I love bodyweight training, but to me “bodyweight” doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any other equipment involved at all.
In fact, one of the best ways to improve on certain bodyweight exercises is to add some form of resistance.
This doesn’t have to mean barbells or dumbbells, and there are certainly many ways to “add resistance” without setting foot inside the weights room.
So, today I’d like to talk to you about some of the sandbag workout routines that I have completed, loved and absolutely hated, but all of which have taught me a valuable lesson.
In fact, I should say, “Some of the sandbag workout routines I have completed in the last 18 months”.
Because I can assure you that I never went near a sandbag before April last year (April 2019).
My Introduction to Sandbag Training
So, I may have mentioned once or twice before that I completed the Spartan SUPER race last year.
A total of 8 miles and 24 obstacles.
I’m going to be honest here and say that I’m not much of a runner, and therefore some of the “alone” training I did, such as working up to running 8 miles in one go was wasted.
Well how was I to know that you wouldn’t actually need to “run” 8 miles, as you would be “stopping” every so often to clamber or climb over (or under) an obstacle?
And typically wade through water and lots of mud.
Anyway that’s history now.
However, one of my training partners, an extremely super fit personal trainer, Rick, first introduced me to sandbag training as a way to not only improve my fitness, but also to show me what I may potentially face during the Spartan race.
Basically, there’s a lot of having to carry uneven and unconventional objects.
Initially, there was a lot of lower-body work with sandbags in the form of extremely high-rep squats, front squats, walking lunges (the sandbag carried in front squat fashion and over the back of the shoulders), and picking up and throwing around a sandbag (we regularly hit up to 1,000 reps per training session).
In a way I’m glad of this type of training, as it got me used to having to lift stuff that wasn’t as symmetrical and traditional as our friends, the barbell and dumbbells.
The “Killer” Sandbag Workout Routine(s)
I recall one day in our local park, just myself and Rick had turned up for training, instead of the usual 4-6 motley crew.
The fact that it was pouring with rain and that this April day had decided to return to winter rather than remaining in spring possibly accounted for the many “no-shows”.
After attempting around 20 minutes of rope climbing (we had slung a rope over a tree branch, secured it with a harness, and practiced clambering up some 15 feet), the slippery and potentially dangerous conditions made us rethink our exertions for the day.
In the end we decided on walking (during a torrential downpour) with a sandbag.
We were “lucky” enough to have two 25kg sandbags to work with.
Our aim was simple.
Our local park had a circumference of exactly 0.98 kilometres, so we decided to call this 1km exactly.
We would carry out sandbags, alternating between left shoulder, right shoulder, and bear hug for as long as we could.
Don’t ask me how, but we eventually completed 8 laps of the park.
It took approximately 90 minutes, but we had walked with a 25kg weight (without putting it down) for a total of 5 miles/8 kilometres.
I’m not going to lie, I slept like a baby that night.
My shoulders, obliques, arms, upper and lower back ached (but ached in a “good” workout type of way) for about 4 days afterwards, but it was the BEST “walking” workout I have EVER done.
Now I wouldn’t suggest starting out by walking 5 miles on your very first attempt, and even just half a mile will suffice.
Try it, and then let me know how it feels.
Additionally, sandbags are available in a variety of weights. Go with what you feel you can – 25kg is not a necessity and I’m sure that in the majority of cases a 10-15kg sandbag will suffice.
And obviously if you’re feeling strong and you want to go the other way, there are also far heavier sandbags available.
I would hazard a guess that a few of my eagle-eyed, regular readers may suddenly be thinking, “Hold on there for just a second Partha. I thought you despised long bouts of cardio, and would always recommend short, intense bouts of intervals instead.”
Yes indeed, very true.
However, let’s not forget that I was training for an 8-mile obstacle race, plus I would never consider carrying a sandbag for long distances as “traditional cardio”.
Okay, I will admit that the long nature of this type of workout could be considered “boring”, but having a set of earphones plugged in, and the constant switching of positions with the sandbag, all gave me a fantastic workout while keeping boredom at bay.
The First Time I Ran With A Sandbag (Oh My!)
Another workout we completed was to run a 250m stretch with a sandbag over the right shoulder, and then return with the sandbag over the left shoulder.
Now you would think that running (and fairly slowly I should add) for just 0.5km wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for someone with a fairly high-level of fitness, but I’m here to tell you that running with a 25kg weight on you takes things to a completely new level (I have a new-found respect for military personnel).
Additionally, it didn’t help that Rick was a hard taskmaster, and we immediately followed the sandbag run with a 250m forward bear crawl and then a 250m reverse bear crawl.
However, the only way I can liken running with a sandbag would be to attempt to sprint the same distance while Mike Tyson was punching you in the stomach.
It was extremely tough and it certainly takes your breath away and leaves you winded.
We completed the sandbag run/bear crawl superset a total of 3 times, which didn’t take much more than 25 minutes, but it was one of the hardest cardio workouts I have ever completed.
My Lockdown Sandbag Workout Routines
So, 2020 has been quite a year, hasn’t it?
The entire world going into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, something which (I’m hoping) no-one could have foreseen.
No more gym for me, so I saw it as a great opportunity to work on my bodyweight training, while incorporating the equipment I had at my disposal (pull up bar, kettlebells, sandbag, medicine ball, jump rope, and resistance bands).
I knew this was a great opportunity to get really lean and muscular, although I was worried that my strength may suffer.
With that said, there are of course many ways to maintain strength, as well as getting even stronger through bodyweight training.
But, for lockdown, this wasn’t a focus for me.
Here in the UK we were allowed out of the house for an hour’s exercise during the day.
I’m not entirely sure about everyone else, but our household was very strict about following all the lockdown rules.
I remember my first couple of visits to my local park – there I was armed with my own body, plus a sandbag and medicine ball.
However, even going to the park at 7.30am most mornings it was teeming with more people than I think I’ve possibly ever seen there.
To make matters worse, when I performed some sandbag runs I had to contend with being chased by at least 7 dogs at the same time.
I’m not going to lie, it did make for a great workout, but it became extremely tiresome to be constantly barked at and chased all around the park.
To be fair to my canine friends, I probably did look like a burglar with a giant bag of swag slung over his shoulder.
As you can probably guess things didn’t improve any once I started throwing a medicine ball around.
Eventually, I decided to alternate between working out at home and exercising in the park.
My park workouts mainly consisted of sprint training and basic bodyweight exercises such as burpees, push ups, walking lunges and jump squats (although I do recall the occasional dog choosing to sniff my butt while I was performing sets of burpees or push ups – but that I could cope with).
My home workouts typically revolved around “weighted” circuits.
Sometimes I would do a complete workout with just one piece of equipment.
One of the sandbag workout routines that I employed was to complete a “complex”.
A complex is basically when you perform a series of exercises back-to-back without putting the weight down.
When using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. it is actually possible to work on strength, hypertrophy, endurance, and conditioning all within the same workout (if you use a heavy enough weight).
The same can be said of using a sandbag, although my trusty 25kg partner probably wouldn’t do a huge amount for my muscle and strength gains, but I could still get a great workout in.
I performed the following complex, completing 10 reps of each exercise, before I could put the weight down.
- Bent Over Rows
- Front Squat
- Overhead Presses
- Back Squat
- Reverse Lunges
- Good Mornings
- Glute Ham Raises
- Chest Press
I typically completed my 100 reps (10 exercises x 10 reps) and then put the sandbag down, rested for 60-90 seconds before hitting my next set.
I would perform between 4-6 per workout depending on how I felt (and If I was going to go outdoors and perform any other exercise later in the day).
64 Sandbag Exercises & The Muscles They Target
These are the main sandbag workout routines that I have completed ever since I was first introduced to this great bit of equipment last year.
However, as you can see from the video I’ve included there are many variations of exercises, which allows you to work every single area of the body.
I’ve certainly had some fantastic workouts with my trusty sandbag and it definitely makes a welcome change to having to move barbells and dumbbells around.
So, if you’re looking for a great workout, as well as something a little different, then I urge to go and find some of those funny looking bags tucked away in the corner of your gym, and get to training.