Sandbag Training - Fill in the Gaps


It was the summer of 2009 when I first had the chance to throw around a heavy sandbag. Before then I had only primarily used barbells and dumbbells.  Throw in the few times I trained with kettlebells and that was the most unorthodox type of training I had done up to that point.

Let me tell you I was straight up humbled the first time I threw around sandbags but, as much as it humbled me, it also got me hooked. I could tell right then that workout sandbags were going to be a big difference maker in my training.  And not just a difference maker within my own training, but for the athletes I worked with as well.  (I think it’s done well over the years in helping produce 9 state championship gold medals in wrestling).

Since that hot summer day where I got absolutely dominated by sandbag training, I’ve made it a point to keep sandbags programmed into my training to help push my fitness and give me the ability to compete on another level... And there’s no doubt in my mind that sandbags have made an amazing impact on my success as an athlete within the sport of fitness.

So, WHY use sandbag training for competitive functional fitness (AKA CrossFit)?

Well, let’s think about the sport in itself first…

CrossFit is…  “constantly varied functional movement done at high intensity”

To get GOOD at CrossFit you must be… “training for the known and the unknown.” Now that we know that, let me ask YOU a couple questions…

How will you react when sandbag training is included within a WOD or event you’re competing at? Are you going to freak out or are you going to be ready to rock and roll?  

What I’ve witnessed over the years, and even now in present time, is in how some athletes, just ain’t ready.

Well, let me tell ya…

Sandbags will help fill the holes most regular strength and conditioning methods leave open.

So, if you’re an athlete competing within the sport of fitness and you want to be as successful as possible, you’ve got to be as well rounded as possible.  For this, getting a steady dose of odd-object style training in with sandbag training is essential. While your training should primarily be composed of fixed and balanced objects like barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells, if you neglect odd-object training with sandbags, I feel you’ll be leaving a lot out on the table in terms of overall athletic development.

Think about it…

Sandbags “fill the gap” in regards to overall athletic development helping you build up more balance, coordination, and even the ability to react.  These are all important attributes to have as an athlete, which in turn will help you be “ready for anything” especially the UNKNOWN.  For instance, one thing I love (and hate at the same time) is in how sandbags like to shift and move on you when you lift them.  This in turn forces you to shift and move as well.  Just makes you a better all around athlete in my opinion.   

But, WHY try to “fill the gaps”?

Well, training for CrossFit can sometimes become a bit too constant and specific. Even when you’re doing a completely unique WOD each day that’s challenging you in different modal domains, athletes are often times using a lot of the same, balanced out movements within these workouts.  

Take Olympic lifting for example…  It’s without a doubt you must be highly skilled and proficient with the Olympic lifts in order to be a successful competitor within CrossFit.  But, in this day and age, if all you were to do were Olympic lifts and nothing else, you’d be neglecting a lot of the “unknown” which could help take your ability as an athlete to the next level.  

Think about it this way…  When you lift a barbell that’s balanced, the movement becomes rather predictable overtime.  From the set up, the bar path...granted not every repetition is going to be exactly the same, but each is going to be more similar than they are different (at least that’s the obvious focus you want to have).

Now, let’s bring in sandbag training, where every rep is going to change, making you react just a bit differently to each one.  Now you start stimulating muscles you didn’t even know you had.  Smaller muscle that often times get neglected.  So trust me when I say, you’ll definitely be sore the day after training with sandbags…I’ve seen bags bring down some of the “fittest” athletes around.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s look at the classic CrossFit WOD, “Grace”.  

It’s 30 Barbell Clean and Jerks @ 135 / 95 for time.

Top male athletes are cranking this out in the low 2 minute to even sub 2 minute range while the women are around the same.

Average male and female times are around the upper 4 minute range.

What’s super impressive with the WOD Grace is in how I’ve seen a lot of athletes crank this out UNBROKEN.  No easy feat at all, but what makes it somewhat “easier” is how the barbell is balanced.  It  should be expected that the more efficient you are with the bar, the better your time will be.  Just makes sense right?

Now, test this same WOD out with a sandbag.  You use the same weight and you’ll be in a world of hurt.  Shoot, test it with an 80# or even a 45# sandbag and you’ll think the bags weighed closer to 135# or 95# (or more).

The difference the sandbags make are HUGE.  From the shifting of the weight that forces you to react differently to each rep, the tax gripping the bag puts on your hands and forearms, and the punishment it puts on your core, a barbell Grace and sandbag Grace are going to be two completely different monsters.

But look at it all from this point of view…

Let’s say you get faster and more efficient at doing a sandbag Grace, you think your normal Grace time is going to improve?  

You bet your ass it would ;)

And this is just one simple example of the difference training with sandbags can make. So just think about all of the other benefits that sandbag training can bring you as an athlete and in the sport of fitness.  All you need to do is add in a single day of sandbag specific training to your weekly routine, and you'll see the difference (odds are you will add more than this after getting familiar with the bags).

So, if you’re not currently using sandbag training within your programming in some way, shape, or form, it’s time you start thinking about doing so NOW.  Otherwise you’ll be leaving a LOT of athletic potential out on the table.

(Article Courtesy of Travis Stoetzel, Owner, The Forged Athlete, Train Aggressive)

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