So sad, so sad that most of our training is limited to what we are familiar training with. Often ideas are restrained to the capabilities of the equipment we choose to utilize in our training. That is a big reason that I am often saddened seeing how people incorporate sandbag training into their routines.
There are those that like to use sandbags because they are a nice “change of pace” or some other misguided souls use them because they want to be “hardcore“. Neither of these reasons are good enough to justify the use of sandbags in one’s training programs.
Using any type of training method or tool should be the result of problem solving one’s training needs. Whether this is to enhance a specific fitness quality or to help an old injury, or to hit angles and movements that are not possible with other means. In a lot of ways my system was the result of trying to solve these issues in my own training and those of my clients.
Too many coaches look at sandbag training as a means to look tough during training. No one ever won anything based upon how they looked while they trained. It is only the result one achieves through their training that is truly meaningful.
I have found sandbags to help in some unexpected ways. For example, athletes and non-athletes alike often struggle to perform a great squat. I am referring to an Olympic style that not only gets you stronger, but mobile as well. All too many times coaches abandon squats or use a lesser variation to get around their weaknesses and flexibility issues. Often this results in injury or lack of transfer.
In order to solve this problem I often recommend implementing bear hug squats for those lifters that have a problem with excessive forward lean. The bear hug squat is a great drill because not only can you load the exercise to appreciable levels, but the counterbalance of the sandbag keeps the lifter far more vertical often curing at least 90% of the lifter’s forward lean issues.
By using this position as well, the lifter can go deeper into the squat training more of the hamstrings and glutes. The bear hug has additional value in isometrically training the upper back and arms, two areas that many athletes forget to train in this manner that result in poor performance. In MMA many athletes fatigue after trying to execute an intense choke or submission. Largely this is left untrained in strength and conditioning.
To see how to solve other squatting issues see the video below:
Sandbags additionally can provide a remedy in improving pressing strength and shoulder health. Because of the constant shifting of sandbags, the smaller stabilizers are trained in the shoulder girdle. This means the support of the joint improves over time. Yet, we don’t have to neglect performance. Using specific sandbag drills we can teach the body important lessons of stability and building a solid foundation by still training. All too often coaches feel frustrated as they try to find cues that teach lifters these same principles.
Additionally, because of the unique angles that sandbags allow us to train in, we can mobilize the thoracic spine much easier. Typically, it is lack of mobility in the thoracic spine that limits shoulder mobility. Instead of embarking on a 6-8 week “corrective phase” many problems can be improved much faster by implementing these techniques. Why? Largely due to the fact these drills manipulate the nervous system which is typically in charge of which muscles work and which ones are turned off.
Check out how sandbags can save your shoulders and drive up your press!
Sandbags are a powerful training tool for correcting movement problems because of the numerous holding positions one can utilize. Providing NINE different holding options make the sandbag the most versatile training tool. Each of these holding positions applies a different stress to the body and can be used to emphasize specific training needs (eg. the above example of using bear hug squats).
Another classic example is shouldering. While most perform this movement without thought of the impact, they are missing out on a very powerful drill. Any time the sandbag rests on the shoulder it creates an environment where the body must resist flexion, rotation, and lateral flexion. In other words, any shouldering exercise becomes a very important stability drill. Even experts such as Dr. Stuart McGill have found loading in this manner to be very effective for activating the lateral stability system such as the low back’s quadratus lumborum and glute med.
In the final instalment we will examine the detailed performance benefits of sandbag training.
NB : this is Part II of the Evolution of Sandbag Training series. If you missed Part I, it’s here.