Sandbags come in a variety of weights but they all contain material that shifts around when you move the bag, which means that your body has to constantly readjust as the load shifts around. “The sand in the bag moves around, which gives an anti-rotation component to your training because your core has to work harder to stabilise the load,” says Charles Allan-Price from W10 Performance gym (opens in new tab).
“The handles on a sandbag also give you more flexibility than using a barbell,” says Charles Allan-Price. “If you’re doing a clean and press, for example, it’s easier to get your wrists into position when you’re using a bag than it is with a bar.”
1 Clean and press
Start with the bag on the ground, then drive up through your heels and lift the bag quickly, flipping it over to catch it at chest height. Pause, then push the bag overhead.
“This is the foundation exercise of the sandbag variation, and mastering it will give you more options to do later down the track,” says Allan-Price. “It’s a full-body exercise and a great way to elevate your heart rate and burn calories while practising a hinge movement in a low-risk way. Keep the bag as close to your body as possible – don't let it get away from you.”
Grip the bag by the central handle – or, for a real test of grip strength, by the fabric. Pull upwards, bringing your elbows up to the sides. To safeguard your shoulder joints, don’t jolt. Lower the bag under control.
“What I like about doing this with a sandbag is that it is more versatile than the barbell,” says Allan-Price. “It’s a great exercise for the traps and biceps and can be performed by people of all levels of ability –and you can take the sandbag anywhere. While performing the upright row, keep your elbows higher than your hands to optimise biceps and trap engagement.”
3 Zercher lunge
A favourite with wrestlers. Grip the bag underneath with your hands clasped together, then lunge forwards, alternating legs. You’ll test your core, legs and biceps.
“Single-leg movements often relate most to sports and day-to-day life,” says Allan-Price. “Holding the bag in front while engaging the glutes and hamstrings makes it a tough workout on the core. Keep your elbows high (ideally level with your shoulders), to create a ‘shelf’ for the bag to sit on. This will help keep a strong spine throughout the movement. There are a lot of further options available with the Zercher lunge such as walking lunges, reverse lunges, split squats and jump lunges.”
Lie on the floor with the bag on your chest, and your triceps resting on the ground – this protects your shoulders more than traditional bench pressing. Push the bag overhead, pause, then lower under control.
“One of the most simple and effective exercises, especially if you struggle doing press-ups, this variation is a great way to strengthen the triceps and pecs muscles used for press-ups,” says Allan-Price. “One common mistakes people make during the floor press is allowing their elbows to flare out – keep your elbows at about a 45° angle as if you were pushing someone in front of you. That way you get the most out of the triceps and pecs.”
This is expert level. Lie on the floor, holding the bag overhead by a handle, then get up on one side, keeping your weight on the opposite forearm. Bag too heavy? Hold it on your shoulder, not in your hand.
“The biggest bang-for-buck exercise of all the sandbag variations, the sandbag Turkish get-up is a great alternative to the conventional Turkish kettlebell or dumbbell get-up because it allows people with limited shoulder mobility to perform the exercises with intensity,” says Allan-Price. “What I like about this exercise is it requires people to think about and co-ordinate their movements: the get-up from the floor to the windmill to the lunge.”
Hold the bag overhead in one hand, and then bend at the hips, sliding your other hand down one leg.
Super Sandbag Circuits
“I like using sandbags to create circuits,” says Allan-Price. "You could do 40 seconds of clean and press, Zercher lunge and upright row, then rest and repeat. If you want to do strength sets, try using a 30kg bag and supersetting a deadlift with a Turkish get-up.”
Jon Lipsey worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Jon was deputy editor and editor from 2007 to 2013. He returned as editor-in-chief from 2016 to 2019. He also co-founded IronLife Media (opens in new tab) and the New Body Plan (opens in new tab).
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, the latest gear and more.
Thank you for signing up to Coach. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.