yet unique exercises can also be performed, such as the rotational lunge and its variations.”

The rotational lunge is a crowd favorite. The idea is to start the movement standing and holding the sandbag in front of you, resting against your thighs, with both hands at either end. Then step back into a lunge and pass the sandbag over your lead leg so that it’s outside and slightly lower than the thigh. When rotating, try to do so from the top of your back and keep your belly button facing ahead, then use your hips to push back up to the top of the movement. Below, you can see a common, more explosive variation of the movement that swings the bag upward as the movement finishes and restarts.

Yes, you can just do that with a dumbbell. But the motivation behind using a bag full of sand is that the weight is constantly shifting, which means that it requires more joint stability, balance, and muscle control to move in a smooth arc. (It’s also why sandbags can be useful tools for the aspiring strongman.)

“The dynamic nature of the sandbag challenges your core and joint stability more than a traditional barbell or dumbbell because the load is unpredictable, ​therefore changing the challenges placed upon your body from rep to rep,” says Kawamoto.

He adds out that they’re portable and a great choice for a home gym, especially since you can just own one bag and add or remove sand depending on how heavy you want the movements to be on a particular day.

The Essential Sandbag Workout

When training with sandbags, Kawamoto enjoys incorporating them into lung-busting circuits or in a complex, as their design makes it easy to string together several exercises at once. He recommends a weight between twenty and thirty kilograms for his go-to strength and endurance workout; try it out for size next time you get your hands on one.

  1. Bent-Over Row x 10
  2. High Pull x 10
  3. Clean x 10
  4. Squat to Overhead Press x 10
  5. Rotational Lunge x 10

Rest for sixty seconds between sets and complete five rounds.

Increase the weight as the workout becomes easier.

Have fun!

Featured image from @paul_g_roberts on Instagram.

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Nick is a content producer and journalist with over seven years’ experience reporting on four continents. His first articles about health were on a cholera outbreak in rural Kenya while he was reporting for a French humanitarian organization. His next writing job was covering the nightlife scene in Shanghai. He’s written on a lot of things.After Shanghai, he went on to produce a radio documentary about bodybuilding in Australia before finishing his Master’s degrees in Journalism and International Relations and heading to New York City. Here, he’s been writing on health full time for more than five years for outlets like BarBend, Men's Health, VICE, and Popular Science.No fan of writing in the third person, Nick’s passion for health stems from an interest in self improvement: How do we reach our potential?Questions like these took him through a lot of different areas of health and fitness like gymnastics, vegetarianism, kettlebell training, fasting, CrossFit, Paleo, and so on, until he realized (or decided) that strength training fit best with the ideas of continuous, measurable self improvement.At BarBend his writing focuses a little more on nutrition and long-form content with a heaping dose of strength training. His underlying belief is in the middle path: you don’t have to count every calorie and complete every workout in order to benefit from a healthy lifestyle and a stronger body. Plus, big traps are cool.