Sandbags for men — Part VII



back to our ITSB. In case you forgot, that stands for Inner Tube Sand Bag. This is the sand bag that men lift. I know a duffle bag filled with a bunch of “blocks” of taped up smaller sand bags can be hard to lift. But:

Pound for pound the ITSB will be harder to lift. Guaranteed! No handles and no limitation on the movement of the sand inside the bag creates’ an entirely different animal. You are going to have to be an animal to lift an ITSB, especially when you build up to heavier and heavier bags.

So, man up. Get rid of the “block” filled duffle with all the fancy, comfortable handles and straps on it and make an ITSB. After all, you are only making someone else wealthy considering the cost of those fancy-girlie-type sandbags. If you want handles on your training equipment, grab a barbell or dumbbell or KB.

Enough of that. Let’s get down to business!

Part of the impact of training with an ITSB comes from the fact that you don’t hold the bag at arm’s length all the time.

Learning to control this moving object, as we lift it, forces us to use muscles we didn’t know we had. It forces us to get up close and personal with the sandbag. It doesn’t stand off from us like a barbell. In many lifts or exercises, using a barbell or similar piece of equipment creates a fear of the impact.

What do I mean?

You ever get banged by a bar, dumbbell plate or KB?

At the very least it can cause bruises or worse, and you will do your best NOT to get banged by it again because it hurts. And it’s not a good hurt.

Now, this is no problem with an ITSB. You can get up close and personal with the thing. Yes, it will smack you as you rip it off the floor and heave it up to catch it. Some part of the ITSB may balloon out to a degree from the shifting sand. It knocks you in the arm or shoulder or chest and knocks you back a half-step.

You suck it up and grip tighter and man-handle the thing into position.

It fights you.

You toughen up, shift the bag with a hitch and re-grip as the ITSB floats up a second and then it slams back down against you.

But you are ready!

With a heave and grunt and straining muscles you wrestle it overhead.

Now, it doesn’t just hang there from straps in your hands. It is supported by your splayed out fingers as you struggle to keep it overhead. The sand shifts in the bag, you step sideways and back a bit and control the bag. Reset, and then you slowly lower it down to your chest.

Drop it or control it down to your bent knees and then the floor.  I like dropping with control down to the chest or shoulder and then to the thighs and then dropping it to the floor.

Time for another rep.

But it’s more than a rep. It’s a wrestling match to see who will win.

In the end the ITSB always wins, but you walk away tougher and stronger for the struggle.

Now, this impact of the ITSB smacking into you hardens the body to impact. Lifting a bag and catching it with the arms and/or body forces you to brace for impact. It forces you to receive that energy from the inertial mass of the ITSB and absorb it. You can re-direct that energy and momentum in some lifts with the ITSB. The ITSB has some give to it, so the impacts do not bruise or break bones.

The odd shape that changes as you lift it forces you to adjust on the fly, so-to-speak.

Very athletic type training going on here. Other than wrestling with another human, there are few things that give this kind of input that you have to adjust to as you lift.

Certainly with barbells and dumbbells and KB we have to adjust as we lift the weight. With those objects we move our body around to adjust our center of balance. We move around the implement or we move the implement around us.  But the weight doesn’t change shape in your hands. It doesn’t shift around and move.

With an ITSB, we move around the object but at the same time the object is moving around us to a degree. So, now we are lifting in another dimension.  Using Bb’s, Db’s and Kb’s is working in three dimensions. Using an ITSB is like training in a fourth dimension.

Take a month and train with an ITSB, you won’t regret it!

Sandbags and Imperfection Training – Part VI

So, last post we mentioned injury prevention and how sandbags affect that. In an earlier post we also mentioned that lifting an ITSB also makes it much harder to maintain perfect posture while lifting it.

Now, this is a good thing. When lifting a sandbag, you will try to maintain a flat back, but many times as you begin lifting, the sandbag shifts around in your grip and you react suddenly to hang onto the dang thing. And while doing this you round over or twist a bit. This trains your body to be able to handle the little odd angles you might find yourself in when performing everyday normal activities.

This is especially true of the workplace if you are doing manual type labor of any sort. Even picking up a 5 gallon water jug at the office or grabbing something out of a trunk can cause you to change your position in mid-movement. So, preparing for this in training helps you deal with it in life.

And if you are any kind of athlete you already know just how many times you perform movements that are a bit off-kilter. Getting tackled, avoiding an opponent, getting bumped in the middle of a play is normal. There is no way an athlete is going to maintain perfect posture while playing a sport.

So, the sandbag training can really help us to be more prepared for these things as we engage in activities throughout the day. Simply carrying something and then having it slip from our arm as we try to unlock our front door can cause us to twist and bend to catch the falling object, box or bag.

Or a person is lifting something from their vehicle and it slips, they make a mad grab for it and catch it only to pull something. Lifting a free-flowing sandbag, like our ITSB, helps train the body for just such occurrences. So, what previously may have injured us is now merely an extension of our training. We’ve basically trained all these little odd movements so that it is not something new for our body when it happens in everyday life.

Even a little sandbag training once a week can help mitigate injuries from such things. This is one of the other benefits of ITSB training. The average gym or home trainee dose not train such things. It is actually a form of what may be called “imperfection” training. You cannot lift the sandbag perfectly on every rep. Even in the middle of a rep things can change and you learn to control the bag.

Now, just so you know what imperfection training is, it is when a person purposely lifts something in an imperfect way. For example, we are told never to lift with a rounded back because of the risk of injury. But some people will do lighter dead-lifts with a rounded back. This “imperfect” form builds in an amount of strength in a less than perfect rep. So, if at any time while performing regular dead-lifts with normal posture, the lifter rounds his back over a bit, it won’t cause an injury, or at least the risk of an injury is much lower.

Another example of imperfection training is doing the Farmers Walk with two weights that are different. Rather than walk with an equal weight in each hand, a person would walk with only one weight in his hand or use two weights, but one much heavier than the other. This forces the person to try to compensate for this uneven weight and strive to keep his torso upright as he walks. This places a great stress on the body that is not a part of normal posture.

Then, when we pick something up and carry it with one hand (a bag of groceries, our child, a 5 gallon bucket of paint) it is easier to do and less apt to create an injury because our body has been trained to deal with this.

A small amount of imperfection training goes a long way. And lifting a sandbag can give us some of that imperfection type exposure.

Next post we will dig into this ITSB training even further. Bet you didn’t know just how much ITSB training would benefit you, did you!

Until then, hang tough!

Walter J. Dorey

ITSB-Sandbags – Part V

Ok, we’re back at it. Where were we, oh  yeah:  sandbags!

We were talking about leveraging our strength.

In life, many times we do things where the object is hugged or maybe braced up with other parts of the body. Many times our forearms are also in contact with the object. Many times our hands are held in a hooked or claw-like position, fingers splayed out trying to find a purchase on the object. Or we crush or dig our fingers into it, or at least try to. Often the object we are trying to lift or move is awkward to lift. We have to find a point to gain leverage on the thing.

Functional training for the power-lifts means training the power-lifts. Functional training has to be examined by what functions are you trying to improve?

Then do that which has the most carryover to what you want to improve.

For some, they just want something new to lift or train. That’s OK.

But if you are lifting a sandbag for training functionality, use an inner-tube filled with sand or pea-gravel.
Now, I’m going to talk about something else I see happening with sandbags and something I don’t do.

I don’t grab it by the “tails” on either end; I lift it by grabbing, hugging or plunging the hands into it to get whatever purchase I can. This will pound your grip and every bit of musculature, tendon and bone in your hands and forearms.

As you grab it, the sand will move around under your grip.

Don’t use the tails to lift it. This is cheating, as far as I’m concerned. I know some people like to make lighter bags and lift them and swing them around the body by the tails. But I don’t use them that way. I lift them, I wrestle with them. Once you swing a sandbag around your body it compacts into a mass that doesn’t move around or flow. It just hangs at the end of your arms. The sand cannot flow or move anywhere. It is no different and brings no other qualities to the training than swinging a KB around your body.

In fact, if we are going to swing a sandbag around us by the tails, I’d suggest learning a bunch of KB juggling drills and free-styling that way. I think it would be better. The KB juggling will cause you to move and shift and leverage and root your feet and move your feet and get even more mobile than swinging a sandbag around your body in circles. The other reason I have for this:

Swinging a sandbag by the tails (usually a small, light-weight sandbag) is referred to by many as training with a Bulgarian sandbag. Now, I don’t know who originally coined this term, but a small-light-weight sandbag with big tails sticking out on each end is usually called this by others. I think what they mean is the form of training (swinging a sandbag around) is Bulgarian Sandbag Training. Who really knows why?

For me, I really think KB’s are better for juggling around and swinging. With a KB, you can let go and toss the KB around from behind you or up under the legs and also switch hands and do a bunch of hand-to-hand work. This teaches co-ordination, timing, and reactive ability. Catching a KB with the other hand after it has been swung from around behind the back and tossed up over the opposite shoulder forces you to move the entire body and catch the Kb with the other hand and continue the flow of the movement. There is way more movement and transitioning and rooting than occurs with swinging a sandbag around you in circles. You can even do that with a KB (swing them around your body in circles), they are called slingshots.

Plus, swinging a sandbag by one tail and catching the other in you opposite hand just doesn’t feel or flow as well as with a KB. So, honestly, I don’t see the big deal with swinging a sandbag by the tails around the body or the head. I would rather spend my energy lifting a much heavier sandbag and training those swinging movements with KB’s.

Now, we mentioned other things in preceding articles, like controlling the sandbag and leveraging strength. As you lift an ITSB it moves around under your grip. You have to hang tough to lift the dang thing.

This is where we have to learn to get low, dig into the ITSB or work our arms under it in order to lift it. A heavy ITSB is not an easy thing to move. It’s not balanced. It moves around. Just when you think you have a good purchase on it, the sand flows around and you have to squeeze harder to maintain your grip. It’s like wrestling a blob. There is no handle, no clothing you can bunch up in your fingers to grab, no real balance point. Ya grab the thing and haul it up anyway you can!

It is way tougher to lift than a barbell. So, unlike a balanced BB, you have to learn even more how to use the strength you have, to the best of your advantage, to lift the thing. And as you lift it, it WILL move around making it more difficult to hang onto. This is where you have to really move, adjust, squeeze and/or pull and leverage the thing up. You have to learn how to get your body between the ITSB and the ground, wedge under or into the bag and using whatever leverage you can get with your legs, arms, hands, fingers and body and hoist it up.

Then, if you are going to press it overhead, you will find it is just as uncooperative in doing that!

It’s sort of like trying to lift and wrestle someone up to your shoulder or overhead when they have gone all limp, like they have passed out. It is not an easy thing.

So, this is really great training for anyone who deals with others in sport or in tactical situations. Plus, it helps us get some injury prevention training in. More about that in the next post.

So, if you don’t have an ITSB yet, I suggest you make one soon and start training with it.


Walter Dorey

Sandbags and Functionality – Part IV


Ok. We mentioned several things in the last article on sandbag training, specifically, training with an ITSB (Inner-Tube-Sand-Bag). So let’s dig into that.

First off, what’s this “functional” training thing we are talking about?

Using sand or pea-gravel filled inner-tubes is functional training for everyday life, in my book.

Of course, everything can be called functional training if we want to argue it. Doing barbell curls on a preacher-bench can be called functional. So can balancing on an Indo board as we squat. So can balance work on one foot while you use a cable machine with one hand that a Physical Therapist may have a client performing for re-habilitation of an injury.

These things do have their place. Usually in rehabilitating an injury or perhaps in bringing up a weak area that we are concerned about.

But I look at “functionality” a bit different:

In life, we lift a box and the contents are not loaded evenly or the contents slide around as we lift it. We hug it to our body and gain purchase however we can.  A man picks up a cooler filled with ice, melted ice and his favorite beverages and throws it up on a shoulder and it sloshes around as he lifts and carries it.

Someone else wrestles a large tire onto his 4×4 truck. Another man has to pick up and carry the fresh venison he just downed with an arrow on the back side of a mountain and slog over rough terrain back to his vehicle, while another person wheels loads of cement out to the back side of his house with a wheel-barrow to build a foundation for a porch. Another guy is wrestling with a large rock he is trying to remove from his garden.

Someone else grabs a sheet (or 2 or 3) of plywood and carries it to where it’s needed. The wind blows the sheet against him or catches it at an angle and the plywood twists in his hands. Our dog makes a bee-line for the road and we make a mad dash as he tries to shoot by us and we catch his running impact and stand up with an 80 pound wiggling dog, so we can carry him back to our house or yard. A parent picks up his child who is wrestling around with them. A strong man picks a rock or sets the caber.

A tactical officer fights with an assailant, a soldier carries an injured buddy out of the field of combat. An NFL football player drives off the line of scrimmage, slips a tackle and leaps to sack the quarter-back. Another man carries a load of wood through the snow back to his truck.

This stuff, to me is “functional”. It is a part of everyday life for many people.

Yes, doing arm curls, re-habbing with a PT, improving balance on a Bosu ball can help if a person is that bad off. But all of the above activities require much more than what most people think off as functionality. Being able to do a one-leg-one-arm cable pull on a  machine really isn’t going to help the tactical officer, nor the NFL football player nor the home-owner who is loading furniture into a truck.

Their movements are already far beyond that, unless they are fixing a muscular imbalance or injury.

Lifting a barbell or doing push-ups gives us a base of strength, which is needed in these instances. However, many exercises allow you to grab a nice handle or press against a flat surface which doesn’t move. These are great for building brute strength, a foundation for many things.

But think about how much movement is being accomplished in the above realities of life. DO we really think waving around a 10 pound kettlebell while we balance on a physio-ball is making us more “functional”?

However, I guarantee if a person lifts an inner-tube sandbag, these other activities will be even easier. The greater the carryover or transferal of skill and strength from training with a particular implement to actual life instances, the greater is it’s score on a functionality graph.

Standing on a Bosu-ball while trying to do a one legged windmill is not functional training.

For me, functional training helps me “function” more optimally in a variety of situations.

Using things like slosh-pipes and sandbags without handles teaches us to LEVERAGE more of our strength into an activity. It reinforces the truth that the body is one piece and needs to work together.

So there is that new term I wanted to introduce to your thinking. How you train has an impact on how much you can LEVERAGE your strength into other areas of life. I’m sure nearly all of us have seen a man or woman who looked like they were very strong but lost to a weaker looking man or woman in a competition of some sort.

There can be several reasons for that. But one that I have noticed over the years is that some people do not know how to leverage their strength into what they are doing. They might look strong and have pretty good bench, squat and dead-lift numbers, but when it comes to pushing a car or making a tackle playing football, they just are not performing as well as they should. They haven’t taught their body how to take its strength and dig in, so-to-speak, and USE that strength.

So, for now, think about how well you leverage your strength. We’ll talk more in another post.

Train hard train smart!

Walter J. Dorey

Sandbag Training- Why? Part III

Ok, let’s jump back into this sandbag training.

This is part of what many don’t understand with sandbags:

It’s not so much about the weight lifted as it is about the amount of muscular effort you must exert to CONTROL the bag.

Handles on a duffel remove much of the effort it takes to lift a SB (sandbag). Now I know, some are gonna scream about this. Scream all you want, you’re probably selling an expensive duffle “sandbag” with handles all over it. But I have to ask:

“Why the handles and straps on the sandbag?”

The answer:

“So you can grab the strap/handle and lift it.”

So now I ask:

“Why not just grab the thing anyway you can and lift it without using the grab handles?”

And the answer to that question:

“Ahhh, well” the sandbag duffle salesman says, “because it’s harder to lift it without the handles?” he sort of sheepishly asks/answers.

Give the man a cigar!

Yup! A sandbag without handles and straps to grab onto and lift IS harder to lift.

Let’s stop and think for a minute:

Which is harder to lift, weight being equal between the two implements (gotta insert this “weight being equal” thing  or someone will say “a 5,000 pound barbell is harder to lift than a 50 pound sandbag”, yea I got your number and  you know who you are) :

So, which is harder to lift, a regular barbell or a log of 12” diameter and enough length to weigh the same as the barbell, (whatever the weight you load the barbell too)?

Which is harder to lift, a regular dumbbell or the Thomas Inch dumbbell?

Which is harder to lift, a kettlebell that weighs 108 pounds or a round blob of concrete that weighs the same?

Which is harder to lift, a sand filled beer-keg of the old (no handles) style or a barbell loaded to the same weight?

Well, unless we are trying to be a smart-you-know-what, we are going to admit that a log or concrete sphere or a very thick handled dumbbell is way harder to lift than a barbell or regular dumbbell. Why? Cause we have to fight to find a purchase on the object with our hands. We can’t just wrap our fingers around a nice sized handle and lift it.

When you lift these objects verses a barbell, you have to put more effort into finding a purchase for your hands and it also takes more effort to CONTROL the object as you lift it. Plus, it’s really tough to lift with picture perfect posture. We’ll get into that more later.

It is the same with a sandbag constructed out of an inner-tube compared to a duffle-sandbag with handles on it.

SO, drop the “lifting a duffle sandbag with handles is as hard as lifting a free-flowing sand-filled inner-tube with no handles” bit.  If you believe that, make two sandbags, one of each style. Train with both and get back to me. If you are honest, you will agree with me on this one.

I think part of the problem also lies in the fact that some may not really appreciate the “intent” of why a person lifts a sandbag. Certainly part of it is training with a weight to get stronger. But that is not the entire picture. The best way to get brutally strong in pure strength is to lift barbells.

I would be out-and-out-right surprised if anyone is training with a sandbag that weighs 1.5 to 3 times their body-weight. And yet many, with some time and effort can lift a barbell that weighs that many times their BW. Yet, I have never, ever seen one person lift a sandbag that weighs even 2 times their BW, let alone 3 times their BW.

So, again, why lift a sandbag without handles?

Here’s part of the story:

We lift a sandbag not just to lift a “different” kind of weight. We lift a sandbag not merely to get strong in the traditional sense of the word as most people use it, as when talking about gym strength.

We lift a sandbag to imitate a sort of “it’s alive” type experience.”

Wrestling around lifting an inner-tube sandbag (ITSB) will pound your hands and forearms and grip. You will feel it the next day if you train with a good sized bag. IF the sandbag has handles, you won’t get the same grip, entire arm type training. Wrestling to lift an ITSB really forces you to get, not only stronger, but tougher too. The entire body impact of ITSB training must be experienced to be appreciated.

It’s hard work wrestling around a sandbag. Trust me if you have never done it. If YOU think YOU are a pretty tough and strong guy and brag about doing a deadlift with 3-4 wheels (or more) on each side of the bar (315-405 pound dead-lift), I challenge you to train with a sandbag that weighs a mere third of that barbell weight you are deadlifting. So, that means if you dead-lift 315 or 405, get a 105 or 135 pound  ITSB. Start doing some training with it.  I guarantee it will kick your butt!

Yes, I know a heavy deadlift is tough for a single or a double rep at or near your max weight. I’m not saying it isn’t tough.

What I am saying is that ITSB training is WAY tougher than some realize, and adding handles to a sandbag merely makes such training easier. It takes away part of the reason a person trains with a sandbag.

Sandbag training is TOUGH and it can make you not only strong but strong and tough all over.

Again, with a sandbag, it’s not so much about the weight being lifted (though it does have to be heavy enough to challenge you) as it is about how much control you can exert over the bag.

It’s a functional thing. Whoa! There’s that word: functional. We’re going to dig into sandbag training and functionality in our next post. There is a lot of problems with how most view functional training. And I’m going to introduce you to another term.

See ya soon!