If you’re bored with dumbbells, been there done that with medicine balls — and resistance bands are a huge yawn, consider going the way of Halle Berry and working out with a Bulgarian bag.
Although this fitness tool gained attention when the actress posted a photo of her using one in March, the Bulgarian bag was created with wrestlers in mind. Even if you have zero intention of wrestling, don’t panic, anyone can benefit from training with a bag.
WHAT IS A BULGARIAN BAG?
A Bulgarian bag is a weighted exercise training tool that’s somewhat like a sandbag or medicine ball, explains ACE-certified personal trainer Chris Gagliardi, resource center manager for the American Council on Exercise. The shape is what makes it unique: It’s like a U or cresent with several handles plus two straps. It can be made of leather, vinyl or canvas and comes in weights from 6–84 pounds.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF TRAINING WITH A BULGARIAN BAG?
According to small studies, training with a Bulgarian bag may help increase muscular endurance and explosive strength, strengthen core muscles and improve coordination and mobility and develop sport-specific strength and power.
“You get a lot of bang for your buck,” says Ryan Swift, personal trainer and health coach at Studiomix in San Francisco. Because on top of all of this, using the bag improves grip strength, (which helps whether you are a rock climber or simply carry heavy bags of groceries), can provide an intense cardio workout, trains your body in all three planes of motion and works your proprioception so you move better all day long. Plus, it’s fun to use.
HOW DO YOU USE A BULGARIAN BAG?
As with any new piece of equipment, start off slow, because there’s a learning curve with the Bulgarian bag. Since you can grip it in so many different ways, you can use it for both single-joint exercises like biceps curls and shoulder presses as well as multi-joint movements like deadlifts and squats (drape the bag over your shoulders for squats).
There are also unique exercises you can do with a Bulgarian bag. Swift recommends taking a class to familiarize yourself with the bag and learn how best to train with it. Once you are comfortable, you can do entire workouts with just the Bulgarian bag, flowing from one exercise to the next (which gives you a 2-in-1 cardio and strength workout).
SHOULD YOU BUY A BULGARIAN BAG?
Although Bulgarian bags allow you to train your entire body with one piece of equipment, they’re not cheap, starting at more than $100. So it’s probably better to take some classes first. Then, if you really love the bag, maybe buy one for your home gym.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I TRAIN WITH A BULGARIAN BAG?
Swift uses a Bulgarian bag 2–3 times a week as a supplement to his other workouts. You could train with it more often, but be sure you give your body time to recover since Bulgarian bag workouts are typically total-body workouts. “Because of momentum, it makes your body move, so the entire time you use it, you have to resist the urge to let it move your body. You resist that from your ankles, up to your core, up to your shoulders, training your entire body at one time,” Gagliardi says.
Listen to your body, be sure you’re training all of your muscles over the course of the week and have fun. “The Bulgarian bag is another fitness tool; it’s not the be-all end-all,” Swift says. “And since you’re not just doing boring dumbbell curls or squats, it’s a fun way to get a really good sweat on.”