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

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