The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2008 issue 11



Sandbag Training

Time to take it Old School!  I find it humorous that with the endless variety of fitness gadgets and high tech equipment that is in the market in this day and age, primitive training regimes like sandbag training have renewed life.  Personally I love it.  There's all kinds of terminology that you will hear for this kind of training... underground training, primitive training, gladiator training... it all comes down to performing strength training exercises with non-standard objects that you typically won't find in your local health club or spa.  At the top of the current list of primitive training techniques you will find tractor tire flipping, sledgehammer training, log training, stone training, sled dragging and pushing, and of course sand bag training.

Zercher Front Squat

For hundreds of years sandbags have been an integral training tool for athletes, specifically wrestlers. They are an inexpensive tool that is incredibly versatile and can offer the benefits of unstable training with a challenging load. This is a benefit that many of today’s unstable gadgets can not provide. However, the benefits don’t stop there. Greater stabilizer, trunk, and grip strength can be developed with sandbags as well as sport-specific drills, and mobility work.  They are a great conditioning tool.

Sandbags can be thought of as the most “uncooperative” pieces of equipment. They are different because they will change their form as you lift them. Unlike many other training tools, it is almost impossible to develop a specific groove for any lift. This makes sandbags a constant challenge as every repetition will be vastly different.

Sandbags work your body in ways you could not approach with a barbell alone. You get into the muscle areas you normally don’t work. You worked the heck out of the stabilizing muscles.  Increasing the strength of the stabilizers can both decrease your risk of injury and improve performance.

Bent-over Row

The non-cooperative nature of sandbags makes it crucial to use every muscle possible to lift them. More stable and predictable implements can cause the body to find a particular groove. Once this groove is established then one becomes more efficient at performing the lift and the body actually decreases the amount of muscles utilized.

With explosive sandbag lifts such as cleans, throws, snatches, and shouldering, the trunk muscles (including those of the low back and abdominal area) have to work harder to stabilize the body against the awkward load while moving very quickly. This is very unique to sandbag training.

With sandbags we can also create amazing rotational drills that place the body into ranges of motion that would normally occur during sport. Working through such ranges of motion with a load prepares the body more appropriately for the demands that sport produces.

Sandbags may be the perfect tool for combative athletes as they are the only tool that can come close to representing an opponent. The constant shifting weight of a sandbag makes it an ideal training environment for combative athletes as it prepares the athlete for the unpredictability of a fight on the mats on the ring.  They also develop the back and side muscles in movements that are identical to the lifting and pulling movements of wrestling.

Sandbag lifting shares a lot in common with kettlebells in regards to their ability to challenge not only strength, but endurance as well. A good bag will allow for some movements within therefore always forcing the lifter to maneuver and adjust to the awkward weight. This definitely causes the body to use more muscles and expend greater energy as it is hard to get into one consistent groove.

EVERYONE can benefit from greater grip strength. Many trainers believe that most of the carpal tunnel and arthritis problems that our society experience’s is closely related to the lack of hand training.  There is no piece of equipment that frustrates people as much as sandbags. When using sandbags there is not a convenient place to grab.  You have to constantly search for an open spot and then crush grip. However, unlike most pieces of equipment I find that not only is your crushing grip challenged, but pinching grip as well. For those that are into grip training you will appreciate the distinct difference between the two.

Because sandbags are so different they are often a breathe of fresh air for most people’s training programs. Even taking common exercises such as squats and presses and using a sandbag give these exercises a new feel and challenge while continuing to meet the original goal of the exercise.  Grab, rip, and lift. You definitely want to pay attention to lifting posture, but outside of that most of the fun is trying to figure out how to lift the bag.

Clean and Press

Recently, I decided to make a few sandbags of my own and add a few exercises to my workout.  I bought a military duffle bag on eBay for about $12, and couple 50 pound bags of play sand from Home Depot for about $4 each.  The military duffles are great because they are sturdy canvas bags that hold up real well.  I filled a couple of Husky Contractor Clean-up bags with sand and duct taped them shut, then put them in the duffle.  In order to make my bag adjustable, I have a 50 pound trash bag and a couple of 25 pounders.  So basically, when I have all 3 bags in the duffle I have a nice 100 pound sandbag to heave around.  Sandbags are a low cost, high return investment that can make a fun and challenging addition to anyone's workout routine!  

excerpts from The Rise of Sandbag Training by Josh Henkin

Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Swiss Ball Leg Crunch

I know I know, many of the exercises that I choose to spotlight in my newsletters are challenging.  Keep in mind that I do have a pretty significant swing in the demographics of my target audience and I want to ensure that I'm not boring the more experienced readers either ; )  That being said, the swiss ball leg crunch that I have depicted above is probably in the beginner to intermediate range.  In addition to starting in a plank position which helps to stabilize your core muscles, there is additional range of motion work of these muscles as you draw your knees towards your chest.


Target:  abdominals (rectus abdominus)

Count:  2 count

Description:  Get into starting position by laying on the stability ball face down on your belly, place your hands on the floor and walk your hands out until the ball is on your shins or ankles.  Maintaining your hands on the floor in a planked position, slowly draw your knees towards your chest as far as you can, pause, and slowly extend your legs out again to starting position.  Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Get Your Head In The Game

The mind is a powerful tool that you must use to your advantage.  Regardless of your objectives, It is important to understand the connection between the body and mind.  It is easy to say, "I can do anything that I put my mind to", but much more difficult to bring truth to these words.  

Many people who exercise fail to realize the importance of mental training.  Mental training increases your ability to focus giving you the consistency needed to cement all of the important elements, including goals, dieting, recuperation, knowledge, and workouts.

Listed below are some ideas that will help you prepare mentally and physically for lifting:

  • Plan ahead.  Use a workout log to plan your training sessions before you arrive at the gym.  Having a game plan for your workouts will provide focus and ensure that you accomplish what you set out to do.
  • Take 5 to 10 minutes during your warm-up to reflect on your workout while on the treadmill, elliptical, or exercise bike.  Visualize the completion of your lifts to build confidence.
  • Squeeze the bar tightly.  This will generate a signal or trigger that tells your brain it's time for a big lift.
  • Make your whole body rigid.  If you flex and stiffen your entire body at the same time, it will work as a unit to move the weight.  This also helps to prevent injury.
  • Take a few deep breaths.  This will help your body prepare for the effort by bringing additional oxygen into the bloodstream.  Deep breathing also wakes up your body.
  • Think or say a trigger.  Use positive thinking by saying to yourself, "I can do this!" or other internal coaching statements.  Personally, I'm kinda partial to "Get It!", "Come On", and "Now".
  • Get a training partner.  Having a partner tell you, "You can lift this," or other related positive encouragement will give you an added boost of confidence.
  • Never underestimate a weight.  Consider every weight as heavy.  Have the mindset that you will try as hard as you can with every rep no matter how light you think the weight will be.  Holding back because you think a weight will be light and then finding that it is heavy will hurt your confidence.
  • Have a fear of the weight.  Always choose a weight that slightly intimidates you when you are performing your working sets.  If you feel comfortable with a weight you are about to lift, most likely it is too light!
  • Be sure to prepare for setbacks.  Setbacks in your training will come in many forms:  injury, lapses in dieting, missed days at the gym, and training plateaus are sure to happen to us all at one time or another.  Prepare mentally for such things.  Make the decision right now that if you were forced to stop training because of any setback you would start back as soon as possible, no matter how much weight you might have gained or lost.

As your fitness improves, you will gain confidence and motivation.  You will begin to accomplish feats that were previously impossible.  You will approach challenges with confidence and assertiveness.  You will live your life with newfound energy and passion.  So get your head in the game and make it happen!

ref:  Muscles in Minutes

It's Go Time!

Halloween marks the beginning of the "dangerous" holidays for some.  For the most part, your discipline and will-power can be tested significantly several times between October 31st and January 1st!  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years... each one of these holidays have their share of tempting treats and party gatherings. 

Believe me, I'm no saint... but I do try to control myself to some extent, although I admittedly indulge a little too much at times.  HOWEVER, just because it's a holiday, doesn't mean that I make excuses not to work out.  In fact, if anything, I try to ensure that I get my workouts in when I'm cheating on eating healthy.  I'm usually good for about a 5 pound gain between Christmas and New Years, but I typically work it off in a couple weeks with a little bit of hard work.

Holiday's are meant to be enjoyed with family and friends.  Personally, I wouldn't recommend being too good or too bad... just be smart about the amount of cheating that you allow yourself to do and keep up the workouts to offset some of the damage.  If you're going to indulge, try to focus your cheating during the gatherings when there is significant temptation and don't make excuses to pig out all week long!  Enjoy!

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  

Good Luck!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

"All growth takes place outside your
comfort zone"

youtube video of the month --> Underground Training
Primitive training clips that effectively demonstrate "old school" exercises.

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