One of the most versatile tools you’re probably not using, a sandbag is great for when you want to work out but also don't want to spend all day working out. With a sandbag, the center of gravity is always shifting, because the sand moves back and forth, causing your core to engage in a different way than with a stable weight, even when you aren’t doing a core-focused exercise, explains Patrick McGrath, a certified personal trainer at Project by Equinox and SLT studio in New York City.

compound exercises What does all that mean? It means you're getting more bang for your buck with every movement. Look for sandbags at your local gym or studio or grab one like SKLZ Super Sandbag ($59.99, amazon.com) for at-home use. It includes four 10-pound weight bags and has multiple handles for max variety. Plus, it takes up very little space, so it's perfect if you're working out in a small apartment or home gym.

We asked McGrath for some two-for-one exercises that target multiple muscle groups for a total-body workout in less time. If you’re new to sandbags or have an issue that might require a modification, McGrath recommends consulting a trainer first to help you learn how to hold and rack the bag safely and master your form.

How to use this list: For each of these exercises, adjust your sandbag to a weight that feels challenging, but allows you to maintain good form (it’s as simple as removing or adding a weight from the bag).

Perform 15 to 25 reps of each move. To create your own workout, choose 4 to 6 of your favorite exercises targeting the upper body, lower body, and core. Rest for 60 seconds between each exercise and complete 3 to 4 sets with a 90-second rest between each set. To increase the challenge, decrease the amount of rest time between each exercise or round. You can also try the full-body sandbag workout McGrath created at the end of this article.

1. Forward Lunge + Wood Chop

compound exercises with a sandbag

Start with feet hip width holding the sandbag by the side handles at chest level, elbows bent. Step the right foot forward and lower into a lunge. As you lower, twist torso to the right and extend arms to swing the sandbag toward right hip, keeping a 90-degree bend in right knee. Push through right heel to return to starting position. Perform 15 to 25 reps then repeat on other side.

2. Reverse Lunge + Good Morning

compound exercises with a sandbag

Stand with feet hip-width apart with the sandbag racked behind neck by the side handles. Step right foot backward and lower into a lunge. Press through left heel to rise back up to starting position. With a flat back and a micro bend in knees, send hips straight back and lower chest toward floor to engage hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and core. Don't round your shoulders as you lower. Perform 15 to 25 reps and repeat on other leg.

3. Side Lunge + Front Raise

compound exercises with a sandbag

Start holding the sandbag by side handles with feet together. Take a big step to left with left foot and send hips back to lower into a side lunge. Check that left knee is in line with toes and that the feet don’t turn out. Drive through the left foot to return to center and use that momentum to lift arms up and flip the bag over fists as you raise it overhead. Reverse the flip and lower the bag to return to starting position. Perform 15 to 25 reps and repeat on other side.

Make it easier: For tight shoulders or shoulder impingements, hold end handles of the bag for a wider grip or simply raise it to chest height.

4. Curtsy Lunge + Hammer Curl

compound exercises with a sandbag

Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding the sandbag by side handles in a narrow grip, palms facing in. Step the right foot back on a diagonal behind left to engage the inner and outer thighs as you bend left knee to lower into a curtsy lunge. Keep back straight and chest lifted throughout. Press through left heel to return to starting position, then bend elbows to lift bag to chest and lower back down. Perform 15 to 25 reps and repeat on other leg.

5. Single-Leg Deadlift + Row

compound exercises with a sandbag

Stand tall with feet together holding the sandbag by side handles, palms facing in. Keeping hips square and back flat, microbend left knee, then hinge at hips to send right leg straight back and lower chest toward floor. Squeeze shoulder blades together to prevent back from rounding. Pause at the bottom of the movement then bend elbows and draw shoulders back to pull sandbag toward chest. Extend arms and return to starting position. Perform 15 to 25 reps then repeat on other leg.

Make it easier: Perform a standard deadlift with both feet on the ground.

6. Deadlift + Squat

compound exercises with a sandbag

Stand with feet just wider than hip-width apart, holding the sandbag by side handles, palms facing body. Keeping back straight, hinge at hips and send butt back to lower bag toward floor. Drive through the backs of legs to come up. As you do this, use the power from your legs to flip the sandbag, so it rests in crooks of elbows. Sit butt back and down to lower into a squat, keeping weight in heels. As you rise, flip the sandbag back down to starting position.

Make it easier: Practice the deadlift and the squat as separate moves before putting them together.

7. Burpee + Snatch

compound exercises with a sandbag

Start by standing with feet slightly wider than hips, holding onto the sandbag by side handles. Hinge at hips to lower bag to floor as you bend knees to jump out to a high plank position. Engage core to maintain a straight line from head to toes. Jump feet back to hands and drive through legs to stand. As you rise, use momentum from lower body to lift bag, and, in one quick motion, drive elbows up toward shoulders, flip the bag, then press bag up overhead. Lower bag and return to starting position.

Make it easier: Walk the feet in and out of the burpee instead of jumping. If you have shoulder pain or discomfort, lift the bag only to chest height.

8. Squat + Shoulder Press

compound exercises with a sandbag

Stand with feet slightly wider than hips with the sandbag racked at shoulders. Send hips back and lower down into a squat. Keeping ribs closed and core engaged, drive through heels to stand as you press the bag overhead. Return to starting position and repeat.

9. Sumo Squat + High Pull

compound exercises with a sandbag

Stand with feet wider than hip width, toes turned out at an angle, and hold the sandbag by side handles, palms facing body. Keeping the torso upright, bend knees to sit down into a squat—you'll feel this in your inner thighs. Drive through heels to stand and pull elbows high into an upright row. Lower bag to return to starting position.

10. Glute Bridge + Pull Over

compound exercises with a sandbag

Lie faceup with knees bent, feet on floor, holding the sandbag by side handles straight up over chest. Drive through heels to engage the glutes and lift hips toward the ceiling. Slowly lower hips back down as you reach arms overhead, only going as far as you can without arching your back off floor. Return to starting position and repeat.

11. Lateral Pull + Spider

Start in a high plank position with back straight and the sandbag on floor to the left of left arm. Keeping hips and shoulders still, grab the sandbag with your right hand by end handle and drag it under you to the right. Place right hand down and pull your right knee toward right elbow. You should feel this in your obliques but don’t twist hips or strain neck. Repeat on other side, pulling bag to left and drawing left knee to left elbow. Perform 15 to 25 reps, alternating each time.

Make it easier: Perform the plank on knees.

12. Russian Twist + Toss

compound exercises with a sandbag

Start seated with knees bent and feet on floor. Holding the sandbag (no handles), engage your core for a tall spine and lean back about 45 degrees until you feel your abs engage. Lift feet off floor and find balance on your sit bones. While keeping lower body still, rotate torso to the right to tap sandbag on floor. Return to center and toss bag into the air. Catch bag with both hands. Repeat exercise to the left. Perform 15 to 25 reps, alternating each time.

Make it easier: Place your feet on the floor or perform a shoulder press instead of a toss.


Photography: Julia Hembree
Location: Project by Equinox

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