I love sandbag training. There’s nothing more primal than picking up a bag full of heavy sh*t and carrying it as far as you can.
You will feel your back, biceps, forearms, and grip light up like never before. Your heart will be pounding out of your chest as you struggle to breathe.
It’s this kind of sandbag training torture that is fun in some sort of sadistic way. I guess that is part of the reason why we love jiu-jitsu and grappling.
Sandbag training complements BJJ and grappling perfectly. Sure, deadlifting and other traditional lifting movements will get you strong. But there’s something to be said when you face someone with “farm boy” strength that is strong in all sorts of weird positions.
So here are my three favorite sandbag exercises for grappler and BJJ practitioners.
Sandbag Bearhug Carry or Deadlift With Monkey Grip
This is the toughest sandbag bearhug carry variation. It trains the ability to “clamp” tight against an opponent when you can’t connect your hands.
You’ll often find yourself in this position when shooting for a double leg. The hands clamped behind your opponent’s knees.
Or potentially during stand-up when fighting for underhooks. Especially in an over/under position where only one hand is clamped which can help manipulate your opponent.
Using the monkey grip will severely limit the weight you can walk with as it is much harder to keep secure. But it is definitely worth it even if you just deadlift it.
Depending on the size of your sandbag, you’ll either have to start with the sandbag lying flat on the floor or standing upright. It’s usually easier to start with the sandbag lying flat on the floor as you can get a better clamp.
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If you want to take an easier option, you can load it onto a box first and pick it up from there.
When the sandbag is lying flat on the floor, you’ll need to wedge your hands under each side.
To do this, you’ll need to roll the sandbag back and forth over each hand so you can get your hands and forearms around the sandbag.
From this position, squat down so you can use as much of your legs as possible to stand up with the sandbag.
You will likely have to adjust the sandbag on the way up with a little hip bump and readjustment of the hands.
The goal is to just walk.
Walk for time. For distance. Whatever takes your fancy. A good starting point is 2-3 sets of 20-40m. If you are a real masochist, you can walk until you drop. Or head to the athletics track for a challenge and do a full 400m no matter how many times you drop it.
Sandbag Bearhug Carry With Gable Grip
This is my preferred method of carrying a sandbag. I also like to use a hand over wrist grip like you would when using a seatbelt in grappling. Both are great options for this carry.
The setup for this variation is exactly the same as the previous exercise as you will not get your cable or seatbelt grip when the sandbag is on the floor.
You will have to pick the sandbag up with a monkey grip and adjust your grip once you’re standing upright.
This is how you can train your specific BJJ and grappling grips off the mats. The same set and rep scheme applies where you can start with 2-3 sets of 20-40m or go all out and walk ‘til you drop.
Sandbag Floor To Shoulder
This sandbag variation places more stress on the back and upper body making it an awesome accessory exercise in your strength training.
If your sandbag is heavy enough, it could even be used as the main strength movement over a traditional deadlift.
To perform this correctly, you will set up the same way as the previous two exercises. However, when you lift the sandbag off the floor, you will need to perform an explosive heave to get the sandbag to your shoulders.
Similar to how you would perform a suplex. Ideally, you don’t perform this exercise for reps due to the heavy, awkward loading on your lower back 2-3 sets of 1-4 reps is a good place to start.
Benefits Of Sandbag Training For BJJ & Grapplers
One Of The Best Forms Of Odd Object Training
Old-time strongmen use odd objects as public displays of their strength. Arthur Saxon, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was said to have lifted 300+ lb bags of flour overhead and would offer prize money for anyone that could replicate the lift.
To my knowledge, no one was able to. Odd objects train a different kind of strength.
While this isn’t a scientifically backed statement, there’s a difference between the guy who grew up on the farm and is “farm boy” strong compared to your local Powerlifter who can deadlift and squat 600+ lbs.
Sandbags provide a way of developing this strength without living on a farm. Many other implements are considered odd objects too.
Anvils, kegs, logs of wood, wheelbarrows, and rocks are just a handful of equipment that you can use for odd object training.
Odd objects will develop strength in muscles you never thought you had in positions that you won’t be able to train effectively in the gym.
Challenge Your Grip
Gripping the sandbag itself is one way to develop the grip when sandbag training.
However, sandbag training allows you to train grips specific to BJJ and grappling. For example, the Gable, seatbelt, and monkey grips.
These grips can’t be trained using traditional grip training exercises.
Specific Upper Body Isometric
Grappling and BJJ have large isometric requirements from the upper body. From gripping to holding opponents and positions, to stand-up grappling, the upper body plays a huge role in performing static muscular contractions.
The sandbag allows you to replicate this without the need for another human being or grappling mats.
Can Be Used As A Form Of Conditioning And Strength Training
Depending on how you use the sandbag, it can be performed as a conditioning or strength training modality. For example, heavy carries over short distances are geared more towards strength development while lighter carries over long distances can be considered more of a conditioning modality.
Rules Of Sandbag Training For BJJ & Grapplers
Sandbag Training Should Never Replace Regular Strength & Conditioning Training
Searching the internet, you will find full workouts using just a sandbag. Don’t do this.
Sandbags are a tool to use in your strength training that are best suited for certain movements such as bearhug carries. Performing light sandbag cleans and squats won’t get you very far.
Lose The Handles
Real, heavy-duty, result getting sandbags don't have handles. If your sandbag has handles (like the one in the picture above), it is too light and won't fit the purpose of sandbag training for BJJ and grappling.
Best Sandbag For BJJ & Grappling Training
The IronMind Tough As Nails Sandbag is the no-brainer choice when it comes to sandbags. I used to own one in my time in the USA. The quality is unreal.
Secondly, you can load this thing ridiculously heavy. Mine was only about 1/5th full and weighed north of 90 kg.
Further, it's used by the strongest athletes in the world at the World Strongest Man competitions. If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for us.