Sandbags are a terrific training tool…until they aren’t.

They are relatively compact. They can take the abuse of being thrown, dropped, dragged, pulled and pushed. The resistance is dynamic but within reasonable limits to allow an optimal mix of uncertainty and certainty in how the weight will behave.

Traditional sandbags, however, suffer from numerous problems: They will sometimes leak and create a mess, the sand will often get in the teeth of the zipper on the bag and ruin it, the weight inside is massively inconvenient to adjust, and how much you are adjusting it is extremely difficult to measure.

As a result, after an initial wave of popularity that began a little over a decade ago, this training tool has slid into the background and is used consistently by only the limited number of people who can get past the problems identified above.

The fastidious small studio owner or typical home workout enthusiast will find the problems of sandbag training to be unacceptable. (As did I, until I discovered the sandbags used in this workout.)

The Hyperwear SandBell Sandbag System solves all the problems identified above while offering additional training options, thanks to the individual SandBell weights contained in the heavy-duty handled weight bag.

The Equipment

The Sandbell Sandbag System from Hyperwear uses individual Sandbells—round, flat, pre-filled sandbags—placed in a larger sandbag (similar to a duffle bag with handles) to replace the loose sand in a traditional sandbag. This creates a more elegant, more versatile sandbag that is currently available in three weight options (40-pound, 80-pound, and 160-pound) with a 25-pound option coming soon. With each sandbag weight, you can choose from two options for how you would like the weight distributed. For example, for the 40-pound bag, you can select either four of the 10-pound SandBells or one SandBell each weighing 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 pounds. I chose the second option to provide more possibilities in using the individual SandBells—a highly appealing feature of the equipment and a key part of the workout below.

What Sandbags Can Do for You

Research suggests that using a sandbag can result in more activity in the grip muscles (specifically, the extensor carpi ulnaris, flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor carpi radialis and opponens pollicis muscles) when compared to an equally weighted barbell. This type of resistance also presents unique challenges due to the sandbags’ odd shapes and unbalanced nature. Sandbags are unstable enough to heighten engagement and focus, while also stable enough to prevent stability from becoming the more dominant focus of the movement. (There is nothing inherently wrong about that. However, the greater the stability challenge, the lower the strength challenge can be.)

One of the exercises in the following workout—the “Kid Lifter”—is designed to illustrate this optimized amount of instability while highlighting a key benefit of resistance training—specifically, that it helps you show up physically to have cherished experiences with the people who are important to you.

Research also confirms the high-intensity potential of a sandbag workout like the one presented here. One study compared time-matched treadmill workouts at 60% and 80% of VO2 reserve to a 16-exercise sandbag workout using 20:10 timing. The researchers concluded that the sandbag workout yielded significantly higher blood lactate levels after the workout, which is a key indicator of a high-intensity interval experience. As is also typical of this type of training, the energy expenditure during the workout was lower for sandbags compared to the treadmill workouts, but it was higher after the workout.

Even More Benefits of Resistance Training

As recently as a couple of decades ago, resistance training was seen as appropriate only for bodybuilders, athletes and young males—not the general public. Fortunately, that perception has changed and most adults are now aware of the benefits of, and necessity for, resistance training. Not only has it been shown to improve muscular fitness and bone density, but resistance training has also been linked to improved brain health, longevity and even sleep. Today, we have more reasons than ever to involve all populations in this training modality and more useful and convenient tools to help them do so. For example:

  • Progressive resistance training led to improvements in 100 people with mild cognitive impairment and neuroprotective benefits to parts of the hippocampus that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Weight training one to two times per week improved memory, enhanced selective attention, and improved conflict resolution in a group of women aged 65 to 75 years.
  • Women between the age of 60 and 70 years participated in a 12-exercise resistance program three times per week for 12 weeks and showed a 19% improvement in cognitive capacity.
  • Resistance training increased a key longevity hormone (fibroblast growth factor 21, or FGF21) by 42%, while aerobic training boosted it 25%.
  • People who performed a combination of aerobic and resistance training fell asleep faster, slept longer and woke up less often at night compared to people who did aerobic training only and the sedentary control group. Sleep efficiency was improved only in the resistance training group.

Workout Overview

This workout uses 160-pound and 40-pound bags. In the table below, exercises using the 160-pound bag are noted with “(160);” all others use the 40-pound bag. If you lower the weights in any one bag by removing one or more SandBells, it may be helpful to take up space inside the bag with a small blanket, towel, yoga block or other bulky, lightweight object. This allows the movement to be performed without undue shifting of the remaining SandBell weights inside the bag.

This workout features timed sets with 30:20 timing (work:recovery). The workout is arranged into rounds of supersets (two movements) or giant sets (three movements). Have clients perform the movements listed in each row for two or three rounds as indicated before moving on to the next row. (Note: Performing all the exercises in a row of the chart below is considered one round.) Where appropriate, recommended individual SandBell weight choices are provided in the following format: (rec. 4-6 lb). The 20-second recovery period is adequate time to open the sandbag and retrieve or replace a SandBell weight when needed.

Following the ACE Integrated Fitness Training (ACE IFT®) Model, this workout uses the five primary movement patterns within the Load/Speed Training phase of the Muscular Training component of the model. This routine also provides an aerobic challenge in the Cardiorespiratory Training component of the model. The exercise intensity alternates regularly between the Performance and Fitness Training phases of the model and the timing and nature of the movements qualify as high-intensity interval training, with many of the movements featuring significant full-body challenges with minimal recovery.


Super/ Giant Set

Movement 1

Movement 2

Movement 3

# of Sets



Shoulder Press With Rotational Step (the “Kid Lifter”)

Plank Pass

(rec. 4-6 lb)





Deadlift (160)






Sumo Deadlift (160)

Rapid Rotations

(rec. 6-8 lb)



For rapid rotations, perform side-to-side for set 1 and diagonally for set 2, switching every 10 reps


Bag Flip (160)

Wide Squat Jump

Crunch Pass

(rec. 4-6 lb)





Single-arm Swing Shuffle

(rec. 10-12 lb)



Lunge can be step-back, front, side, diagonal


Angled Thruster

Plank With Rotation Drop

(rec. 6-10 lb)

Single-arm Row (160)



Half-time (15 seconds) each arm on Single-arm Row



Rotational Deadlift

Hinged Shoulder Extension

(rec. 10-12 lb)




The Exercises

Shoulder Press With Rotational Step (the “Kid Lifter”): This movement reinforces the connection between lifting and real-life movements; specifically, how lifting helps us enjoy life more. The movement starts with a small range-of-motion swing, flowing directly into the overhead press with rotation step. The purpose is to simulate the act of holding a child and lifting them up overhead, which is a playful and universal bonding experience, but only if you are strong enough to do it.

Plank Pass: Position the feet wider than you would for a normal plank. This single-arm plank generates a significant stability challenge to the upper body, so there needs to be more stability in the lower body to allow for proper performance and to prevent hip flexion or rotation.

Deadswing: This exercise features a swing movement performed with a motionless weight as in a deadlift. You might also consider including a single-arm variation if appropriate or desired.

Rapid Rotations: For these smaller, faster amplitude motions, be sure to prioritize core control and stability due to the need to rapidly stop and start the movement.

Bag Flip: This exercise follows the same principle as a tire flip exercise, but it is more accessible in that you can adjust the weight and use the handles for a firm grip.

Wide Squat Jump: If your client needs to limit or eliminate impact, the jump portion of this movement can be excluded. However, cue your client to move at the “speed of jumping” to create the same training stimulus.

Crunch Pass: Cue the client to limit the depth of lowering the weight (especially when on the legs) to the point at which they can still maintain a neutral low-back curve. The low-back arch should not change during the movement and should not be pressed flat against the floor. The goal is to build stability around a neutral spine, while moving the extremities with load.

Lunge: Regardless of which lunge direction you choose—step back (as shown in the video), side, front or diagonal—be sure to change the carry position of the weight with each repetition.

Single-arm Swing Shuffle: The objective of this exercise is to move the weight in a consistent arc through space with no lateral motion. The weight moves front-to-back, up-and-down only, while the body moves side-to-side to alternate arms.

Angled Thruster: This movement features a combination of a horizontal and a vertical pushing motion.

Plank Rotation Drop: Position the feet wider than you would for a normal plank. This single-arm plank generates a significant stability challenge to the upper body, so there needs to be more stability in the lower body to allow for proper performance.

Rotational Deadlift: This exercise features three options:

  1. Symmetrical start: As you rise from the bottom of the deadlift, rotate to one side. Return to the starting position.
  2. Asymmetrical start: Place the bag outside one foot to create a rotated starting position. Rise up from the bottom while returning to center. Lower the weight while rotating to the other side.
  3. Asymmetrical unidirectional: Place the bag outside one foot to create a rotated starting position. Rise up from the bottom while rotating to finish fully rotated to the other direction at the top of the motion. Return to the starting position. (Note: This option requires one set to be performed on each side.)

Hinged Shoulder Extension: Use the back of the leg to aid in stopping the weight and to prevent a momentum swing past vertical. This will keep the tension on the back of the shoulder and upper-back muscles, which are the target of this exercise.