So what are the biggest excuses for not wanting to start working out? Come on, you know you’ve heard them all; you’ve probably even used a few yourself.
“I don’t feel like driving to the gym after work.”
For me, hearing these excuses is roughly as enjoyable as hearing Gilbert Gottfried sing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”. Actually, that would be pretty funny, but I digress. Fortunately for you and unfortunately for the excuse-makers, after reading this article, no longer will those excuses apply. I’m going to tell you how to get a top to bottom workout, at home, with one of the most economical and effective training implements known to man, the sandbag.
First off, you’ll need a sandbag; it makes the “sandbag” training much more effective. If you don’t have your own yet, check out the accompanying article on how to construct your own. It’s cheap, quick, and should be the easiest decision you make with regards to purchasing training equipment. Oh, and you can use it anywhere. I guess that only leaves “I don’t even know how to workout”. Read on…
The name of the game is “efficiency”. We are going to use the exercises that give us the most bang for our buck. This workout will minimize the number of exercises you need to do while maximizing the muscular and cardiovascular benefits, not to mention the raw power you will develop trying to manipulate your less-than-accommodating sandbag. Even if you are well acquainted with the iron, sandbag training can be a very humbling experience. But do not be discouraged, it works both ways. Dumbbells and barbells will seem like child’s play after a few weeks with your trusty sandbag. You’ll learn that this workout is not a worst-case scenario alternative; it will be a hard, intense, staple routine with which you can achieve your fitness goals.
Now let’s discuss the exercises involved in this workout. We’ll talk more about sets, reps, and intensity for the workout after. I want to mention right off the bat to start light with the weights you choose for these exercises. You need time to learn how to handle the “action” of the sandbag, and how to control it as much as possible. Chances are you are going to be doing a lot of “wrestling” with the sandbag starting out. You’ll understand what I mean by “wrestling” shortly after attempting these exercises, believe me. There’s no need to foolishly jump in and try to set records on day one. Good, consistent progress is better than any one workout.
Clean & Press
If I had to pick only one exercise to use for the rest of my life, it could very well be the clean & press with a sandbag or other unorthodox object. This exercise will work just about every muscle in your body. The initial lift of the sandbag is much like a deadlift, you’ll use your hips, hamstrings, and core to raise the bag from the ground. As the bag starts to rise, you’ll transfer the effort to your arms and upper back, pulling the bag high so that you can get your hands under it and settle it for the press at about chest height. You’ll even be pushing through your calves to get some extra “oomph” on this part of the lift. Once you have it at chest height, your shoulders and triceps (not to mention all the supporting tendons and ligaments) will be summoned to do some of their hardest work ever. You’ll want to grip tight and push steadily, as any jerky movements on the press will cause the sand to shift and try to get away from you. The sandbag does not want you to finish this lift; you need to defy it by being deliberate and determined.
Now with your legs and core sufficiently warmed up from clean & presses, its time for shouldered squats. You’re going to the lift the bag much like the clean & press, except this time when the bag gets to chest height you’re going to position it onto one of your shoulders. With the bag on your shoulder, squat! Simple, right? Let’s see if you agree after a few reps. Your arms and shoulders will start to burn as you hold the bag in place. Your core is going to need to stay tight, as the lopsided weight distribution is going to be trying to tip you over. And of course, your quads will be doing the bulk of the work taking you through the movement. There’s a good likelihood that your shouldering ability is going to limit you here starting out, so work up the poundage slow.
These are just like bench presses, except you are going to do them lying on the ground. Sit down on the ground with the sandbag between your legs in front of you. As you lay back, grab the sandbag and bring it back onto your chest as you lay flat. Once you have the bag in position, start pressing just like a bench press, starting each rep upward as your elbows contact the floor.
Like I mentioned in the press portion of the clean & press, you should start light, stay tight, and move the bag upward in a very controlled fashion. The more “dynamic” you try to be with the sandbag, the more it will make your life miserable. If you get to a point where you need to bail, you can simply dump the bag to the side or over your head (be careful!), or ideally lower it slowly to your chest again then sit up and push it down between your legs like when you started.
Shouldered Turkish Get Ups
Now here’s a fun one! It’s so simple. All you have to do is stand up. What could be easier? I can’t really translate it well in text, but that last sentence was followed by a very boisterous evil villain laugh. The shouldered Turkish Get Up is another one that will use most of the muscles in your body, particularly your core, keeping you stable as you move. On top of that, it is going to get your heart rate soaring! Your body is going to be getting an extreme workout trying to coordinate so many muscles at once, so when you get advanced enough to be banging out lots of reps (or a few really heavy ones), prepare to be sucking wind!
Start just as you did with the floor press, seated position with the bag between your legs. Hoist the sandbag back as you did before, but this time position it not on your chest, but on one of your shoulders. Doesn’t matter which one, we’ll get to the other side soon enough. Once there, you’ll need to be bracing it with your arm to keep it as stable as possible. Now you are on your back, flat, with the bag by your ear and held by your arm. Now stand up! Just kidding, it’s not quite that easy. The best way to get up from here is to start to sit up while turning slightly to your free arm side. Plant your free hand on the ground to help finish your sit up. While finishing the sit up, bring your upper body erect and shift up to one knee. OK, now you can stand up! You did it!
But the rep is not finished yet. You still need to get back to the start position. To do so, I’ve found that the easiest way for me is to squat down with both legs while using my free hand to find the ground as I descend. Once I can reach the ground, I slowly fall into almost a crab-walk position, and then drop my butt to the floor. From here you just lay back. One rep, done! One of my training partners has another slightly different method. He basically just reverses the concentric portion of the lift. He steps back and does a reverse lunge going back down on one knee. After this he uses his free hand to find the ground, shifts balance to the free side, then sits his butt down and lays back. Either way is valid so long as each rep starts and ends flat on your back.
I always put these types of exercises at the end of my workouts. These are the exercises that require as much willpower and mental strength as they do physical strength. You are going to pour whatever energy you have left into this exercise and earn that truly satisfying feeling of KNOWING you had a great workout.
Unlike most of the other exercises listed in this article, there’s not a lot of science or technique to this one. You can do your carries one of two ways (there are many ways to carry, but I want you to use one of the following for this workout): bear hug or cradle. To start, I would suggest cradling as it will be slightly less intense as you won’t be required to “squeeze” constantly to hold the bag. Just get down in a deep squatted position with the sandbag between your legs, slide your arms under each side of the sandbag, and stand up with it, cradling it like a baby… a very, very heavy baby. Be careful when initially hoisting the bag as the lower back has a tendency to round when picking things that low off the ground. To bear hug the bag the only difference is that instead of sliding your arms under the bag, you will lean over the bag and wrap your arms around it before standing up.
OK, you have your sandbag in position, now what? Walk… and walk… and walk…. And walk. That’s it, nothing too hard, right? I did that evil villain laugh again. The trick with this final exercise is to push as hard as you can. I want you to move with that bag until it literally falls out of your hands. And that’s taking it easy on you! Once you get comfortable with the training and have advanced your strength and skill, you aren’t done when you drop the bag. You take a few deep breaths, pick it up again and keep walking. The best thing to do for progressing here is to keep track of how far you went last time. Mark off “laps” in your yard, in your basement, at the gym, wherever, and try to go a little further each time out.
One thing to note with this exercise is that it lends itself well to team training. Get your favorite (or least favorite) training partner and resign yourselves to do X number of “laps” as a team. Go as far and as long as you can, and when you drop the bag, your partner picks it up and travels. Once he or she drops it, guess whose back up? Keep doing this until you cover your planned distance. This works well to increase distance per lap and overall power output by motivating you through teammate encouragement and the natural aspect of competition built in. You aren’t going to let you partner carry the bag further than you, are you?
OK, so you have the tools, you have the know-how, and you are officially out of excuses. Let’s get down to the workout. Rest between sets is completely up to you, particularly once you advance to the harder workouts. You should ideally be either adding weight or reducing rest each session though. All rep counts for Shouldered Squats and Turkish Get Ups are to be done on each side.
Clean & Press
3 x 8
3 x 6
4 x 5, 1 x 1
3 x 6
3 x 8-10
5 x 5
3 x 8
3 x 6
5 x 5
Turkish Get Up
3 x 6
3 x 8-10
2 x 5, 1 x 12
2-3 carries, near failure
2 carries to failure
1 carry to failure, 1 carry further than you’ve ever carried before.
For the beginner routine, I want you to use the same light weight to reach the same number of reps on each set. Be conservative with the weight. If you need an ego-boosting, you’ve chosen the wrong workout. You should be well short of failure on all these sets, though the last one on each exercise should not be a cake walk. This is the learning period, moving too much weight too fast with an unorthodox object is a sure-fire route to injury. Take your time and get comfortable with the movements before moving on to the intermediate workout. I’d suggest a minimum of 3 or 4 sessions at beginner before trying the intermediate routine.
The intermediate routine is very similar to the beginner, but we are going to bring the reps down a bit on the big lifts, go heavier, and come a little closer to failure. This is where the sand is really going to earn its respect from you! Again, I want you to use the same weight for all sets of each exercise. For the clean & press and floor press, use a weight that’s going to bring you within about a rep of failure by the last set. This may take some tinkering to figure out, but as always, guess conservatively and move up weight session to session. For the Turkish Get Ups and Shouldered Squats, just continue to use the weight you used during the beginner routine, but now do 8 to 10 reps. You can add or reduce weight here to bring you near that one rep short of failure, using the same weight is just a guideline. To finish, carry that sandbag until you literally can’t hang on anymore…. Twice.
And finally, the advanced workout. So, you think you are ready? You better be. At this point you now respect the sandbag. After a few sets of this routine, you may start to fear it! We are going to work with very heavy weights, low reps, and take your intensity level to the edge on every exercise. At first glance the advanced routine may not seem much tougher than the others, but trust me; you better be VERY familiar with slinging around that bag before trying this.
For the clean & press, I want you to do 4 progressively heavier sets until you reach your near max for five reps. The first 2 sets will serve to warm you up, the third will prepare your body for heavy weight, and the final set should be a bear. Once you’ve done this, throw another filler bag or two (depending on what size you used) in the sandbag and get ready for some serious effort. I want you to do a near max single attempt. Because of the complexity of this movement and the amount of muscles it uses, this single is going to tax you like no other exercise. Here’s a hint: get a good, tight arch in your lower back so you can lean back and use your chest as a landing pad for the bag at the end of the clean. This will make getting yourself in position for the press much easier.
Shouldered Squats and Floor Presses are going to be pretty straight-forward. Do three progressively heavier sets. That heaviest set, you will do it three times. So for example, you might do your shouldered squats like this:
- 75 pounds x 5 reps, 100 x 5, 125 x 5 x 3
You want to be very near failure by the last rep on the last set.
Turkish Get Ups will be done with a similar protocol. Do one set of 5 at a moderate weight to prepare yourself, then follow it with a heavy set of 5. Once you have this completed, empty some filler bags and get ready to test your wind. I want you to do 12 reps on each side for one set. Come on, its only one more set, how hard could it be? You can PM hate messages to my account on DF after you finish.
And to finish your personal gauntlet run, we’ll do the sandbag carries. Do one carry as far as you can on one hold. That means do as many “laps” as you can before your arms force you to drop the bag. Once you’ve done that, its time to set a goal. Your goal should be a distance further than you’ve done in any prior session. No matter what, you MUST travel that distance with your sandbag. If you need to drop it, go ahead, just remember though that you have to pick it back up again! Once you’ve powered through to your goal, drop the bag, catch your breath, and give yourself a pat on the back because you just completed one serious workout! You have my congratulations and sympathy… 'cause next time you have to do more.
Sandbag training is intense, challenging, inexpensive, rewarding, and believe it or not, fun. With the information included, you are now prepared to take on sandbag training head-on, and come out on top. I’ll leave you with this slightly modified bed time prayer from the immortal Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. No, you don’t have to sleep with your sandbag. (and if you don’t get the reference, you need to go watch “Full Metal Jacket” after your workout):
“This is my sandbag. There are many like it but this one is mine. My sandbag is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my sandbag is useless. Without my sandbag I am useless. I must lift my sandbag true. I must lift stronger than my training partner, who is trying to outlift me. I must outlift him before he outlifts me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my sandbag and myself are defenders of my gym, we are the masters of my body, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no fat, but muscle. Amen.”
Good night soldiers, you’ve earned the rest.
-- Tony Lukasavage, aka “Maverick”