Monday, March 24, 2008

Sandbag Training: Taking it to the Next Level

After reading Brooks Kubik's Dinosaur Training, I was inspired to explore sandbag training. I've long been fond of incorporating sandbag drills into my training since lifting sandbags requires a high level of stabilization and effort compared to most barbell and dumbbell exercises. A 100 lb. sandbag is much more difficult to lift than a 100 lb. barbell. The unwieldy nature of the sandbag creates much more tension in the involved musculature in order to control the bag.

Recently, I've been having fun with a whole new type of sandbag: the Bulgarian training bag. It's a sophisticated sandbag that allows many movements a regular sandbag doesn't. It's a crescent shape, draping nicely over the shoulders. It has handles on the end for gripping and two additional knob handles for pinch grip-style training. The bags come in three sizes. I use the large bag, which weighs in at 37 lbs. It doesn't sound like much but because of the bag's design, 37 lbs. can kick your butt!

I mostly train outdoors. I love the fresh air and sunshine. The Bulgarian training bag is perfect for outdoor training. The stitched leather is really tough and can take a beating. The other day, I pulled the bag out of its storage container in my van. I was at a quaint little park, the sun was out, and I picked a nice spot under some redwood trees. After some joint mobility movements to loosen up a little, I did some Bulgarian bag training.

Holding the handles, I whirled it around my body in a circular motion--in fact, the exercise is called "Around the Worlds". I performed 10 in each direction. At the end of the set, I flung the bag over my shoulders and did 20 butt-to-heels squats. upon standing up with the last squat rep I did 10 Good Morning stretches with the bag across my neck. I contracted my neck hard against the bag, stimulating the neck extensors.

The "'Around the Worlds" are grueling; the trick is to push and pull with the arms and not permit the bag to touch the body. The hands, wrists and forearms work really hard to keep hold of the handles while gaining significant centrifugal force. The bag pulls you off your base; you have to really concentrate on stabilizing yourself, preventing the forces moving you off your feet. You must totally root yourself, just like combat.

The bag is ideal training for many sports, but especially good for combat-oriented sports. Try doing the following routine non-stop for five rounds:

1) 10 Around-the-Worlds each way

2) 20 Squats

3) 10 Good Morning bends while squeezing the bag with the neck
Utter brutality yet awesome! It's amazing how Around-the-Worlds rob you of your breath.

Finish off the workout with five sets of push-ups with the bag on your back, then Bear Crawl for three minutes, non-stop, with the bag balanced across the neck and shoulders. (You have to go slow and deliberate so it doesn't fall off.)

That little 37 lb. bag is a killer.


mark blakemore said...

i love sandbags. i use ironmind and my old military seabag. tough to beat plain hard work.

where do you find the bulgarian bag?

it's really nice having you up and running steve.

Steve Maxwell said...

Thanks, Mark!

I'd like to get some more and bigger bags to work with but I can only carry so much equipment in my RV...

I got the Bulgarian bag from my friend John Wood at:

They come from Bulgaria via Ivan Ivanov.

Steve Reishus said...


Good stuff! Is ther an email I can contact you at? I'm a rookie powerlifter, but now I just started training BJJ and I'd love to bounce some questions off you in regards to how you train for competition. I'm a big believer in a base of maximal strength, but I know I need to alter my training now to tackle alot of anaerobic work and adjust overall training volume to avoid overtraining. I've read some of your articles on the subject of training for grappling and I love your approach. If you've got the time, I would greatly appreciate it. You can shoot me an email at if you'd like. Love the blog!

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Steve,

You can contact me either from the website or


Anonymous said...

That was nice!

Steve - talk us thru your diet, supplementation and detox routines please

Can't wait

Best Regards

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Rafal, the blog is ready, waiting for the links to get set up. Be cool.

Anonymous said...

My son and I are Ivanov fans and use his dummies and bags alot in practice.

Here's his current end of practice conditioning drill. Its called Jim Gruenwald's 1000 Rep Work Out

4 sets of 10 exercises with reps in order 10, 40, 30, and 20. The first set of 10 exercises done 10 times each as a warm up. After each set is done I normally take a 1-3 min break to get water. There is no stopping until the 10th exercise of each set is done.

The 10 exercises are:
1) Spins (reps are split to half each direction)
2) Snap downs
3) Good mornings (bag on shoulders)
4) Body Twist (bag on shoulders)
5) Squat jumps (bag on shoulders)
6) Military Press (long handles) (Can substitute push press with
short handles)
7) Hammer Curl (Can substitute regular curls)
8) High Pulls
9) Sit ups
10) Push ups

Do set of 10 reps for all 10 exercises, 1 min break, do set of 40 reps for all 10 exercises, 2-3 min break, set of 30 reps for all 10 exercises, 1-2 min break, set of 20 reps for all 10 exercises.

My son and a few of his buddies will be at the kiddie NJ State tourney this weekend.