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

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

41 thoughts on “The Sandbag Workout”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  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

  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.

  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?”

  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.

  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 🙂

  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.

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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.

  9. This is a great idea, hmmm I think I am going to have to mix things up a bit with some sand 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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 😉

  13. Son of *Grok*:
    everybody knows your dad’s in great shape, no doubt about it 🙂

  14. What i like about this is you can add more sand to make the sandbag heavier as you gain more strength.

  15. I have heard nothing but good things about sand bag training. Much like the kettlebell, it offers tremendous versatility and practicality.

  16. 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

  17. Rather attractive 10 pound sandbags with handles are sold as yoga props. I use mine as door stops when not in use.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

  23. As a regular user of sandbags, and my recently completed Sand-bag based Kettle-bell/hammer, I can vouch for both their versatility and effectiveness. Two huge tips to increase their lifespan: Gorilla Tape & Triple Bagging. I beat the tar out of the sand-bags I use and that has more than stood the test of both time & use, and outdoor storage. I made two 19# bags and a 15# kettle-bell/hammer all for less than the cost of one “sport sandbag”. A good investment for sure – both in the equipment and myself.

  24. Suggestion…use pea gravel etc vs sand.
    reason…doesn’t spill out of bags like sand will.

  25. The best advice I have heard is to use your “sand bag” to store your battling rope! It shifts and doesn’t leak. And its heavy — the rope needs storage anyway

  26. I thing I’m going to try and make this at home. I’m currently using kettlbells but I need to change up my routine getting a little bored. Thanks for the info!

  27. Take an inner tube of a car or truck tire, and put two 55gallon garbage bags in it, one inside the other, filler the most inner with the amount of sand required then tie a knot in the bag. Next tie a knot in the second bag so you have extra strength. Third put pipe clamps on either end of the inner tube to close the ends… the inner tube should have been cut entirly in half so you will get two bags out of one tube. now you have an effective durable and heavy… too your choice, sand bag. email with questions.

  28. Just an idea, but if you are using a duffel bag and the sand is leaking, rice is probably a good alternative. The grains are bigger so leaking shouldn’t be a huge problem and if you guy in bulk price shouldn’t be either.

  29. I agree with the idea to use truck inner tubes. But there are two better ways to use them.
    The first way is to put sand into them, roll up the cut ends, and duct tape around the rollup to make a handle. It works great.
    The second way is to get a water valve adapter from Slime (.com) or one of their retailers. Take out the core of the valve stem. Then screw the adapter onto the valve of a truck inner tube. Then you screw the other end into an ordinary garden hose! Then you add water until the inner tube is about half full. Screw the cap back on to hold the water in. This makes a very sloshy tube. I think it is better than a slosh pipe from pvc pipe.

  30. Hello Mark/Readers,

    Can anyone rec a thorough sandbag training video/program with form instruction etc? I got bag years ago on Craigslist & ran through all of the youtube videos and was looking for something new to help train with. I am also hoping for something that isn’t all endurance.
    Thanks kindly!