Sandbags have become ever more popular in the functional fitness community in recent years as an alternative to traditional steel weights. Not only are they portable, versatile and adjustable, but they also provide an unstable load which engages muscle groups differently than traditional barbells or dumbbells. Engaging these key stabilizer muscle groups not only gives a better total body workout, but also enhances neuromuscular coordination.
Here are 5 great sandbag exercises designed to build strength quickly and efficiently:
Power Clean: Perhaps the best full body exercise that engages nearly all muscle groups, the power clean is the powerhouse of the sandbag exercises. Good technique is key to avoiding injury, so make sure you never sacrifice form for repetitions. Starting with the sandbag on the floor in the deadlift position. As you pull the sandbag up your legs toward your waist, drive your hips up and forward in an explosive movement and catch the sandbag in the front rack position. Cleans engage leg muscles such as quads and hamstrings at the beginning of the movement, but end up attacking traps, lats and arms as the rep is completed. Remember that neuromuscular coordination? This one tops the list for enhanced cognitive function while building strength.
Thruster: Like the power clean, the thruster is a full body movement that will crush just about every muscle group imaginable, all while giving you a great cardiovascular workout. Start with the bag in the front rack, go into a front squat and then as you extend, drive the sandbag fully overhead into a push press. Remember to finish the rep with full extension and ears in front of elbows, and repeat. String a few of these bad boys together and any athlete will be quickly humbled.
Bent-Over Row: This is an isolated movement targeting critical back, shoulder and arm muscles, especially the lats and shoulders. Start in a squat stance, move your hips back and bend at the waist, keeping your back straight. Pull the back to your chest, making sure to keep the straight back and pinch the shoulder blades together as you finish the rep. For extra credit, slowly lower the bag back to the starting position over 3 full seconds. This eccentric movement pattern is a great way to efficiently train muscle and build strength quickly.
Romanian Deadlift: Another more isolated movement, this one is all about those hamstrings. While they may not have the curb appeal of the quads, strong hamstrings are the foundation for functional movement and injury prevention. Start with your sandbag on the ground, feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Rather than bending the legs and lowering your hips like a traditional deadlift, this variation shifts the hips backward and bends at the waist. Legs should be slightly bent as necessary, but as you drive the hips forward and extend fully to the up position, you should feel the engagement almost exclusively in your hamstrings. If you feel it in your lower back, that is a sign that you are rounding rather than keeping your back straight as you complete the rep.
- Split Squat: This one is a real leg burner. You can do this with the bag with the bag behind your head on your shoulders, or to up the difficulty, in the front rack or bear hug positions. Start standing with feet roughly shoulder width apart, and step backwards with one leg into a lunge position. Keep your chest high and proud and go all the way down until your knee touches the floor, then step back up to the starting position. Alternate legs or do 5 - 10 on the right leg followed by the left leg. This under-rated movement not only yields killer quads and hamstrings, but also requires core and stabilizer muscle groups to fire in order to stay balanced on the way down, giving an added benefit.
While there are over 300-plus movements you can do with a single sandbag, these are some of our favorites that we make sure show up often in our daily workouts. Variation is great and necessary, but keeping some core movements in heavy rotation will help build strength and help give measurable results as you get stronger over time. Now grab that sandbag and go get after it!