Thursday, 6 January 2011

Sandbag Training for MMA

“Sandbag Training to this day is a HUGE part of how I train and how I train my athletes.”

                                                                        Zach Even-Esh, Strength Coach

In this article I’ll be discussing the merits of the humble sandbag as a Strength and Conditioning tool for MMA. I’ll also be providing you with some practical tips for making your own bags and training programmes you can try.

Why use sandbags?

I’m a huge advocate of barbell lifting as a means to improve strength and conditioning in athletes but the sandbag is invaluable as an additional training tool for MMA athletes. They are great training aids for the following reasons:

  • They are awkward to lift, just like an opponent. This produces ‘real-world’ strength
  • They require, and develop, greater grip strength than conventional lifting
  • Their size and shape can be adjusted to your needs
  • They are very inexpensive
  • Due to their uneven nature they develop great balance and ‘core’ strength

I am not exaggerating when I say that you can build elite-level conditioning with the sandbag.

Sandbag training sessions

The simplest way to integrate sandbag training into your existing strength and conditioning routine is to substitute all existing barbell, dumbbell and kettlebell work with a sandbag. Cleans, Presses, and Rows all work great with a sandbag.

You can also be creative and add the sandbag to hill sprints.

The following workouts will develop strength, power, speed, agility and endurance across a broad range of energy systems.


21 - 15 - 9

Chin Ups, Heavy Sandbag Thrusters and Box Jumps.

Perform 21 repetitions of each exercise, then 15, and then finish with 9.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


Run 400m, 21 Sit Ups, 21 Sandbag Power Clean and Press. 5 rounds.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


10 Chin Ups, 20 Sit Ups, 30 Sandbag Push Jerks, 40 Squats. 5 rounds.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


100 Sandbag Thruster Burpees.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


20-1 of Sandbag Thrusters, Burpees, Knees to Elbows.

Complete 20 repetitions of each exercise, then 19, then 18 etc.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


Box Jumps, Sandbag Power Cleans, Heavy Sandbag Front Squats, Sit Ups, Sandbag Push Jerks.

Perform each exercise for 1 minute, giving a total round of 5 minutes. Record the number of repetitions performed within each minute for each exercise. There is a 1 minute rest period between each set of 5 exercises but a running clock during each round. Repeat for 3 rounds in total.

Record your total repetitions for the whole sequence.


Ground to overhead with a Heavy Sandbag. 50 repetitions.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.


5 Handstand Press Ups, 10 Chin Ups, 15 Sandbag Thrusters, 20 Overhead Walking Lunges. 5 rounds.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.

As with all lifting, you’ll find a natural weight that is suitable for you but I’ve given some basic recommendations below.

Recommended weights:

Males: Regular Sandbag - 25-45 kg (55-99lbs) Heavy Sandbag 45-75 kg (99-165lbs)
Females: Regular Sandbag - 10-25 kg (22-55lbs) Heavy Sandbag 25-45 kg (55-99lbs)

Constructing your own sandbags

There is no hard and fast rule for the construction of a sandbag except that it should be completely sealed to prevent leakage – this is normally easily done using some tape. I have sandbags that I’ve made using a holdall, a canvas duffel bag, a waterproof stuff-sack and even just the plastic bag that the sand came in. You can also purchase a custom made sandbag, especially designed for strength and conditioning. 

For everything you need to follow the workouts here, visit the Sandbag Fitness Store:

I’d recommend having a few different sized bags – a light (10-25kg), a medium (25-45kg) and a heavy (45kg+). This will give you a lot more options when training with them. They can be any shape you want them to be.

For more information on sandbag specific training, videos of all of the techniques described here and daily workouts check out Sandbag Fitness:

If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

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