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Effective Group Training with Sandbags

By Josh Henkin

Bootcamps and group class training are becoming more and more popular among coaches and trainers. One of the main advantages is keeping cost a non issue for both parties. Clients can receive training more often from well-trained coaches and coaches can afford to reduce their rates. There is also a social aspect that many people enjoy.

We can use some basic principles of psychology to optimize the group atmosphere. Social psychology has a fundamental principle called social identity theory. Social identity theory of group membership and inter-group relations which explains much inter-group behavior in terms of the desire to belong to groups which are valued positively compared to other non-membership groups. People want to belong to a group and those that have had a hard time adhering to an exercise program can often do better when they belong to a positively influenced group.

These two factors should encourage coaches and trainers to offer some form of group based training. However, there are some considerations to make.

  1. How to train people of various fitness levels at one time?
  2. Time availability.
  3. Space availability.
  4. Equipment considerations

These are but a few issues that must be addressed before starting your own bootcamp or group class. However, once organized, such training can be extremely enjoyable for both coach and client. For the past seven years I have done some form of team training, bootcamp, or small group training. In the beginning solving these issues seemed to be troublesome. After some time I found certain strategies that really helped these classes become far more efficient and effective.

One I would like to discuss in this article is the use of sandbags in training. I know that most reading this will think, “of course you would Josh, you sell them!” Well, that is partly true, but I only designed sandbags recently because in my belief in them being such a valuable tool for coaches and trainers.

What makes sandbags so useful?

  • They are very easy to learn so varying fitness levels can pick-up the technique of specific drills quickly while minimizing frustration.
  • They are very easy to transport which makes them ideal for field training or large groups.
  • You can easily vary a drill to make it more difficult for a more advanced trainee or easier for someone beginning without having to make significant changes to the weight.
  • They are unstable so you can achieve the goal of training stabilizer and core strength.
  • They are easily adaptable to training the entire body.
  • Flexibility issues are minimized as most people can perform classic lifts such as squats better with implements such as sandbags because of the positioning of the weight.
  • Sandbags are possibly one of the safest tools available as you can drop them without fear of damaging the implement or surrounding area. This can give your clients increased confidence to attempt drills normally they would be hesitant in performing.
  • They are relatively inexpensive compared to many other forms of training equipment. This makes it much more reasonable to utilize for class formats.
  • You can train various strength qualities such as strength-speed, strength-endurance, as well as perform conditioning. Such benefits make them a great tool for young athlete training especially on the field.
  • They are FUN!! You can often create team building games as my colleague Troy Anderson does often, you can build competitions that achieve all your fitness goals while making training much more fun for your clients. Sandbags also allow some unique variety of exercises that make it novel to your clients and is really fun when they throw them!

I believe that many coaches often sacrifice the strength component of their classes because they often worry about the issues which sandbags solve. Others may feel relegated to performing solely bodyweight exercises, which can be problematic as they can be very easy for some clients and completely overwhelming for others and in a large group it may be difficult to quickly adapt each individual person’s technique.

This is not to say that your class has to become entirely sandbag training. Quite the contrary, sandbags can be modified to work very well with SAQ work or fit into other forms of strength training.

I often love using circuits during the classes to keep the group interested and productive. You can have varying sized sandbags stationed at different points for specific movements. Heavier bags for lower body based exercises and lighter bags for upper body and core work. A circuit may appear in the following manner:

  • A1. Shoulder and Squat
  • A2. Push Press
  • A3. RDL+Row
  • A4. Shoulder Get-ups

You can either implement repetition schemes or time intervals for such a circuit. People can work in partners or by themselves. Such a program like the one above would allow you to give a great training session to eight people. Of course you can implement other activities into a circuit as well. Here is a different example:

  • A1. Sandbag Squat Press
  • A2. Jump Rope
  • A3. Push-ups
  • A4. Sandbag Carry
  • A5. Bodyweight Rows

Again, you can modify repetition schemes in many different formats. In this specific example you only need two bags and can train ten people with great variety and function within one training session.

By this point you will I hope you see the value of adding sandbag training for your classes. The versatility and accessibility of sandbags lend themselves to being the cornerstone of class training. In the future, one-on-one training will become very rare and new trainers should start their career by thinking in terms of win-win situations. Bootcamps, classes, and team training should be at the forefront of such thinking.

About The Author

Josh Henkin is owner of Innovative Fitness Solutions in Scottsdale, Arizona. Coach Henkin has presented nationally in the field of fitness and sports enhancement. He is also the author of High Octane Sandbag Training manual and DVD. For more info, click here.

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