Sandbag Training 101 – by Josh Henkin

There is no question…sandbag training works! Having been used for centuries by the world’s best wrestlers and martial artists, there is no arguing sandbag training can make you as strong as you look! However, as sandbag training has begun a resurgence the misuse of sandbags have begun as well. One may wonder, is it possible not to use a sandbag correctly? Well, just ask yourself if you can use a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, or even your bodyweight incorrectly?

The first rule of thumb is that a good sandbag should have mobility. Too many people have tried to “out think” the sandbag and end up ruining the basis of sandbag training. Unlike most other training implements you aren’t going to progress by five pound increments. Manipulating many of the other training variables such as placement of load and speed of movement will serve as better training avenues for variety and progression.

I will cover how to choose when you use each of these methods and progressions, but first we must discuss the most fundamental of ideas, how where you hold the sandbag impacts your exercise selection.

Bear Hug:

This position is the starting place for the introduction of sandbag training. Keeping the sandbag very close to the body and clasping the arms around the sandbag decreases the leverage working against the body. This makes this holding position the easiest to balance and lift the greatest loads. The dimensions of the sandbag will additionally impact the level of difficulty of this style.




The Zercher position is the secondary position of loading. The Zercher is a more challenging loading position because there is increase leverage working against the trunk and the upper back. It is vital in using the Zercher that the elbows remain as high as possible. When the arms begin to drop under heavier loads it is a natural tendency to have the upper and lower back begin to round. Holding the sandbag lower also decreases stress on the stabilizing muscles.



Shouldering is the most familiar holding position in sandbag training. Shouldering is most notable because it appears the most unusual in strength training. Holding the bag in this position places the whole body under an uneven load. This is one of the most powerful aspects of sandbag training and even though your body may be in a balance position of a squat, the uneven load makes the body unbalanced. This is far more challenging to maintain posture and balance during all movement especially unilateral ones.



The overhead position is the most challenging, yet very familiar to most lifters. Having the sandbag overhead places the greatest amount of leverage on the entire body especially the trunk. The sandbag being overhead is an unstable object that will move as you perform various movements. This makes the entire body unstable and all the small stabilizers must fire harder to maintain balance and stability.


Josh Henkin, CSCS has been a strength coach for the past fifteen years. Josh has spoken at numerous national conferences and written for over 20 fitness magazines. His Sandbag Fitness System is recognized as the most comprehensive sandbag training program.