American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

Sandbells® by Hyperwear, which ACE reviewed when they were introduced in 2010, are changing the way personal trainers design exercise programs. We recently caught up with Master Trainer John Sinclair, who put ACE-certified Personal Trainer Pete McCall through a workout and talked about the benefits of this unique piece of equipment. Here’s what John had to say about how Sandbells can be used to create fun, challenging and engaging workout programs for clients.

ACE: What are the benefits of using Sandbells compared to medicine balls or dumbbells? 


  • Variety—Sandbells offer unlimited variations of movements, similar to those that can be created with dumbbells, but with a variety of options for holding and gripping. This allows for multiple changes in force application through the fascial lines in the upper body and arms.
  • Safety and comfort—The comfort provided by the multiple-grip options and the safety of a sand-filled implement (it’s not going to smash a client’s foot like a steel weight) can enhance adherence to exercise in clients who could be intimidated by the size, weight and grip challenges of traditional free weights. 
  • Medicine balls, by definition, come in one shape—round, which means there are limited options for how to hold it in your hands. The same is true for dumbbells—there is only one primary position for the hand to grip the weight. The hands are connected directly to the brain via the nervous system. They provide a tremendous amount of proprioceptive information about where we are in time and space. Moving through multiple planes of motion, with many different directions and grip techniques, engages the brain to develop new neural pathways for efficient movement.
  • They don’t require much space for storage, making them an excellent option for small studios or trainers who travel to their clients’ homes. Multiple Sandbells can easily be used together to create heavier loads that can provide an effective overload, eliminating the need to buy multiple sets of dumbbells.

ACE: What are the benefits of using an unstable and shifting mass like sand? 

John: The more the sand shifts in the bag the more the body and brain are engaged to learn how the mass is shifting and where the center of the mass is located. The shifting center of mass creates a different response because as the load shifts it creates different stimulus on the muscle and connective tissue. Humans are hard-wired for movement variability and need constant changes in how the muscle tissue is loaded, which can actually help create optimal health. Finally, exercising using different loads with a variety of different velocities, moving in a number of different directions or vectors, helps to create resilient tissues that can withstand the demands of life and the biological aging process.

ACE: How do you incorporate Sandbells into your clients’ exercise programs? 

John: First, it is important to connect a progressive exercise tool that might be unfamiliar or unknown to a client with an exercise movement that the client might be familiar and comfortable with. I start by replacing a common barbell, dumbbell, ketllebell or medicine ball exercise with the Sandbell. Then I get creative by challenging clients to use one arm or employ different grips by carrying the Sandbell in different ways or anything that might occur to me that will be a safe challenge for the client. After all, it is just mass, but once you start playing with it you can create some really cool movements that clients enjoy.

ACE: In our workout you talked about creating games or challenges. How do games engage the client and what are some benefits to this progressive type of programming? 

John: Games are crucial to incorporate into your training toolbox. Remember, the first part of “workout” is “work” and not all clients enjoy exercise. Making exercise fun by using play and games creates a different experience for each client. When I first work with a client, I like to dig deep and find what makes him or her get excited about exercise. Is it a challenge? Is it structure? Is it adventure? Is it routine? Do they like random, crazy chaotic games, or specific rules and predictable outcomes? By creating games and play that are meaningful to the client we can engage the client in the most primal and real activity for any mammal, which is play! This programming can still be traditional in nature or can be crazy and chaotic. For the client who prefers traditional exercises, I like to create challenges with the Sandbells like strongman games. For example: How many Sandbells can be lifted from the ground to overhead in one try. For the client who enjoys creative or progressive programming, the Sandbells can be placed in the shape of a man lying on the ground and the client can respond to my cues about which area of the “body” he or she should pound with their fists!

ACE: What are the available sizes and weights of Sandbells? 

John: Sandbells come in the following sizes: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40 and 50 pounds.

ACE: What workout did you use in the video? Can you provide us with a list of the exercises?

John: We started with a warm-up, doing multiplanar tosses and squats. I then challenged him with a stacking lift. He had to add a new Sandbell each time he did another rep of a lift to press.  Slurpees—a combination of an overhead slam to a burpee—were next and provided an energy-system challenge. The Turkish get-up is a fun and challenging exercise, especially when trying to balance an unstable sand-filled bag in your hand while standing up. Finally we played a couple of reactive games to engage the brain and have a little bit of fun.

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