Lift heavy things. That’s a golden nugget of advice we give to everyone.
Lifting heavy things has a positive effect on pretty much every aspect of our health. We were designed to do it. We discuss the various aspects of a movement practice here with the relevance of lifting heavy.
Lifting heavy things is of course relative. To one person this may be deadlifting a 350kg barbell, but for someone else it may mean a bodyweight air squat.
It doesn’t matter. As long as we are approaching our current limits, either in weight or reps, and making some kind of progression in doing so, we are good.
The barbell is perhaps viewed as the king of heavy lifting equipment, and for building maximal strength I’d have to agree. I love the barbell. I think everyone should own one. In fact I think the government should issue one to each household for free.
But sadly my emails and letters to my local MP have so far gone unanswered. A decent barbell and plates can be expensive (but still very much worth it). You can of course make your own barbell and bumper plates.
They also take up a fair bit of space, especially if you add in a squat rack and bench.
There will be times in life where you need to pick up something heavy in the real world. The chances of it having a convenient 28mm knurled handle are going to be slim.
Whether it’s a kingsize mattress (seriously, mattress makers, put handles on the ENDS of the damned thing!), a bag of coal, or your uncle Nigel after he’s had a few too many, the likelihood is that it will be cumbersome and awkward.
This is where sandbag training comes in. Awkward as hell and even at relatively low weights leaves you panting and sweating like nothing else.
The unconventional nature of the sandbag has so many benefits that we have discussed here.
Many training gear manufacturers have offered sandbags for years. Many of them have handles and straps, which I do not like. But others sell what is often referred to as a ‘strongman sandbag’. Now we are talking.
Essentially, it’s just a bag you fill with sand or other filling material. No grips, no handles, just a big sack of suckiness.
Being a terminal skinflint, I have always balked at the notion of spending my hard earned cash on what is basically an empty bag. Rogue, for example, have pretty light sandbags starting at over 80 quid.
I’ve always preferred to make my own from old army kits bags. These have served me well for a long time.
The biggest issue I have with them is the smell. Being natural canvas they tend to get a bit mildewy if not kept in heated, dry environments. This starts to become unpleasant, especially when increased effort leaves you gasping with your face right next to the bag.
They are pretty funky now, and not in a cool Motown way.
So, I decided to find a cheap source of a manufactured strongman sandbag.
Bulldog Gear Strongman Sandbag
I’ve used Bulldog Gear stuff in the past and found it quite good, so when I saw that their strongman sandbags started at half the price of Rogue’s, I thought I’d give one a go.
Coming in a number of weights (40, 65, 85, 110 and 130kg), you have quite a few options. Buying the whole range would see most people set for life.
If, like me, you don’t want to spend a fortune on sandbags, the easiest thing to do is to buy the bag you’d like to work up to and just fill up the weight you are currently working at.
Partially filling a bag will result in a baggy bag with shifting sand moving about every time you lift it. I like this. It adds an extra dimension of awkwardness to the mix.
Bulldog Gear recommends filling it with rubber mulch and then removing some mulch and replacing it with sand to make it incrementally heavier. This would keep it nice and full, but I myself cannot justify adding to the world already overburdened with noxious plastics.
So, for me, if I want to pack it out I would use either wood shaving or wood pellets.
The build quality of the bag is good. Military spec 1000D Cordura throughout the bag, 3 ply poly-propylene stitching and the all important YKK zipper means this bag is constructed to last.
They are also made in the UK too, rather than in sweatshops. Bonus.
The design is good and well thought out. You pull back the hefty Velcro tab to expose the zipper. Inside is a secondary built-in filler bag. This inner bag also has a Velcro closure.
The clever part is the fact that the inner filler bag pulls out partially to create a kind of funnel to make filling the sandbag much easier.
I weighed out my sand in buckets on a set of bathroom scales and then added it to the bag.
The bag itself feels sturdy. The material is nice and grippy without being uncomfortably rough.
Whilst this bag isn’t designed to be smashed continuously into the ground, it does seem like it will easily handle being dropped from shoulder or overhead height.
The dimensions of the bag feel good when lifting from the ground to a lap position, with more than enough girth to bearhug and shoulder.
Overall, this feels like a great addition to my sandbag collection. Being Cordura, it is unlikely to take on the grotesque stench of my other bags.
I went for the 85kg bag. More than enough for me to be lugging around. Coming in at £50 at the time of writing (I actually paid £40 in a sale) it’s a pretty good deal for a well made sandbag.
So far the only issue I have is down to postage. Bulldog Gear refuse to post to Northern Ireland. I sort of get it (but not really) if the package is a heavy pallet delivery and they have to pay outrageous courier fees due to Brexit, but this is an empty bag. I got it sent to my dad in England and reposted. It came by Royal Mail to my dad’s house. Royal Mail is a universal service and costs no different to send directly to me. Sort it out Bulldog Gear! They also did not get back to me when I queried this.
So far, so good. It’s handled everything I have thrown at it. I like the feel of it and it leaves me feeling confident in it’s durability. It allows me the versatility to fill or empty it as needed to cater for different exercises.
I will, of course keep you updated as I use it more.
But above all, and most importantly, it make me feel heroic. Like a young Geoff Capes. Only without the budgies.