Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Benefits of Sandbag Training.

This is my first guest post and its  by Matthew Palfrey of Sandbag Fitness, a great blog devoted to training with sandbags.
The Benefits of Sandbag Training.

By Matthew Palfrey of
Sandbag Fitness
I spend lots of time working directly with athletes and Iʼm always trying to figure out ways to make my coaching more efficient and more effective. This process means I’ve spent a good portion of my career trialling and testing various different training methods and modalities. I didn’t actually start working seriously with sandbags until I found I was unable to get to the gym and started training from my garage. I quickly realised that the sandbag was going to become a staple in my training programme.

What’s So Good About A Bag Of Sand?

This is a common response from individuals who haven’t tried training with the sandbag. But it’s a interesting question and it raises the point that the sandbag is essentially a free weight like many others. This is a very important point, and one that needs to be stressed. Any external load can be used as an implement to improve your strength and conditioning - barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls and sandbags can all be classed in this way. While each has itʼs own particular benefits, there is no magic at work here - we still need to apply the principles of any good free weight training programme: progressive overload through a high intensity programme.
The Particular Benefits Of The Sandbag

The sandbag is an awkward, odd shaped object to lift. With a constantly-shifting load youʼll struggle to “get into the groove” with many of the exercises. While many see this as a disadvantage, it is actually one of the key benefits of sandbag training. It makes sandbag training more akin to real world applications. Chances are that when you actually need to lift something in daily life it will be a pain in the ass - it will be unbalanced and there probably wonʼt be a nice handle to grab onto. Sandbag training replicates this perfectly and prepares your body for real life.

For the same reason, I love to use the sandbag with athletes. It is an especially great tool for those who train for contact sports. The sandbag can be effectively used to simulate an opponent in various carrying, lifting and throwing drills.

Grip training is another aspect of modern exercise that is typically left out. Trying to control the sandbag while lifting it will challenge your grip like nothing else - reducing the need for lots of additional grip training. 

Types of Sandbag
There are essentially two different types of sandbag - homemade or custom-made. Youʼll get all the benefits of sandbag training with both options but the custom-made sandbags will typically be more versatile and hardwearing.

Editors note - For a homemade sandbag you can see my post here.

For custom-made sandbags I can whole heartedly recommend Brute Force Sandbags. They come with 3 filler bag inserts that allow for the quick and easy change of the weight of your sandbag. Plus, with 8 different handles, youʼll be able to perform a variety of exercises that just arenʼt possible with a homemade bag.

Sandbag Fitness

For weekly workouts, the free 68 page Sandbag Fitness Training Manual and how-to
videos please check out Sandbag Fitness.

Train hard!

Sandbag Fitness

Homemade sandbags

Sandbags are a cheap, but invaluable and versatile pieces of training equipment which I think everyone should own, or at least have access too, however this article isn’t about why you should train with a sandbag, for that see the article here.

Edit - After some use I made changes to the sandbags seen here. The changes are detailed here.

Tied and duct taped.
To make my sandbags I bought 10 woven plastic bags (actually called sandbags), these were $1NZ each but I think you can get them in the US for 25c each. I filled 5 bags with 10Kg (22lb) of sand each, they could hold 20Kg, but this would not allow for the sand to move around much which is an important element in making the sandbag different from conventional weights. I tied and duct taped each bag closed and then double bagged them all giving me five 10Kg filler bags. The 50kg’s of sand cost me only $12NZ.

I felt like 40kg (88lb) would be a good starting weight for me so I put 4 filler bags into a larger firewood bag ($1.20 each), this was then tied, duct taped and double bagged. Again I didn’t do this too tight, and left room for the sand to move about; this also gave me material to grab in a pinch grip.

I gave it a test and I could overhead press and squat it, but because of the weight I couldn’t do several sets of these, or any high rep work (10+ reps) which is what I want to do. So I had to remove one of the filler bags. Once I had retied and taped the bag I then tied some ropes around the top of the bag to act as handles, useful for lifts such as the zercher clean. And because I left it loose when tieing it up there is enough material on the sides to get a good pinch grip – great for grip strength.

Double bagged and put in a fire wood bag.
I didn’t have a large duffel bag to put the garden bag into, but it’s not really necessary, as the bags I used are strong and should hold up to some abuse. If I happen to find a large duffel bag I’ll probably use it, which will make adding weight easier.

I still had two filler bags left over so I decided to put these into a small duffel bag I had to make a 20Kg sandbag. This size will work well for higher rep work until I build up the strength to use the 30kg bag.

Duct tape is invaluable.
As I worked out with the 20kg duffel bag one of the sides split open (it’s a really old bag), but a few rounds of duct tape fixed that and it should hold well. The filler bags inside are much stronger and I’m not worried about them opening up.

I’m happy with how the two bags turned out, in total it took less than an hour to make them and cost about $25NZ. If you can, I suggest making several sandbags of different sizes. These smaller sandbags are great now, but if I wanted a larger bag (50Kg or more) I would probably buy a Brute Force Sandbag.

Here are some closing thoughts on sandbag construction:

-The filler bags worked out great; they are strong and allow the sand to move around. If you’re making a sandbag I strongly suggest these.

-If you can, buy a strong duffel bag, or canvas bag which you can open and close easily to change the weight. I’m stuck with a 30kg and a 20kg bag now, unless I want to cut the duct tape off and move the filler bags around.

-While handles are not necessary, and you will build your grip strength without them, some lifts will require handles, such as the zercher cleans.

-Check out Sandbagfitness or My Mad Methods for workout ideas, and information on correct form.

I hope you have gleaned some ideas from this write up, there are lots of other guides around on how to make a homemade sandbag so do a Google search and see how others have made their sandbags.

 "Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own." — Bruce Lee

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Homemade drag sled

I first got the idea for making a drag sled from a mobilityWOD video. Kelly had made his from a tyre filled with concrete, then later bought one made by rough fitness which is loaded with free weights. I then saw a few different sleds on The Crucible, Ross training and The Garage Gym Online. These were built with tyres, kid’s sleds, and sheets of metal. They were loaded with rocks, weights, logs, etc. A sled seemed like a great way to improve my leg power and a fun way to get an intense workout.

From seeing these various sleds, I decided I didn’t care how much weight was loaded onto it, what mattered is how hard it would be to drag - which isn’t always the same thing. More weight would need to be added to a kid’s sled to add fiction, than to an old tyre. So I decided my sled was to be a tyre and I would fill it with concrete then load weights on top as necessary, or just fill the tyre with rocks.

How to build the sled

A sled can be often made for free, tyre shops will likely give you old tyres, and then all you need is some rope and rocks.
First I needed a way to attach a rope, so I drilled out holes for a U bolt and attached that to the lower part of the tyre. If you don’t have a U bolt you could just push a short piece of rope through the holes and tie the ends off for the same effect (I suggest using a screwdriver to push the rope in).

Since I may later fill the tyre with concrete I decided to screw a piece of ply wood to the inside, I could then pour the concrete onto that, for now it keeps all the rocks in the tyre. First I marked the ply so I could cut out the size I needed; this was then cut in half so it would fit inside the tyre.

This next step was a pain in the butt because I’m such a perfectionist, and was under a time limit to get the sled finished (I failed at both these things, but I still ended up with a working sled). The ply and tyre had to be drilled then the ply bolted in place. I had trouble getting the ply to sit nicely and the bolts to line up (aesthetics only) so it took me a long time. There is still a gap between the ply, but duct tape will cover that if I decide to fill it with concrete.

The final touches were to add a rope (padded with a pool noodle in the middle) and rocks for weight. With the amount of rocks I have in the sled it is too heavy for me to run with much speed (for now) but I can still drag it.

At first glance it may not seem it, but the sled is a versatile piece of equipment. Obviously there is the forward and backwards drag, but also standing and pulling the sled to you such as hand-over-hand, bicep or tricep curls (like a row). You just have to use your imagination. If you have enough room (30-50 meters) you could do repeats of the different drags and pulls until you can no longer move. You could even add body weight, kettlebell or sandbag exercises at each end of a drag if you really want to sweat (store the kettlebell or sandbag on the sled for max weight).

This sled can be put together in only 30 minutes or so. I hope you have fun putting together your own WOW, or WOD.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Slosh Can

A slosh can is basically a large container partly filled with water. It is part of a huge array of items which can come under the phase ‘odd object lifting’. I made my slosh cans (‘made’ is used loosely) from old jerry cans I scavenged off a local greenhouse for free (they were just piling up), and I remember seeing scores of them thrown out when I worked in a factory. So depending on who you know or ask, it should be easy to find a few jugs for free or cheap. Any container which can hold a reasonable amount of water for your strength level will work. Anywhere from 10 to 50 litres will be perfect; I know I would max out at 50 litres. 

Once you have your container all you need to do is fill it up (mostly full). Since I’m rather particular about these things I weighed mine out to 20Kg each (but you can just eyeball it or go by feel). 20Kg worked out just right for me, they are about 4/5 full, with room for the water to slosh around, making it harder to lift and carry. This effect helps to recruit your stabiliser muscles into your exercise and probably reflects the movement of a fresh kill being carried home.  Just make sure you put the lid on tight; it won’t be fun to lose that water down your back during an overhead lift. Note- for those in a cold climate you might need to think about adding a bag of salt or less ideally some anti freeze to stop it from freezing up on you.

If you are interested in weight alone for odd object lifting you could fill your container with something other than water, such as sand or gravel.

So that was easy, but what kinds of movements can you do with a slosh can (or two)?

-Use as a stand for depth press ups and declines.
-Dead lifts: Good morning, suitcase etc. 
-Overhead lift, hold and carry (hell on the arms, shoulders and core)
-Squats: Zercher, bearhug, sumo etc. (nice to add a bit of weight to squats)
-Walking lunges (this can double as a farmer’s walk)
-Farmer’s walk (build up grip strength)
-Do a plank on them

I need to work on keeping my feet forward and my back straight.

Use your imagination for different moves; keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to lift as much as you can with a solid weight which isn’t a bad thing. And remember to keep good position, back straight, shoulders back, knees out on the squats. 

Saturday, 9 July 2011

No Gym? No problem.

Swings, clean and press with 16Kg
I have never set foot in a gym and I don’t see a gym as being necessary for me to get in the best shape possible. You would never see me in a pump or spin class, and it would be a cold day in hell before I try zumba. The only reason I might like to go to a gym would be so I could do max dead lifts and max squats, (bench, overhead press, curls etc. are less important to me).

The gyms I’m talking about here are the globo gyms, all machines, half the floor is cardio, 2kg kettlebells and posers as far as the eye can see. Crossfit is different, and I would love to join a crossfit gym but being a student, and not having one near me is a barrier.

Not being part of a gym is in no way detrimental to me; in fact it has been beneficial. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars, built up a pile of my own gear (which I use daily, without having to leave home) and I do complex, functional workouts instead of isolated lifts for muscles that are only for show, or an hour long spin class which breaks them down. Note: Exercising without a gym, need not mean working out on your own. Working out with a friend, or in a group can be beneficial to your performance and to the whole experience. Personal trainers are also an invaluable resource to guide and push you to the next level.

So how should one start working out without a gym? 

Bodyweight workouts are an excellent place to start (and to continue on with as a mainstay). Mark Sission has put together an excellent set of bodyweight exercises into a well rounded workout. Check out the primal blueprint fitness guide here and download it if you haven’t already. This is an excellent place to start and great for progressions but it is supplemented well with a few extras. Two great sources of ideas are Al Kavadlo and Mike Fitch, they each have great websites with loads of exercises and progressions which could be used at all levels. On a side note I suggest to anyone doing the primal blueprint fitness workouts to add in some dips since they are missing from the plan, Al Kavadlo has written on dips here and here.

Bodyweight workouts can get you amazingly strong and will give you superior control over your body. So with a pull up bar alone (plus maybe some rings and parallels) you can get in incredible shape and never need to lift a set of weights. There is even an elite level of bodyweight strength work exemplified by Al Kavadlo and the bar-barbarians. They practice moves such as human flags, front and back levers and various muscle ups.

Overhead press and bear hug squat with 40Kg
While bodyweight is sufficient for excellent fitness, a little variation can go a long way too. Sandbags and kettlebells are an excellent addition to a workout and extremely cost effective. Both build functional fitness, strength and conditioning (and a whole lot of grip strength). There are endless websites, dvds and books out on kettlebells, but my favourite is My Mad Methods (MMM), which I have previously written on. MMM is also a great source for sandbag exercises and workouts, so is Matt Palfrey from Sandbag fitness.

Not having a gym membership doesn’t mean that you can’t have a gym. Basements, garages, driveways and backyards can be your gym (for photos of some set ups check out hobogym.com). My goal is to slowly collect and/or build a selection of different and unconventional training equipment such as kettlebells, sloshtubes, Indian clubs, etc. so that I can put together my own functional full body workouts which I can use while keeping the naturalmethod in mind (be strong to be useful). The founder of The Crucible Gym puts all these ideas together nicely with a strong philosophy and functional workouts.

I think I’ll end with the catch phase of the crucible. – “Reject the awful normal”