Sandbag Fitness started in the summer of 2009 and was really just a way of me documenting the fitness training that I was doing. We now have a loyal following of a few thousand people who are using sandbag training to get fit and strong. Far from being a "poor man's option", sandbag training is now beginning to be recognised as not only a great alternative to traditional weight training, but also an important part of training for serious athletes. And, in early 2012, I released my first book on the subject
I had returned from a year of travel with little money (and less time) and I needed to get fit. Rather than face the exorbitant costs of joining a gym or purchasing a lot of expensive home gym equipment, I happened upon the idea if using sand. On a trip to a local hardware store I found 25kg bags of sand for $3/£2 each.
I went ahead and came home with a total of 100kgs of sand for $12/£8.
Over the next week I began experimenting with some different exercises and ways to use the sandbags. I also started posting my workouts on the blog and made a few videos to show people how to perform the exercises that I was doing. Like most blogs, traffic was slow at first.
Here's me with my original sandbag, a 25kg bag of sand covered in tape:
The workouts that I began to develop were a combination of sprinting, bodyweight conditioning and sandbag exercises. They were really not that different to what many others were already doing; the main difference being that I was substituting sand for the traditional barbell or dumbbell option.
I had done lots of barbell and dumbbell lifting in the past but sandbags were relatively new to me. When I first started training with them they kicked my ass. I was barely lifting 50% of what I could normally manage. But I persevered and began making progress.
I later progressed onto using a larger bag and putting 25kg bags of sand directly in it. This was a total of 75kg:
After those initial 3 months of sandbag training I went back into the gym for a heavy lifting session, curious to see what my performance would be like. I was shocked to see that I had actually improved in all of my barbell lifts, despite not touching a bar for close to a year. It sounds crazy but it happened.
My deadlift, squat, and overhead press were all up by around 15%.
The other thing I noticed was that I got really good at being able to handle the sandbag. To overhead press a sandbag you have no option but to clean it into position, and the same goes for a back squat. This practice is something that often sets sandbag lifters apart from others. We get good at being able to move this odd-object around and that strength has a great carryover into sports and other real-life movements.
After a few months of training with my homemade sandbags I was contacted by the guys at Brute Force Sandbags in the US. They sent me one of their Strongman Sandbags and I've been training with it ever since. Plus, the handles also opened up a whole new range of exercises - including snatches, high pulls, rows, windmills and deadlifts.
My original Brute Force Strongman Sandbag:
And me making use of a sunny day (one of the few) with a 90kg Brute Force Heavy Hitter:
Sandbag Fitness continues (and continues to grow) because:
1. Sandbag training is awesome and it produces great results.
2. It's affordable.
3. Most gyms are awful, awful places to train.
Nothing has really changed since those early days, I'm still training (and improving) in the garage in all weather. It's tough during the winter but nothing stops me from training and I actually enjoy the challenge that training in the garage brings.
Plus I get to play my own music, wear awful t-shirts and never have to wait for someone to finish using a bit of equipment...