Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
6 Nov

The Sandbag Workout

Sandbags have traditionally been much-maligned in the strength and fitness communities for their instability, unbalanced weight distribution, odd shape, and general impracticality. As you might imagine, I take a slightly contrary view on the sandbag. In fact, all those characteristics I just listed as reasons sandbags don’t make good workout equipment? I posit that the difficulty of handling a sandbag actually makes it one of the better Primal workout tools. They’re unstable (struggle is key), unbalanced (too much balance makes things too easy), and oddly shaped (meaning you’ll get a different workout every time) – but I find them incredibly practical. Being malleable and essentially shapeless, a sandbag can fit snugly into any nook or cranny in your house. They’re cheap to make, too, doubly so if you live near a natural source of sand (or better yet near an area with tons of construction work and little security going on…kidding!).

Make Your Own Sandbag

There are two ways to go about doing this. The first one is the potentially cheaper option and involves using old-school standard sandbags like the ones in the pic above. If you go this route just know that your options are somewhat limited both in size/weight and also hand grips. With that said the DIY benefit may trump versatility in some cases. The other option involves buying a sandbag made specifically for sandbag training. More on this in a moment.

Run-of-the-Mill Sandbags

Most hardware shops sell empty sandbags. Home Depot in particular has them for about a quarter apiece. Though, the sand is considerably more expensive. Also, be sure to buy the zipper clasps to close your bags (these should be for sale right next to the sandbags in the store).

For your run of the mill sandbag there’s a quick and dirty and a more permanent way of making them:

Quick and Dirty

1.    Fill sandbags with sand.
2.    Clasp tops.
3.    Go crazy!

The advantage of this method is that it’s cheap, so you don’t lament all your hard work if a bag springs a leak. And if the weight’s a bit off? Just dump some sand out or add some more (or, you could even wet the sand for an intense, messy workout).


1.    Fill one sandbag with another sandbag.
2.    Fill said sandbag with sand.
3.    Clasp tops.
4.    Go crazy!

Pretty much the same as the quick and dirty sandbag, the advantage of the longer-lasting sandbag is that you can use a lot more sand. More sand means more weight, and more weight means a tougher workout. Double bags are also less likely to leak sand all over your house, but you should still probably store them outside (or in a plastic bin).

Specialty Bags

Sandbag Exercises

The specialty sandbag is designed with hardcore training in mind. It is durable, versatile and (hopefully) won’t spill sand all over you during the workout. For these reasons it is the preferred piece of equipment for sandbag lifting. There are dozens of online retailers. Just do a little Googling to find one.

Tip: An old duffel bag (if constructed well enough) could serve as a makeshift specialty sandbag, so dig through your garage or closet and unearth your new workout gear.

So What Do I Do With This Bag of Sand?

One of my favorite sandbag workouts is the sandbag thruster. You can do this workout with anything, really (popular incarnations are thrusters with barbells or dumbbells), but it boils down to performing a squat with an overhead press at the end. Adding a sandbag to the mix throws in those highly cherished qualities we always laud – unbalance, instability, and amorphousness – to an already intense exercise, making it all the more effective. You can even throw the sandbag at the height of the press to really destroy your shoulders.

There’s more, too. I’m sure you know the burpee well. Even if you’ve never been to prison, you’ve felt its scorn, and your body might still be smarting from the last time you did them. Ready for more? Try the sandbag burpee. It starts pretty normally. You’re in the push-up position, getting ready to spring up into a squat. Except directly underneath your chest is a sandbag. On your way up, grab the sandbag and bring it up to a push-press. Repeat until failure.

Or you could just incorporate the sandbag into any normal workout you perform. Thinking of going for some wind sprints in the sand? Take along a sandbag and carry it while you run. Going on a hike? Take a sandbag. Kettlebells a bit too pricey at the moment? Use a sandbag instead. Bored? See how far you can throw a sandbag. About to have a baby? Prepare by lugging around a sandbag all day.

The possibilities are virtually endless. The great part of a sandbag is that every workout is slightly different from the last; those grains of sand will always be in slightly different positions, meaning your body will always be surprised. And, as we all know, the key to achieving optimum fitness is constantly surprising your body with new kinds of movements and new exercises.

Any experiences with sandbag training? Share you thoughts in the comment boards!

crafterm Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Boredome Makes You Do Crazy Things

Build Your Own Slosh Tube

Kettlebellin’ for Strength


Medicine Ball Workout Spartan Training – Sandbag Stairs

Straight to the Bar: Sandbag Wall Press

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Hey Mark,

    I use to use my heavy bag (boxing) because it’s so awkward and big that just getting your grip right is difficult. But I see the advantages in a smaller version. I’m gonna make one and hit up the park for some sand baggin workouts!!

    Thanks for the post!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

    Andrew R wrote on November 6th, 2008
  2. Thanks for this post! I recently purchased a sandbag (looks exactly like the one pictured above in all its duffel bag glory) and it comes w/ two different size filler bags so you can really play w/ the weight esp. for different exercises. I can’t at the moment lift the heavier bag over my head but I’ll get there. Also, the full body workouts are quick (approx. 20 min), fill both my cardio and strength training needs, and can be done barefoot. Very primal.

    Kat wrote on November 6th, 2008
  3. I love the idea of a “specialty sandbag.” It’s practically an oxymoron. The sandbag is great as a Primal simple concept, do we need to specialize these things? How about a designer sandbag for the trendy SoCal crowd? Can we get sandbags with sleek rubberized grips in “pink sunrise” and “zesty blue?”

    McFly wrote on November 6th, 2008
  4. Sounds like fun! I may have to give this one a try. Big bags are awkward to work with. Anyone who has hung a heavy bag for boxing can attest to this.

    Son of Grok wrote on November 6th, 2008
  5. Dear Mark, maybe you can come up with some sort of “kid workout” – I have a kid weighing in at 14kg (I guess it’s 30 pounds or so) and I think I could play with her in our garden from time to time in a way that is safe for both of us but at the same time improves my definition :)

    zbiggy wrote on November 6th, 2008
  6. zbiggy: kids make great workout weights. However be cafeful, unlike normal weights you can’t drop them if you overdo it. There is also the danger of shaken baby syndrom if you work them too hard.

    Once those warnings are understood, kids loving being part of your workout. Kettlebell swings work great when you sub a kid. You can do thrusters as well.

    Henry Miller wrote on November 6th, 2008
  7. Just saw someone post this article:

    I am hoping for someone familiar with this study to help analyze.


    chris wrote on November 6th, 2008
  8. just to make clear what I meant – I didn’t want my daughter to do workouts (yet:) but to play ourselves something like lifting, swirling, throwing etc. her in a manner that is fun and safe for us and gives the lazy dad a feeling that he doesn’t neglect his physical exercises :)

    zbiggy wrote on November 6th, 2008
  9. Mark,

    I had a friend who asked me to help him recover his physical fitness after battling a serious illness for a number of years.

    His biggest problem was that his ego was pretty upset at what his illness had done to his once “Brick Sh*t House” physique.

    So, it was going to be home workouts for quite a while.

    I put him onto sandbags.

    We started with simply walking with the bag tossed over his shoulder.

    Walking turned into running.

    Carrying the bag turned into lifts and throws.

    After a while he went back to the gym…and got kicked out for bringing his sandbags into the gym.

    DR wrote on November 6th, 2008
  10. This is a great idea, hmmm I think I am going to have to mix things up a bit with some sand :)

    bobbi wrote on November 6th, 2008
  11. Mark-

    I can attest to the quality of those bags. Chip at Bodytribe has some great unusual uses of them (search bodytribe on youtube).

    I use old military duffle bags. I’ve got big one leaded at 100#, and a small one loaded at 50#. They are great for carries, cleans & presses,squats and the small one is great for clean-and-slam work (I use an old tire as a rebounder). Good fun.

    craig b. wrote on November 6th, 2008
  12. Zbiggy,

    I still have pictures of my dad doing arm curls and what have you with me (I was the weight!) while I as a kid. He was in great shape and I just thought it was great fun to be swung around like that.

    Son of Grok wrote on November 6th, 2008
  13. Chris,

    I can tell you about my personal study. I just had a new lipid profile done. Eat Grains = High risk of cardiac problems (doctor was very worried and going to put me on statins). No grains and LOTS of eggs = Problem solved (not only lower risk of cardiac problems but VERY low risk). I went from an hdl of 29 to an hdl of 40 with my ldl staying at 87-88! That is a scary ratio becoming a very good one. Papa always said the best study is the one that works for you 😉

    Son of Grok wrote on November 6th, 2008
  14. Son of *Grok*:
    everybody knows your dad’s in great shape, no doubt about it :)

    zbiggy wrote on November 7th, 2008
  15. Will definitely put this one in the mix. If you like alternative workouts, here’s a great another one;

    Roy wrote on November 7th, 2008
  16. What i like about this is you can add more sand to make the sandbag heavier as you gain more strength.

    Donna wrote on November 7th, 2008
  17. I have heard nothing but good things about sand bag training. Much like the kettlebell, it offers tremendous versatility and practicality.

    Phillip wrote on November 7th, 2008
  18. Hey Mark,
    Thank you for the segment on sandbag training, it is something that I have passionately tried to promote people to use to improve their functional strength and fitness.

    It is a very cost efficient tool that offers are great deal of versatility. Better yet, it is easy for the home gym user to incorporate as well.

    There are a lot of free videos on the site if people would like to get ideas on what they can do with sandbags.

    Thank you!
    Josh Henkin

    Josh Henkin wrote on November 7th, 2008
  19. Rather attractive 10 pound sandbags with handles are sold as yoga props. I use mine as door stops when not in use.

    Tabletoo wrote on November 7th, 2008
  20. I like the sandbag workout, now I just need to go buy one. Check out my heavy bag workout at

    Rob Resnik wrote on May 15th, 2009
  21. sandbag bag is very inportant protect from wave .

    sparrow wrote on June 1st, 2009
  22. Another easy way to make a “sandbag” is to just buy a 40lb bag of wood pellets at Home Depot or Lowes. These are the ones used for indoor wood burning pellet stoves.

    The advantage is that you have a known weight, the cost is low ($5), and the bag is slightly larger for the same weight, making it easier to handle.

    A tip for both this bag and real sandbags: cover them *loosely* with duct tape all over for a more durable bag. Nothing will leak, and it’ll last for a long time.

    Andrew wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  23. Just got a new routine for my workouts. thanks Mark

    Matt Forrester wrote on March 16th, 2010
  24. I actually made sandbags with…kitty litter :) I’m just getting back in to strength training, so I stuck a 20lb bag of kitty litter in a large backpack, and use it for squats etc. Works well so far!

    Tracy wrote on March 18th, 2010
  25. I just made my first sand bag. I went with the Baja Dry Bag from SealLine. They have a variety of sizes priced from $20 to $35. The bag seems pretty durable. It’s waterproof. And it is easy to open and close if you want to adjust the weight.

    Brian R wrote on March 21st, 2010
  26. I am currently in Kauai for a two week vacation, and was searching Sandbag workouts when I found this. I have the Ironmind sandbags, and pack them in my suitcase to use on the beach in Poipu. I get smashed by the workouts, its a great tool.

    Chris wrote on July 13th, 2010
  27. Great article Mark! I recently discovered sandbag training in Greece and I have used it in great lengths to strengthen my core muscles. I have used dumbbels, cables, kettlebells and other “odd” movements to spice things up and throw my body off it’s usual balance. However, sandbags are unique since they are “uncooperative” as they say. They change form as you lift and it is virtually impossible to develop a certain groove that the body will get used to! Appreciate the nice article, wish you all the best!

    Nick The Greek Bodybuilding Champion wrote on September 23rd, 2010

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