Walk into your average gym, and you’ll see dozens of different tools at your disposal. You’ve got cardio and weight machines available in seemingly every variety imaginable. Then you’ve got tried-and-true free weights, like barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. Common auxiliary equipment includes things like medicine balls, gliders, resistance bands and battle ropes. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, because still you’ve got more in your arsenal, including sandbags.
That last one in particular has seen a recent surge in interest over the past couple years, as coaches, trainers and fitness enthusiasts have realized sandbags’ potential as a total-body tool that builds real-world strength.
To learn more, we spoke with Da Rulk, (but you can call him Rulk), a man who’s trained everyone from Marvel superheroes to elite first responders. He’s the creator of the Raw Functional Training (RFT) curriculum, which focuses on bodyweight movements to improve mobility and increase functional strength. He’s also a big fan of sandbags. Here’s why:
You don’t technically need any equipment to get in a great workout. But if you’re going to add just one piece to your home gym, the sandbag is a solid choice.
“Sandbags can be used for a myriad of exercises, and can be used in place of dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells and medicine balls, to name a few,” says Rulk. “It’s a piece of equipment that you can use for a full-body workout.”
It’s easy to see why portability matters when it comes to equipment. You don’t want to be lugging a squat rack around town, and carting a slew of different size weights into the park is no picnic. But one sandbag can go just about anywhere you go. That’s important to Rulk, who regularly supplements gym workouts with outdoor training, both for himself and his clients. “Sandbags can easily be utilized for indoor and outdoor exercise environments,” he says.
“Sandbags are great tools for super sets that require quick transitions in muscle groups or movement variances, such as a push/pull circuit,” says Rulk. He also notes that they allow you to transition between lower- and upper-body movement sequences without missing a beat. You don’t even have to set the bag down — just hold on and keep moving.
The foundation of a strong body is a strong core. While you might carve out some nice-looking abs with situps and planks (and smart eating), don’t sleep on your trusty bag of sand.
“Sandbags can be used for both linear and rotational core work for dynamic strength and muscular endurance,” says Rulk. That means you can utilize sandbags to hit every inch of your core, from abs to obliques, in multiple planes of motion.
Rulk spends a lot of time working with first responders, including firefighters and police officers. A primary focus is to equip these men and women for the situations they will face on the job — something that’s hard to simulate in a sterile gym environment. That’s why he’ll often turn to sandbags, which better replicate real-world weight, which isn’t always symmetrical. For instance, he might have firefighters perform single-arm drag work or carry a sandbag on one shoulder while holding fire equipment in the other.
“It’s one of my favorite pieces of equipment for my first responders when doing farmer carries, lunges and shoulder carries,” says Rulk.