Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Resistance training outdoors can be a hassle — carting dumbbells, kettlebells, even a barbell involves way too many trips back and forth from the car. But one sandbag? Piece of cake. Fill it with sand and that single, simple implement will kick your rear end and give you an incredible workout in about 30 minutes.
A Wave of Benefits
“Sandbag training develops real-life strength,” says Dustin Kirchofner, an active-duty U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, certified strength-and-conditioning coach and owner of Modern Warfare Fitness in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Sandbag training engages the large muscles in your body synergistically. “Because of the constant shifting of the sand, you’ll also engage stabilizer muscles through your entire body while also developing your core,” Kirchofner adds.
This workout, designed by Kirchofner, begins with a Turkish get-up, a highly functional movement that works the upper and lower body in concert. Then it moves into two tri-sets, one focusing more on the lower body and the other on your upper half. Use the plan occasionally to shake things up, or blend it into your regular programming up to three times per week and enjoy your bag-built beach body!
The One-Sandbag Workout
After a thorough warm-up that includes a light cardio element and five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching, perform five minutes of Turkish get-ups, then do the tri-sets as prescribed. Rest one minute between each tri-set, and go through each one four times. “If you’re more advanced, you can shorten the rest time,” Kirchofner says. “As you get more comfortable with the exercises and you get in better shape, you’ll naturally speed up.”
“This move gets you firing on all cylinders,” Kirchofner explains. “It’ll wake up your muscles and elevate your heart rate. You should be breathing pretty heavily afterward.”
Setup: Lie flat with your legs extended and hold the sandbag slung over your right shoulder. Bend your right knee and slide your heel toward your glutes. Extend your left arm out to the side.
Move: Using your left hand and right foot as a support, roll toward your left side until your torso is upright, then bridge your hips so you’re on your left hand and right foot. Now slide your left knee underneath your body and straighten up so you’re kneeling on one leg, then stand up. To return to the start, reverse the steps until you are flat on the ground; after 10 reps, switch the bag to your left shoulder and continue.
Tip: New athletes, start with no weight for the first few full repetitions before adding the sandbag.
Challenge: Set a timer for five minutes and keep track of how many get-ups you can do — then aim to beat that in your next workout.
Tri-Set No. 1: Lower Body
“This move hits the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, abs, grip and adductor magnus,” Kirchofner says.
Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly. They should just be touching the edge of the sandbag. With a flat back, squat down and grasp the sandbag on the outer edges. Your hips should be higher than your knees, shins perpendicular to the ground, arms straight, shoulders over the sandbag.
Move: Keeping your back flat and your arms straight, drag the bag up along the front of your shins and thighs and extend your hips and knees to full extension. Lower the bag downward along the same path until it touches the ground, letting it settle for one second before starting the next rep.
Tip: The key to a proper deadlift is to drive with your legs and not allow your lower back to curl and take on the brunt of the load.
Challenge: Add a partial burpee to the tail end of each rep: Bring the bag down to the ground, hold your body up on your extended arms and hop your legs behind you. Jump them back underneath to start the next rep.
Rotational Lunge Snatch
“This exercise not only focuses on the muscles in the legs — the glutes and the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex — but it also puts a lot of emphasis on the core, lower back and shoulders,” Kirchofner says.
Setup: Hold a sandbag in front of you by both handles, knees slightly bent, arms straight.
Move: Step back and lunge deeply with your right leg, bringing the sandbag down and across your body to the left hip. Then step your feet back together, and in one, continuous, explosive motion, swing the sandbag forward and upward, keeping it close to your body, and flipping it over your wrists in a snatch catch at the very top when your arms are fully extended. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Tip: You can practice this move in the gym with a kettlebell, holding it in one hand at a time.
Challenge: Instead of bringing the sandbag to hip level, bring it all the way down to the ground.
Because of the forward placement of the resistance, the front squat targets the quads while alleviating the compressive forces on the spine commonly associated with a standard back squat, according to Kirchofner.
Setup: Assume a shoulder-width stance, toes angled slightly outward, and hold the sandbag at your chest, elbows lifted in front of you to form a “table”; the sandbag should sit on top of this platform.
Move: Kick your hips back, then bend your knees until your hip crease drops below your knees. Reverse the move by driving through your heels and extending your legs explosively to return to standing.
Tip: Keep your chest and elbows lifted throughout to maintain a flat platform, keeping your body in the proper squatting position while preventing the sandbag from sliding off.
Challenge: Biomechanically speaking, the front squat allows for a more extended range of motion than a traditional barbell back squat, so if you don’t have issues with your knees, hips or lower back, go ass-to-grass.
Tri-Set No. 2: Upper Body
Power Clean + Push Press
“This move calls on the big muscle groups such as the legs, shoulders and back and puts a lot of emphasis on the hip complex and smaller supporting muscles while also taxing your cardiovascular system,” Kirchofner says.
Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and squat down, taking a hold of the sandbag on either side. Your back should be flat, chest up, focus forward, hips lower than your knees.
Move: Keep your back straight as you lift the bag up along the fronts of your shins, extending your knees and hips at the same rate. Continue lifting the bag as you come to standing, shrugging and coming up onto your toes to clean the bag, lifting it to chest height, bending your knees to drop underneath it and flipping your elbows under to catch it across the front of your shoulders and upper chest. Bend your knees and dip into a shallow squat, then quickly extend and press the bag up overhead to full extension.
Tip: When first learning, break the move into two parts, first practicing the power clean (sandbag from the floor to shoulder level) and then the push press (shoulders to overhead).
Challenge: At the end of the last set, perform as many push presses as you can before failing.
This exercise targets your chest, triceps and front delts while serving as a recovery time after the taxing power clean plus push press, according to Kirchofner.
Setup: Lie faceup with your legs extended and hold the sandbag over your chest with both hands. Your upper arms should rest in the sand along your sides, elbows out.
Move: Press the bag straight up, coming to full extension over your chest and squeeze. Lower back to the start, allowing your upper arms to touch down to the ground briefly before going into the next rep.
Tip: Don’t allow your elbows to slam down into the ground — control the descent to avoid unnecessary stress on the joints.
Challenge: After finishing a set, immediately flip over and do a set of bodyweight push-ups to failure.
Bear Hug and Run
Running in the sand — even in place — is a sure-fire way to spike your heart rate; add the sandbag to the mix and you’re talking calorie torching!
Setup: Hug the sandbag with both arms tight to your chest.
Move: Run in place, keeping the sandbag tight to your body.
Tip: The higher you lift your knees, the harder the exercise becomes.
Challenge: Instead of holding the bag to your body, hold it overhead as you run in place.