Time to Start Strength Training: Heavy Sandbags are the solution!

Strength Training for Cardio Freaks: Heavy Sandbags & Odd Object Lifting

March 25, 2014
Updated April 12, 2018

Training for strength and power is fairly new to most people (other than hardcore strength and power guys that think NOT working for strength and power is crazy). For the most part, strength is linked to conditioning, as in, “Come to my kettlebell class for strength and conditioning!” Sadly, you’re probably not training for pure strength and power, you’re just performing high repetitions of strength and power MOVEMENTS for conditioning, fat loss, high intensity, etc.

While there are many, many definitions of strength in the fitness industry (especially in the niche underground segment), for me, strength is defined simply as the ability to functionally move maximum weight for low repetitions. The benefits are numerous: more muscle mass and bone density, better body mechanics encouraged through full body movements and coordination, higher testosterone release, and the ability to accurately measure your progress (not to mention the awesome side effect of performing feats of strength like a boss). While I could delve into each benefit and the functional application of strength training (which I will in future articles), I simply want to accomplish one thing here: Get you to TRY strength training.

The Barrier to Training for Strength

Whenever I train someone new about strength, the fear starts right off the bat. I’ll say, “Grab a heavy weight,” and the person I’m with will inevitably grab a weight that is barely heavier than their normal load out. The problem is psychological; they may be able to lift much more, but they know what they’re used to, and the thought of lifting something “heavy” stops them from trying too hard because of the fear of failure. Failure is a key part of strength training in my experience; it’s just another aspect of knowing where you are and where you want to go.

The other key risk that people fear is injury. Loading your body with more weight than it’s used to preventing you from performing exercises with proper form IS a danger. However, with the right trainer, some common sense, and letting go of your ego (drop the weight if you have to!), and you’ll be alright. The other solution is to “trick” yourself into lifting more weight using this technique:

Get Started in Strength Training: Odd Object Training with Heavy Sandbags

Heavy Sandbag Training is a perfect first step into strength.

We use a large sandbag shell and fill it with 25-50lb Steelbells.

While the thought of lifting something heavy prevents many people from building real strength, using Odd Object Training techniques with heavy sandbags could be the solution (as well as your gateway “drug” to get interested in real strength). Here’s why:

#1 – You Probably Won’t Know How Heavy the Sandbag Really Is

While you could accurately measure the weight of your sandbag using a scale, you probably won’t. You’ll just grab a duffle bag, throw a bunch of sand in there, and try to lift it. This is a good thing! You won’t have the psychological barrier of walking over to a weight rack, grabbing the handle of a weight you don’t believe you can lift, and suffering through an exercise you’re scared to do.

#2 – Heavy Sandbag Training is Less Technical than Standard Lifts

Strength training requires excellent form, especially with fixed implements like barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells. The benefits of Odd Object Training, especially with sandbags, is that the implement forms to you (sort of). A sandbag will shift as you lift it, requiring you to adjust your body to compensate for the weight. Since everyone’s body is different, as well as their abilities, how you lift the weight is largely dependent on how capable you are. If the weight is too heavy, you probably won’t even be able to get it off the ground, much less move in a way that will cause injury.

#3 – It’s Easy to Bail on that Sandbag Lift!

Can’t make the lift? Not to worry! It’s a bag of sand; drop it whenever you like. It’s not going to bounce off the ground and hit your training partner; it will plop and wait to be picked up again. If you’re going to fail, fail. No one is going to harass you for dropping that awkward bag (for the most part, no one will realize what you’re trying to do anyway).

Get/Make a Sandbag

While you could buy an expensive sandbag made specifically for heavy sandbag lifting, I suggest throwing one together yourself to see if you like it. Go to Home Depot, buy a couple $5 bags of sand, then throw them into an old backpack or duffle bag. Chances are you’re going to destroy the thing in short order, but you will get some idea of what heavy sandbag training is like. You could also use SteelBells if you already have them; just throw them in a larger bag (that’s what we did with the bag at the top).

Sample Heavy Sandbag Workout for Strength

Again, the goal is to lift as much weight as you can for low reps, in this case, 5 reps for 3 to 5 rounds. Rest as much as you need to in between sets. And don’t worry, you will be sweating.

A: Heavy Sandbag Platform Lift – 5 x 3-5 (200lb)

B: Heavy Sandbag Get Up – 5 x 3-5 each side (150lb)

C: Heavy Sandbag Bear Hug Squat – 5 x 3-5 (200lb)

D: Heavy Sandbag Floor Press – 5 x 3-5

You can see a short clip of the Platform Lift below:

Onnit Academy is the most comprehensive database of information related to Unconventional Training, a unique new form of fitness methodology that focuses on functional strength, conditioning, and agility using the most efficient means and tools possible. The online database includes articles, videos, tutorials, and workouts featuring alternative implements like kettlebells, sandbags, steel maces, steel clubs, battle ropes, and more.
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