Workout sandbags are very versatile in terms of movements you can do. Find out how to do the sandbag clean and the substitutes available.
The clean is an exercise where you lift a barbell up explosively, catch it on your shoulders in a squat position, and finish the squat. You can also do this movement with a workout sandbag.
This sandbag version engages your stabilization muscles more, is budget-friendlier, is easier to do away from home, and is less scary to do.
A sandbag will also swing around more than a barbell due to the looser handles which makes it harder in terms of coordination.
You can use a sandbag clean to get used to the movement in a safer way and/or if you don’t have a barbell and bumper plates available.
If you have both equipment options, you will likely want to switch to the barbell if you want to focus more on training muscle power and strength instead of coordination.
Both clean variations work your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, quadriceps, calves, forearm grip muscles, trapezius, biceps, and shoulders.
How to do a sandbag clean
As you can expect, you need a good workout sandbag to do this exercise. The walkthrough below will assume you have a model with handles.
Once you have this, take the following steps to do a sandbag clean:
- Stand up straight with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart in front of the sandbag.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the sandbag handles that come closest to being shoulder-width apart.
- Tilt back your upper body and stretch your legs in one continuous motion in an explosive way so you can raise the sandbag enough for the following steps. It is very important to keep your back in a straight line during this step.
- Most of the upward force of the sandbag will come from your legs but you can pull it upward slightly higher.
- Move under the sandbag to a position where you can do the next step. You will have to “swing” the sandbag over your wrists.
- Catch the sandbag on the front part of your shoulders/upper arms with your hands still holding the sandbag handles. Your hand palms will point upward, your upper arms should be about horizontal, and your legs should be in the lowest part of the squat movement.
- Raise your hips by stretching your legs in a somewhat controlled motion until you stand up straight with the sandbag on the front part of your shoulders/upper arm.
After the initial clean, you can add a variety of movement sequences. You can do a shoulder press, add a split jerk, lower the sandbag on your shoulders to do squats, etc.
There is also a type of sandbag clean where you use a strongman sandbag. This is a model without handles.
The strongman sandbag clean is slightly different in a few ways. First of all, instead of going straight up after the initial deadlift, you put the sandbag on your knees and against your chest while in the squat position.
After that, you do the next part of the “clean” by stretching your legs, pushing your hips forward, and tilting your upper body back. Instead of stopping at shoulder height, you drop the strongman sandbag behind your shoulders.
For both versions, there are a lot of workout sandbag weights to choose from. If you are new to this exercise and/or the sandbag version you want to start light and build up from there.
After that, the clean is typically done with high weights so you can only do 3 to 5 repetitions per set.
Sandbag clean muscles worked
Sandbag cleans will mainly work the glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), lower back, quadriceps (front thighs), calves, forearm grip muscles, trapezius (upper shoulder), biceps, and deltoids (shoulders).
Because you use these muscles in a fast way with a lot of weight and only a few repetitions, you mostly focus on training muscle power in these areas.
The instability of the sandbag works your inner thighs, outer thighs, core muscles, and ankle muscles a bit more than a regular barbell clean.
Besides that, the main resistance training principles still apply. You still have to use enough weight, repetitions, and sets to achieve your muscle-related training goals.
That also means increasing the weight of the sand you put in your sandbag as you get stronger.
One potential downside of using a sandbag for the clean exercise instead of a barbell is that you have to focus more on coordination.
This could interfere with your muscle power workout to some extent.
Sandbag clean benefits
While a barbell clean can be slightly better for training muscle power with the clean, the sandbag version also offers a few benefits that make it a good choice for certain situations. Some of these benefits are:
- More stabilizing muscle engagement: The instability of the sandbag engages a variety of stabilizing muscles to a larger extent. For a compound exercise like the clean, this can be a benefit.
- Less scary than a barbell: The barbell clean exercise can be scary to learn. You can use a workout sandbag to get used to the movement in a way that hurts less if you fail.
- Budget-friendly weighted clean: A workout sandbag with high capacity is typically cheaper than a barbell with bumper plates of the same resistance. This can help you save some money.
- Keeps things interesting: Enjoying your workouts can be helpful for staying consistent. Using less standard equipment like a workout sandbag for the clean exercise can keep things interesting. The sandbag instability adds an extra challenge too.
- Improves balance & coordination: Similar to many other fitness components, you can improve balance and coordination by doing things that are challenging in these areas. Sandbag cleans could be enough to do this.
- Easier to do on the move: Workout sandbags can be emptied and filled again relatively easily. This allows you to take your workout equipment to different places in a compact and convenient way.
On top of these more unique benefits of workout sandbag exercises, you also get the standard but valuable resistance training benefits of the clean exercise.
While there are definitely benefits to doing this exercise successfully, you want to keep in mind that sandbag cleans involve a certain injury risk too.
More specifically, they can be hard on your knees, back, ankles, shoulders, and wrists. If you have a (history of) issues in these areas, sandbag cleans may not be ideal for you.
Additionally, even if you start doing sandbag cleans anyway, any pains or aches can be a sign that you are doing things in a suboptimal way.
That can mean your workout style may need some changes and/or that your habits in other lifestyle areas can be better.
Sandbag clean substitutes
Sandbag cleans can be great but there are also some easier and harder alternatives available that can offer similar benefits.
Some of these sandbag clean substitutes include:
- Clean and presses
- Clean and jerks
- Squat jumps
- Upright rows
- Hip thrusts
Your reasons for considering sandbag cleans and its alternatives will influence your choice of substitute a lot.
Sandbag cleans can offer many valuable health benefits. This exercise is especially great for training muscle power in important muscles and for improving coordination.
The sandbag version of the clean stands out in its budget-friendly equipment requirements, how easy it is to do on the move, the extra coordination engagement, that it is less scary than the barbell version, and the variety it adds to more standard workout routines.
That being said, to train muscle power optimally, the barbell clean is likely a better choice if you have the right equipment available.
On the flip side, personal preference still matters when it comes to exercise routines too. If you like the sandbag version more, this can still be a good candidate.