Sandbags 101: Sandbags v. Barbells

There has never been a better time to own a sandbag than now. Sandbag workouts are quickly gaining momentum as one of the most popular and talked about workouts of the year. Some gyms have already made sandbags a staple in their equipment arsenal, but only recently have we seen significant adoption of sandbag training, both inside and outside the gym. The reasons are obvious – sandbags have four distinct advantages over traditional barbells and should be a top priority as you look to build out your home gym or at-home fitness regimen. The sandbag may be the last piece of equipment you’ll ever need. 

1. Dynamic Structure Promotes More Effective Workouts

Increased Muscle Activation

One key to getting stronger is providing a foundation for your body to grow – this is accomplished through the training of stabilizer muscles and surrounding muscle tissue. A sandbag’s center of mass shifts continuously throughout your workout, and the constantly evolving shape of the sandbag forces your body to adapt and apply force as needed in order to stabilize the bag. This results in increased muscle activation with each lift, forcing activation of those stabilizers muscles and tissue. The growth of these stabilizer muscles paves the way for larger muscle growth, helps advance through plateaus, and protects against injury as the surrounding fibrous tissue strengths and becomes more receptive to higher loads. 

Strengthen Your Mind-Muscle Connection 

Mind-muscle connection is a key element in strength training. Traditional barbells are static in that the weight and resistance are fixed. This means there is limited to no variability in strain and a lack of real-time adaptation during a lift. As the frequency of sandbag training increases, the more adept the mind-muscle connection becomes in handling, adjusting to, and navigating the changing environment that is the sandbag. Sandbags help develop an automatic response to the shifting load to maintain balance during your lifts, and allows you to increase your focus during the lift, which leads to even greater strength gains and more explosive power.

2. The Ultimate Efficiency Solution

Strengthen Your Whole Body and Increase Caloric Burn

A sandbag routine is the ultimate total body workout routine. As you progress throughout your lifts, your quads, glutes, core, forearms, and shoulders are all under constant tension. This tension results in an increased work load each rep, and easily translates into a full body workout, greater caloric burn, and an elevated heart rate. Further, this constant strain promotes continuous core activation as you work to balance the weight throughout your lifts, altogether resulting in a more efficient workout. 

Improved Cardiovascular Functioning

The sandbag is a great way to incorporate cardiovascular training within weight training. One consistent attribute across sandbag training programs is the focus on continuous movement. Traditional barbell training is generally high intensity coupled with high rest, whereas sandbags, by their nature, tend to be high intensity with minimal rest – this stems from the ability to move quickly from exercise to exercise without changing weights, swapping equipment, or moving machines. You’ll work harder and faster with the sandbag than you ever have with a barbell, and you’ll elevate your heart rate and improve conditioning with every rep.   

3. More Versatile and Innovative Workouts

By picking up a sandbag in lieu of a barbell, you’ve opened yourself up to a number of new, original, and challenging lifts. There are plenty of similarities in the lifts you can perform with a barbell versus a sandbag, 

  • Back and Front Squats 
  • Shoulder Press and Bench Press 
  • Deadlift 
  • Power Cleans and Hang Cleans 
  • Bent Rows 

to name a few, all of which are tried and true, prominent lifts. But, the real gains come from the lifts you can’t do with a barbell:

  • Bear Crawl Drags – Pick a distance, step over the sandbag, and bear crawl forward and back – just don’t forget to drag the sandbag underneath you
  • Shouldering – Pick the bag up and put it on your shoulder, then throw it back off. Do it again. 
  • Side Toss – You guessed it – pick it up and toss it to the side
  • Plank Drags – Assume the plank position and pull the sandbag underneath you across your body. Switch hands and drag it back. 
  • Plank Flys – Identical the drags, but push it instead of pulling 
  • Get Ups – Lay down, pull the sandbag on top of you, and stand up. Lay back down and do it again. 
  • Shoulder Squats – Just like regular squats, but throw the sandbag on one shoulder. Don’t try that with a barbell. 

The lifts above will be difficult to replicate in a gym with a barbell, and may require multiple pieces of equipment rather than a single sandbag. The versatility of the sandbag provides a unique opportunity to mix and match movements and to transition swiftly from one move to the next, enabling you to create fun, new workouts while minimizing down time related to switching plates, moving the barbell, or regripping the bar. Not only will this expedite fitness gains, but it will keep things fun and keep you motivated to try new workouts. 

4. GORUCK Goes Where You Go

You’ll have a difficult time fitting a barbell and plates into the trunk of your car, and I wouldn’t recommend walking through the neighborhood with a barbell on your shoulders. The sandbag is portable and goes where you go – bring it to the park, around the block, to a buddy’s house, or leave it in the garage. Throw it on your back and walk around the neighborhood if you don’t have time for a full lift. The sandbag gives you the opportunity to squeeze in a workout anytime and anywhere you want – It’s the perfect piece of equipment to throw in the trunk for a weekend trip or to make a staple in your home gym, garage, or park workouts. 

Bottom Line

The sandbag is the number one piece of fitness equipment you need and does more for you than a barbell can. By swapping out a barbell for a sandbag, you’ll increase the efficiency of your workouts, have more fun working out, become more fit, and set the stage for future gains. 

About the Author: Kevin and his fiancé run a travel blog. They are taking a pause right now on travel content and diving into training.

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