Whenever I get interviewed one of the very first questions is “how did you start DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training?” It is a great question because honestly, I don’t know what most people believe was the start and how this impacts they way we look at “sandbag training” and the Ultimate Sandbag SO differently than almost anyone else.
I was very happy running my personal training facility for a few years when I was inspired to try to add some odd objects into my clients and my own training. Having read some old time strength training books, these lifters who didn’t have the science of today saw great value in using a host of different odd objects to build things like stability, core strength, and develop greater movement vocabulary. Now, they didn’t necessarily say those terms, but that is actually what they were thinking by the context of their writings. Pretty cool that just from practice they understood science that hadn’t even been developed yet.
Even the legendary Saxon brothers did some type of sandbag like training in their day!
Out of all those odd objects discussed sandbags seemed to be the most challenging and versatile by their descriptions as well as the most realistic for a gym owner like myself. So, I did what most people had done, I got some Army duffel bags, garbage bags, sand, and lots of duct tape. I did the whole homemade sandbag thing for around a year. At first it was really cool! I got SMOKED using an 80 pound sandbag and someone who had already been lifting for over 10 years, that was really a humbling time for me. My clients thought it was really interesting and challenging as well. They would dread the homemade sandbags, but they knew they were going to get a killer workout in the process.
If you think I have only lifted sandbags, you would be very mistaken! I’ve done everything from stones, tires, kegs, logs, thick barbells and so on. Sandbags were still my first choice for their versatility and ease of teaching others to benefit from such training.
For about 6 months I was able to get by just by the novelty of my homemade sandbags and using them like alternative barbells. Then some interesting things started to happen. You would THINK it was the fact that time and time again these homemade sandbags would burst, leak sand pretty consistently, and so forth that would have gotten me to start souring on their use. It could have been the fact that the more we use the homemade sandbags the more my clients would get ripped skin on their knuckles and other parts of their hands, they didn’t think that part was nearly as cool!
One of my early sandbag training articles was published on Strength Coach, Dan John’s newsletter JUST as I was honestly becoming less excited about their use. However, you can see me right there in my garage gym with a duffel bag and my strongman tires.
However, what DID start to change my thinking about sandbag training was taking a step back and wondering, what are we REALLY trying to accomplish? Sure, it was a different type of barbell training, but to be honest, the barbell was far easier to use. I could add weight much easier, we didn’t have sand leaking all over the place, and the perception of a nice barbell to homemade sandbags was a big value difference to my clients. Over time they weren’t as excited to use the homemade sandbags as a barbell designed specifically for lifting. Of course this whole thing maybe would have been different IF I could explain that the homemade sandbag was offering a benefit that we couldn’t achieve with other tools, but at that time I couldn’t do that!
As the year wore on (we are around the end of 2004), I already had a successful e-book released on the topic of sandbag training, but I my own enthusiasm for this type of training was dropping rapidly. It wasn’t till my friend Nick asked me a simple question, “what would you do differently” that everything changed! He hooked me up with a boat cover manufacturer in Chicago and I really broke down the issues with the homemade sandbag. Things like…
-Having standardized sizes for better programming.
-Being built to more easily change weight over time.
-Creating a system where we could have the weight moving, but not spilling out of the bags so readily.
and maybe the MOST controversial…adding handles!
The VERY first Ultimate Sandbag was so cool at the time and pretty rough now as we look back 16 years ago. It wasn’t just attaching handles though, it was knowing how long the handles should be, how far apart should they be to fit the biomechanics of most people’s movements, and so much more!
The Ultimate Sandbag today is SOOO different in ways that may be obvious in a few ways, but many that are not! Such as the type of stitching, the type of materials used, making rubber handles that don’t dig into people’s hands, and so much more!
Nowadays you may see lots of sandbags with handles, but really the Ultimate Sandbag was the FIRST real sandbag with handles (I don’t count those log weights that don’t have any dimensional components, or really sand shifting as a real sandbag). In my mind, it SO greatly expanded what we could do not just having more variety of exercises, but better progressions of movements that would make the Ultimate Sandbag as valuable tool as anything we could find in the gym. Ironically, over the years the strangest criticism of the Ultimate Sandbag is the idea of having handles.
There are some that will try to say adding handles takes away the grip benefit from sandbag training. It is obvious they are reaching for a reason to build cheap bags of sand (I don’t consider a duffel bag a sandbag anymore). Why?
Well, their main argument doesn’t even make sense. For one, the Ultimate Sandbag has handles, but that doesn’t mean we ONLY use handles. We can still grip the Ultimate Sandbag itself in drills like Shouldering, Arc Press, Press Outs, Lifts/Chops, Grip Curls, and so much more. You see, with a bag without handles you can only grab the bag itself, with the Ultimate Sandbag you have the option of either one!
There are just so many ways we grab onto the Ultimate Sandbag itself, the supposed criticism doesn’t even make sense to me!
The grip argument also doesn’t make sense when you think about simple concepts like leverage. When you grab a duffle bag, you are grabbing right about where the center of mass of the bag lies. With the Ultimate Sandbag the handles have no weight and especially as you get to larger USBs, the handles are further and further away from the center of mass. That logically means you have to grip harder to lift the same weight. So, in many ways, we get far MORE grip training with our Ultimate Sandbag drills than just using a duffel bag.
The handles being far from the center of mass allows us to do everything from teaching strong foundations to amplifying the power we develop during exercises like a power clean.
It is also sorely misunderstood because the handles allow us to teach important concepts about movement and give us the ability to have a coach that gives feedback upon one’s performance without saying a word. This is best illustrated how in our hip hinge movements with the handles we teach to “pull the handles apart”. From a coaching perspective, this helps engage the lats/core which gives us a stable trunk foundation to encourage better movement from the hips and not the low back. In a neutral grip position, we place the lifter in a more shoulder friendly alignment to actually perform a host of many drills and learn how to create stability without any complex verbal cuing or even knowing where your lats are on your body!
DVRT Master, Cory Cripe, does a great job of describing some of the benefits and techniques we use in gripping the Ultimate Sandbag properly.
Having handles opened up such a bigger world of training as well. It helped me personally better define functional training because we were able to move weights in ways that just weren’t really possible before. Drills like our MAX Lunges, Shoveling, Around the Worlds, & Lateral Drags were totally new!
DVRT UK Master, Greg Perlaki shows how we can develop strength and power in ways that were just not easy to do before!
Handles also allow us to teach how to properly use our core like in our Dead Bugs, Bird Dogs, Side Planks, Drags, and Hip Bridges!
Before you say you can drag anything, the Ultimate Sandbag has the biggest dimension at the loads we use and gives us both the best stress to the core as well as feedback.
You can see why criticizing having handles on the Ultimate Sandbag is only a desire to get stuck in inefficient, ineffective, and stale training ideas for no reason. I didn’t want to create a modern sandbag, I wanted to create a better way to train!
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