The Ultimate Sandbag Training
by Josh Henkin
For hundreds of years (perhaps thousands) sandbags have been an integral training tool for athletes. Why? They are incredibly versatile and provide unstable training with a challenging load.
However, the benefits don’t stop there. Greater stabilizer, trunk, and grip strength can be developed with sandbags as well as sport-specific drills, mobility work, and great overall conditioning.
Plus, sandbags are fun!
Improved Stabilizer Strength
Stabilizer training is not a new concept. Dumbbells, cables, kettlebells, and one-arm lifts have long been methods of improving the smaller stabilizers. Increasing the strength of the stabilizers can both decrease your risk of injury and improve performance.
Why are sandbags unique, though? Sandbags can be thought of as the most “uncooperative” pieces of equipment. They are different because they will change their form as you lift them. Unlike most other training tools, it is almost impossible to develop a specific groove for any lift. This makes sandbags a constant challenge as every repetition will be vastly different.
Improved Trunk Strength
The non-cooperative nature of sandbags makes it crucial to use every muscle possible to lift. The trunk muscles (including those of the low back and abdominal area) have to work harder to stabilize the body against the awkward load while moving very quickly. This is very unique to sandbag training.
Those who have enjoyed kettlebells have also discovered the incredible benefits of loading only one side of the body. Well, sandbag drills such as the many shouldering exercises and one-arm lifts can offer the same benefits.
However, the difference with sandbags is that they actually rest on the body. Having such a load rest on the body forces the deep and superficial trunk muscles to work to a greater degree to maintain proper postural alignment. End result? A rock hard torso that is very injury resistant.
With sandbags we can also create amazing rotational drills that place the body into ranges of motion that would normally occur during sport. Working through such ranges of motion with a load prepares the body more appropriately for the demands that sport produces.
Sport Specific Strength for Combative Athletes
Sandbags have long been a favorite training tool of wrestlers and combative athletes. In his famous book, Wrestling Physical Conditioning Encyclopedia, John Jesse states:
“The use of heavy sandbags and their large circumference forces the lifter to do his lifting with a round back instead of the traditional straight back lifting with a barbell. It is this type of lifting that truly develops a strong back. It develops the back and side muscles in movements that are identical to the lifting and pulling movements of wrestling.”
The idea of round back lifting may scare every chiropractor, coach, and athletic trainer out there! However, if introduced properly, round back lifting is one of the best injury prevention techniques available. Sandbags offer a safe way to learn how to use round back lifting. The trick is to always start on the light side and with low volume (no more than 5 repetitions).
For combative athletes, the constant shifting weight of a sandbag makes it an ideal training environment as it prepares the athlete for the unpredictability of a fight on the mats.
Greater grip strength
Everyone can benefit from greater grip strength. Grip strength is more than simply how hard you can squeeze your hand (known as crushing strength). It also includes pinching, support and wrist strength. Sandbags can be a core tool in developing this well rounded strength. Because of the gripping action of the bag and the fact no one repetition is the same, the hands are challenged in multiple ways. As you get stronger at sandbag lifts, you will find a great transfer of these hand strength to other forms of training.
Fun is serious training tool. It’s human nature — we are less likely to do the things we do not enjoy. Making training more fun increases your chance of being more productive and consistent.
Because sandbags are so different they are often a breathe of fresh air into people’s training programs. Even for common exercises such as squats and presses, using a sandbag makes these exercises feel as though you were performing them for the first time.
Josh Henkin – Strength Coach, Josh Henkin, is the creator of the Ultimate Sandbag and L.I.F.T. training certification. He has lectured at national and international conferences.
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