An Introduction to Sandbag Training for Runners

Photo courtesy of Ultimate Sandbag

Learn how a bag of sand can improve your strength, explosive power and stability for faster running.

As functional fitness continues to grow in popularity, runners have more options when it comes to resistance training. Suspension training straps, bags of sand and kettlebells are becoming a common sight alongside traditional pieces of equipment seen at your local gym. Not only are these tools excellent for providing variety to your training program, they are effective at developing strength and explosive power, both key to an injury free and successful racing season.

Enter Sandbag Training

Sandbags have been used to build strength and joint stability in wrestlers, fighters and other athletes for quite some time. Essentially a bag of sand with strategically placed handles and grips (depending on what brand you have), sandbag lifting can provide a unique training stimulus compared to traditional barbell lifting. Not only are sandbags versatile, they are more dynamic as the contents inside the bag can shift thus forcing you to react and create joint stability with each repetition. Sandbag training can also build strength, explosive qualities and core stability.

On the following pages are two sandbag workouts you can add in to your running routine. Feel free to add the workouts to your easy running days or on the same day as your running workouts – just ensure to separate the workouts by 6-7 hours if you can.

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Workout 1: Sandbag Complex

This complex consists of 6 exercises that will be performed once a week. Perform 6-8 repetitions of each exercise in sequence. Take a 90-second rest and perform 2-3 sets.

RELATED: Dumbbell Complexes for Faster Running

A1) Sandbag Deadlift

Target Muscles: hamstrings, glutes

How to: Stand behind your sandbag and grip the parallel handles. Tuck your toes slightly under the sandbag and pull it closer to your shins; your knees should be slightly bent with your hips flexed, back and arms straight and chest out. Take the slack out of the bag. Stand with the weight and squeeze your butt at the top of the rep. Soften your knees and push your hips back to return the weight to the starting position.

Training Tip: Keep your back flat throughout the exercise—never pick up or lower the weight with a rounded lower back.

A2) Sandbag High Pull

Target Muscles: hamstrings, glutes, shoulders

How to: Stand behind your sandbag and grip the parallel handles. Tuck your toes slightly under the sandbag and pull it closer to your shins; your knees should be slightly bent with your hips flexed, back and arms straight and chest out. Take the slack out of the bag. Stand with the weight forcefully and pull the bag upward. Squeeze your butt at the top of the rep. The bag should accelerate upward and float in front of your chest. Let the bag fall to the starting position as you soften your knees and push your hips back – do not try to lower the sandbag slowly.

Training Tip: Keep your back flat throughout the exercise—never pick up or lower the weight with a rounded lower back. Also, your elbows should be brought to the side and stop at shoulder height at the top of each pull.

A3) Sandbag Power Clean

Target Muscles: hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, shoulders

How to: Stand behind your sandbag and grip the parallel handles. Tuck your toes slightly under the sandbag and pull it closer to your shins; your knees should be slightly bent with your hips flexed, back and arms straight and chest out. Take the slack out of the bag. Explosively extend your knees and hips to accelerate the sandbag upward. Pull upward and sweep your arms under the sandbag as to receive the bag in the crooks of your arms. Your knees and hips should be slightly flexed to help absorb the shock upon receiving the bag. Stand straight. Roll the bag out of your arms and continue lowering the bag to the starting position.

 Training Tip: Your back should not round during this exercise. Take the load off the spine by emphasizing your hips when accelerating the bag upward. As if you were going to jump as high as you could, focus on shooting your hips forward to accelerate the bag off the ground.

A4) Sandbag Front Loaded Squat

Target Muscles: hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, core

How to: With the sandbag in the front loaded position, step your feet to shoulder width apart. Push your hips back and bend your knees to squat down. Keep good posture and squat as low as you can while keeping your heels flat on the ground. Return to standing and repeat.

Training Tip: Keep your knees out and heels flat—letting knees cave in will result in undue knee stress.

A5) Sandbag Rotational Lunge

Target Muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals

How to: Slide your toes just under your sandbag while gripping the parallel handles and pull the bag closer to your shins. Bend your knees and hips while sticking out your butt and lifting your chest. Stand and lift the sandbag to knee height. Step your right leg behind you, lunge and rotate through your waist to bring the sandbag to the outside of your left knee. Maintain your balance as you return to standing. Repeat by stepping back with your left leg and rotating the bag to the outside of your right knee. Alternate sides until complete all repetitions.

Training Tip: It’s very easy to lose your balance during this exercise, so take it slow. Keep your torso upright and try to keep your balance.

A6) Sandbag Bent Over Row

Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, spinal errectors, abdominals

How to: Slide your toes just under your sandbag while gripping the parallel handles and pull the bag close to your shins. Bend your knees slightly, lean forward from your hips, brace your abs and remove the slack from the bag. Pull the sandbag up towards your stomach while squeezing the muscles in your upper back. Lower the sandbag to just above your toes, and repeat.

Training Tip: Be careful not to round your back and remember to squeeze your shoulders back and down – you should never shrug your shoulders while performing a row.

Workout 2: Sandbag Circuit

This circuit consists of three exercises that will be performed once a week. Perform 10-12 repetitions of the exercise A1, 60-second sets of exercise A2 and 30-second sets of exercise A3. Take minimal rest between exercises and 90-second rest between sets. Perform 3-4 sets.

RELATED: The Benefits of Circuit Training for Runners

A1) Sandbag Clean to High Box Step Up to Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Target Muscles: hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, core

How to: Stand behind your sandbag and grip the parallel handles. Tuck your toes slightly under the sandbag and pull it closer to your shins; your knees should be slightly bent with your hips flexed, back and arms straight and chest out. Take the slack out of the bag. Explosively extend your knees and hips to accelerate the sandbag upward. Pull upward and sweep your arms under the sandbag as to receive the bag in the crooks of your arms.

Step up onto an 18-24-inch box with your left leg. Bring your right knee toward your chest but do not round your back. Next, soften your left knee and start to bow forward. Reach back with your right leg and keep your back flat. Return to the starting position with your knee to chest, and then step down. Repeat the step up with the left leg and complete all reps before switching sides.

Training Tip: Go slow to maintain your balance while doing the single leg Romanian deadlift on the box—we don’t want any runners falling off the box!

A2) Lateral Bag Drag

Target Muscles: abdominals

How to: Go into the top of a pushup with your hands narrower compared to your feet. Lock your knees and hips, squeeze your butt and brace your abs. Keep a flat body position and lift your left hand. With a sandbag placed just below your right shoulder, drag it toward your left shoulder. Resist the urge to lift or rotate your torso. Place your left hand down and repeat with your right arm.

Training Tip: Dragging the bag slower will challenge your torso and core stabilizers more. Also, resist the urge to lift the bag when your move it from one shoulder to the other—keep the friction strong!

A3) Side Plank with Sandbag Pickup and Knee to Chest

Target Muscles: abdominals and hip stabilizers

How to: Lie on your side with your feet stacked upon each other. Lift your hips off the ground and form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Squeeze your butt and stick out your chest. Pick up the sandbag a couple inches off the ground and keep your body still. Return the bag to the ground then bring your top knee to your chest. Also, keep your body still. Alternate these movements until the time is up. Switch sides when finished.

Training Tip: Keep your chest out and back flat. Do not sag or lose good posture.

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Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CSCS, CEP is a runner, strength coach and Managing Director of JKConditioning in St. John’s, NL, Canada. Jon specializes in strength training endurance athletes and is currently in the middle of preparing a strength training resource for runners. Stay in touch by checking out www.JKConditioning.com and finding him on Twitter at @JEKawamoto.

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