Water jugs as kettlebells, pieces of paper as sliders, a couch as an exercise bench — when it comes to at-home workouts, sometimes you have to get creative. Now, there's one more piece of equipment you can DIY: sandbags.
These non-traditional weights deserve way more credit than they get. Weight machines and dumbbells will certainly help you build muscle but sandbags are a great tool to build functional strength, which can help you in your everyday tasks, from lifting a bag of laundry off the ground to carrying a sack of soil.
And you can do just about any exercise with a sandbag. To get started with sandbag training, try the nine exercises below from Josh Henkin, CSCS, master RKC and author of DVRT the Ultimate Sandbag Training System.
1. Sandbag Squat
- Bring the sandbag from the ground to one shoulder in one explosive movement. Keep your feet slightly turned out but parallel to one another.
- Push your knees out as you hinge the hips back and bend your knees to sit into the squat, making sure you don’t lean to one side as you go down.
- Straighten your legs to return to standing without locking out your knees. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
Because you’ll be holding the sandbag over one shoulder, this squat variation combines the benefits of a traditional squat with those of a side plank. You’ll not only build power in your legs, but the unique holding position challenges the stability of your core and strength of your obliques as well.
2. Sandbag Clean and Press
- Hold the neutral-grip handles and begin with the sandbag against your shins. Your arms shouldn't rest on your legs.
- Make sure you hinge, not squat, into the movement. That means moving more from your hips than knees.
- Hoist the bad explosively upward and catch the sandbag on your fists in front of your shoulders.
- Push through your heels, brace your core and drive the sandbag over your head.
- Reverse the movement and return to the start.
3. Rotational Lunge With Sandbag
- Lift the sandbag off the ground and hold it in front of your hips.
- Step backward in a lunge with both knees at a 90-degree angle.
- Rotate the sandbag to the same side as the front leg. Don’t over-rotate; just clear the lead knee.
- Drive through the front heel and return to standing, rotating back toward the front.
- Repeat with the other leg.
The rotational lunge is one of the most athletic exercises, since you have to be strong enough to lift the weight and resist the pull of the sandbag as you're lunging. It’s also a great conditioning and fat-burning exercise, even more so than exercises that use twice as much weight.
As you move faster, the sandbag will pick up momentum and increase the height of the swing. But don't let that pull you around; stay tight through your core.
4. Sandbag Row
- Hold the sandbag by the thick grips on the sides.
- Slowly hinge your hips back, slightly bending the knees and keeping the lower back straight, and deadlift the weight off the ground.
- Pull the sandbag toward your upper stomach and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Slowly lower the weight back down so that your arms are extended straight.
5. Sandbag Shoveling
- From standing, pivot to one side.
- As you pivot, bend both knees slightly out to the side and hinge back on one hip, letting the sandbag come to the outside of that knee.
- Drive through the heel and push the sandbag out in front of you.
- Keep your shoulders back and quickly pivot to the opposite side.
- Quickly hinge back and “catch” the sandbag in front.
6. Kneeling Around the World
- Kneel on the ground with the weight in front of your torso.
- Slowly circle the sandbag around your upper body like you’re putting on then taking off a jacket.
- Perform slowly, resisting any movement of the trunk, and don't sit back on your heels.
7. Lateral Sandbag Drag With Push-Up
- Begin with a light sandbag to one side of you while you assume a push-up position.
- Keep your feet wide and reach across to grab the sandbag with the hand on the opposite side.
- As slowly as possible (the slower the better), drag the sandbag across your body without elevating or rotating your hips.
- As the weight crosses your body, begin to lower yourself into a one-arm push-up.
- Once the weight is across, keep tension on the sandbag and drive through the feet and stance arm to drive back up.
8. Sandbag Biceps Curl
- Grab the sandbag somewhere between the middle and the top end.
- Standing tall with the shoulders back, tightly grip the sandbag and curl it toward your chest.
- Don’t round your shoulders, resisting the pull of the weight forward on your trunk by bracing your abdominal muscles.
- Lower the bag back down.
One of the best ways to strengthen your arms and work your grip at the same time is with sandbag biceps curls. The length of the sandbag lets you work your biceps through a greater range of motion than dumbbells.
9. Front-Loaded Walk
- Clean the sandbag from the ground to the front-loaded position in front of your chest with your arms under the bag.
- Go for a walk, holding the weight against your body, elbows close the ribs and your lower back straight.
- Walk across your room or gym for 3 sets.
Holding the sandbag in the front-loaded position will target your upper back, core and legs. Just make sure to keep your core braced to prevent your lower back from arching.