In the fight world, the term “sandbagging” can be a dishonorable accusation. Individuals who enter beginner tournaments when they really have years of experience are said to be “sandbagging.” They’re trying to cheat the system. Using sandbags in your strength training, however, is a fair and noble practice that that can give a legit edge to any level fighter.
“The constantly shifting weight of a sandbag is perfectly designed to add instability to an [MMA-specific] strength training program,” says sandbag expert and MMA coach Matt Palfrey. “Most loads, in real life, are not equally weighted. Training with the sandbag prepares the body to deal with an unstable load.”
Indeed, the movement of the sandbag can be unpredictable and uncooperative – just like your opponent in an MMA match. That’s why sandbag training will leave you better prepared when it comes time to fight.
While nothing can replace an actual human sparring partner, the shape, size and movement of a sandbag is much more akin to that of a human body as compared to standard barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. Tossing around a sandbag can be a great simulation for manipulating the bodyweight of your opponent. You can also practice your ground and pound on a sandbag to get your arms conditioned to throwing punches and elbows from the mount or side mount positions.
Dollars and Sands
Another great benefit of sandbag training is that sand is inexpensive and readily available to most people. Traditional freeweights or kettlebells can cost hundreds of dollars, while the price of sand is mere pennies per pound. Though professional quality sandbags can add to your costs, a homemade sandbag forged from an old backpack or duffle-bag can be quite effective. Be creative and use whatever you have at your disposal.
There are sandbag specific exercises you can add into your program, or you may simply make substitutions within your existing strength training regimen. A workout that contains a little of both can also be highly effective.
Two of my favorite sandbag drills for MMA are the fireman’s carry and the sandbag shift. The fireman’s carry involves walking or running with the sandbag slung over one or both shoulders, while the sandbag shift is performed by moving the bag back and forth between two platforms on opposite sides of the lifter.
On the other hand, you can also just take basic exercises like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses and perform them with a sandbag instead of a traditional weights. Don’t be surprised if your poundage drops, however, this a testament to the challenge of the sandbag.
MMA Sandbag Circuit Workout
*Use a bag with 30-70% of your bodyweight depending on your strength level
Fireman’s Carry – 50 meters
Sandbag Switch – 30 seconds steady pace
Sandbag Front Squat – 10 reps
Sandbag Push-Press – 10 reps
Sandbag Deadlift – 10 reps
Sandbag Ground and Pound – 30 seconds