My first experience with sandbag training was an unusual one. At 3 a.m., January 1, 2006, I was awakened by a neighbor ringing our doorbell. The house across the street was being flooded following a mudslide in the steep hills behind the home.
My son and I went to the firehouse to fill burlap sacks with sand to ward off the rushing water. I would fill a bag, seal it, and then swing it into the back of my pickup truck. After tossing several bags, it occurred to me that heaving them into the truck bed was very much like doing a kettlebell swing, but with sandbags.
As Buddhists like to say, “Out of the mud grows the lotus.”
Days later, and after the threat of more flooding had passed, I went to my backyard and filled a gunnysack with 50 pounds of sand. I put a band around the top and began doing swings with it (see photo). If you’ve never done swings with a dumbbell or kettlebell, let me explain that the movement challenges your entire body, with emphasis on hamstrings, hips and glutes. And high reps will have you panting as if sprinting uphill.
Sandbags may be the least used of the many resistance implements we see in most training rooms. Yet they are popular with wrestlers and other martial artists. And practically any exercise you can do with barbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands can be done with sandbags. The big difference is the unwieldiness of the bags as they are shouldered, lifted or tossed. Lifting a duffel-bag of sand is more like trying to lift an uncooperative person, which is why those who do combat sports like training with them.
Still, you don’t have to be planning on entering the octagon to benefit. Many fitness people in general will find sandbag training to their liking, not just young people competing in combat sports. As I said earlier, practically any familiar exercise movement can be duplicated with sandbags. But also take note that a lot of sandbag workout demos show very heavy-duty throwing and grappling sandbag drills that are practiced by wrestlers and mixed martial artists. I would suggest to seniors that some of these drills may not be age-appropriate. Do not discount sandbag training on that basis, however. Just use good judgment in exercise selection.
Making you own sandbag
You can make your own or buy already manufactured bags. One company called Sandbells offers bags in pairs, which can be used like dumbbells, in weights ranging from two pounds to 50 pounds. Pretty neat.
Also note that actual sand does not have to be the filler. In fact, experience has shown that other substances may be even better suited (explained below).
I like the how-to-make-a-sandbag video by this nice young fellow from Mountain Athlete. He shows us step-by-step how to make our own. He has a made a lot of them and seems to have worked out a pretty good system.