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Skill of the Week: Sandbag Shouldering

Skill of the Week: Sandbag Shouldering

Written by
February 17, 2015
Updated April 11, 2018


The skill of the week at the Onnit Academy Gym is the Sandbag Shouldering exercise. In this specific case, Sandbag Shouldering will teach you how to build explosive power using the hips. 

Sandbag Shouldering is a relatively simple exercise. You lift the sandbag to your shoulder, then repeat. But don’t be fooled by its simplicity, if you focus on the work as opposed to the skill, you will run into problems.

Sandbag Shouldering is a full body movement that works strength and conditioning simultaneously. Ideally, this exercise variation should be more efficient than breaking down the movement into different parts.

It extremely important to work this sandbag exercise as a skill. If you think about shouldering a sandbag as a conditioning exercise before you work it as a skill, then you will get caught in the trap of “hard work,” meaning that you will only think about getting the sandbag into the shouldered position through whatever means necessary (this is wrong).

There are certain aspects of the Sandbag Shouldering exercise that are important to focus on. You want to break up the different components of movement and make sure alignments are sound before you insert it into a conditioning workout. Here are three steps to achieving a perfect execution of the Sandbag Shouldering exercise.

Sandbag Shouldering Step #1: The Set Up

Sandbag Shouldering Set Up

  • Place the sandbag length ways, forward and back, located between your feet and the middle of the bag.
  • Make sure the sandbag is lined up somewhere around the middle of your big toes.
  • As you hinge back maintaining a neutral spine position, you are going to need to drop your hips to keep your back flat.
  • This positioning will make sure alignment of the hinge stays true.
  • Make sure the shin angle is as vertical as possible keeping your hips as far back and relatively high as possible
  • Keep a neutral, to slighlty extended spine with your shoulders at least slightly higher then your hips.
  • What that means is your hips are going to have to drop as you reach down towards the floor. You need to find out the give and take of how high can you keep your hips, while keeping them lower then your shoulders.
  • Keep your hips higher then the knees while maintaining neutral to slightly extended spine.

Sandbag Shouldering Step #2: The Pull

Sandbag Shouldering Pull

  • Reach down and grab under the middle of the sandbag.
  • While grabbing the bag, you want to continue tracking the shoulders to avoid any roundness in the upper back. It is an important focal point to prevent the shoulders from collapsing forward.
  • Maintain a proud chest, extended in the thoracic spine, and keeping the shoulders from any internal rotation.
  • Pinch the shoulder blades back so it amplifies the load on the posterior chain. This will create an intensified load into the Hamstrings and Glutes.

Sandbag Shouldering Step #3: The Catch

Sandbag Shouldering Step #3:

  • Forcefully drive your feet downward into the floor to extend the hips into a tall standing position.
  • Accelerate the bag along the front line of your body. As it passes the hips you are going to pull the elbows back and in, keeping the bag close to your body.
  • You want the bag to land on the shoulder softly, stabilizing your standing tall position with your hips and shoulders square.
  • Always keeping a proud posture, I want you to finish the exercise and sell that finished position.
  • From there, pitch the hips back as you follow the bag back down into that original hinge position for one repetition.

Tips for the Sandbag Shouldering Exercise

  • Make sure there is no rotation of the hips or shoulders.
  • Stand tall with the sandbag shouldered squarely on one shoulder or the other, with no excessive amount of rotation at the torso, hips, or knees.
  • Ideally you will, alternate shoulders from one side to the other.
  • When you accelerate the bag up towards the shouldering portion, keep the elbows and sandbag as close to the body as possible during the entire range of motion.
  • Do not let the bag swing away from your body
  • Do not lock out your arms, this will create a long arc.  You want to keep the bag as close to the body as possible, while avoid any rotation of any body parts.

Want to see it in action? Check out the Sandbag Strength Overload Workout

John Wolf is Onnit's Chief Fitness Officer, and an expert in unconventional training methods such as kettlebell, steel club, and suspension training. With 15-plus years of experience in the fitness industry, he has worked with rehab clients and athletes of all levels. He moves like Spider Man and can deadlift more than 500 pounds any day of the week.
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