Never Conform: Sandbag Training Fundamentals


Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Matthew Palfrey.

Hey guys! I am excited to share an awesome guest post with you today from Matt Palfrey. As you may have noticed, I don’t normally have too many guest posts, but I actually asked Matt if he would be willing to write something for End of Three Fitness. Why? Because Matt is practicing fitness nonconformity at its finest!! Low on cash? Want a great workout program? Why not sandbags? So cool! Well, I don’t want to spoil any of the article.

Alright Matt take it away!

The first thing to say about the fundamental elements of sandbag training is that fundamentals are just that – key components that form the basis of a system or program. And, in that sense, sandbag training fundamentals really don’t differ that much to those found in other training systems and I think this is an important rule of thumb for most fitness training. Yes, there are some specific benefits and techniques required, but whatever health and fitness program you follow it should follow a couple of key basics:

  • It should be intelligently-progressive

I believe that programs are most effective when there is scope for progression outside of pure numerical increases. Adding additionally weight to the exercises that you are completing is an excellent way to add progression but adding volume at the expense of intensity and quality often doesn’t work that effectively.

  • It should be based around compound movements

Humans are compound movement creatures – walking, climbing, lifting and throwing all require the coordination of multiple muscles and joints. Shouldn’t your fitness program do the same? The sandbag almost forces you into compound movement as itʼs pretty difficult to lift without recruiting multiple muscles and joints – this is no bad thing.

What Makes Sandbag Training Effective?


I’ve been training with sandbags for around 4 years now – a decision that was initially based on the fact that I didn’t have enough money or time to get to a commercial gym facility. But having worked with them, I can now really appreciate the range of other benefits that they can bring to an existing training program too.

1.)  Sandbags have a constantly-shifting center of mass, making them particularly challenging to lift. They are also typically fairly odd-shaped, providing another level of challenge. While this means that individuals often to struggle to lift as much weight in a sandbag as on a barbell, it can have a greater transference into daily activities where you might be required to lift something cumbersome.

2.)  The sandbag will mold itself to your body, making it a great choice for load carries, squats and weighted lunges. Cumbersome items like barbells and dumbbells don’t often work well in these situations. Because of this unique shape, sandbags are often a training tool of choice for wrestlers, martial artists and MMA athletes

3.)  The sandbag lends itself well to a number of unique exercises that are difficult to replicate with other traditional free weights. Shouldering (lifting the sandbag from the ground up to your shoulder in one movement) and bear hug squats and load carries are excellent examples of this.

4.)  Almost everyone can get access to some form of sandbag. I started with a 55lb bag of builder’s sand that cost me $3. You do not need to invest huge sums of money to start sandbag training and your results do not need to be limited by your budget. Iʼm passionate about the fact that everyone deserves the right to be able to improve their health and fitness.

What To Do With Your Sandbag


A training tool is only ever going to be as good as the programming that goes with it, and that’s true of everything not just sandbags. When I coach people to use sandbags, and indeed in my own training, there is an emphasis on key exercises like:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Presses
  • Pulls
  • Cleans
  • Carries and drags
  • Throws, and
  • Lunges

People are often amazed at the way that the sandbag can transform an existing workout like a strength session or a CrossFit WOD. This is actually a great entry into sandbag training for most people – just use it to replace your regular free weight.

Where it gets really interesting though is when you start to use the sandbag for some of its more unique properties. Because of the constantly-shifting center of mass, it is exercises where you are required to lift and stabilize the bag overhead that are most challenging. One of my favorite workouts with the sandbag is 20 Ground-to-Overhead (perform exactly as it says) with a heavy sandbag. It looks simple but can be a real challenge at heavy loads and is an amazing test of grip, brute strength and sheer determination.

The sandbag can also be used in accessory work alongside a regular barbell strength program. This works particularly well in deload weeks or as an accessory lift after the main exercise. Itʼs amazing how easy it is to overhead press a barbell when compared, weight for weight, against a sandbag. In this sense, sandbag work can also be used to aid progress in other exercises.

I hope that has given you some food for thought and youʼve been inspired to get out there and try sandbag training for yourself. Feel free to put any questions or feedback into the comments below.

Train hard!


Matthew Palfrey is the founder of the Sandbag Fitness Blog, co-founder of Brute Force Europe and author of The Complete Guide To Sandbag Training and Sandbag Training For MMA & Combat Sports. He also writes for sportEX Dynamics Journal, My Mad Methods magazine and a range of other online and print publications. For more information about sandbag training check out: