Workout sandbags allow you to approach the fundamental squat exercise from a different angle. Find out what effects the different variations have.
This article will consider the sandbag back squat to be the main variation of the exercise.
Compared to regular barbell back squats, the sandbag version engages your stabilization muscles more. Additionally, the sandbag version is budget-friendlier and easier to do on the move.
On the other hand, sandbags do require some extra effort to get into starting position. Some people also find the bulkiness of the sandbag less comfortable than a barbell.
Both types of back squats are great for growing and strengthening your quadricep (front thigh muscles) and improving endurance in a variety of other muscles.
Similar to regular squat variations, the different sandbag squats offer their own specific advantages and disadvantages.
How to do a sandbag squat
First of all, you need a workout sandbag of the right weight for your training goals. Initially, you want to use a light weight to get used to the exercise.
After that, you can choose a sandbag that allows you to squat between 5-15 times in each set.
Next, as mentioned before, the sandbag back squat will be the main example in this article. A sandbag with handles will be the most convenient for this variation.
Take the following steps to do the exercise with this type of sandbag:
- Stand in front of the sandbag with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold the sandbag handles that come closest to slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Raise the sandbag explosively by stretching your legs and tilting your upper body back until you stand up straight. Keep your spine straight during this movement.
- While it is in the air, guide the sandbag toward your upper back, slow it down somewhat with your arm muscles, and catch it on your upper back with your knees slightly bent.
- Stand up straight with the sandbag on your upper back and feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lower your upper body as far as comfortable by folding your knees. Keep your knees above your feet and your spine more or less straight.
- Return to the position of step 4 by stretching your legs.
- Lower or drop the workout sandbag after your desired number of repetitions.
You mainly want to focus on keeping your spine straight throughout the sandbag squat.
Even if you are already experienced with clean and squat movements, you likely want to start with lighter sandbags and build up from there.
The difference may not be too big but the instability of the bag likely makes it so you can squat less weight compared to a barbell.
You can find the other sandbag squat variations and their effects later in the article.
Sandbag squat muscles worked
Sandbag squats will still mainly work the typical squat muscles which include your quadriceps (front thighs), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), calves, and erector spinae (lower back).
The instability of the sandbag works your inner thighs, outer thighs, core muscles, and ankle muscles a bit more than a regular barbell back squat.
Besides that, you still have to approach your workout program in the right way to see results. In simpler words, you need to do sandbag squats with enough resistance and repetitions for your training goals.
For something like quadricep muscle growth, you want to do 3 to 6 sets of 5 to 15 sandbag squats with a weight that is very challenging.
As you get stronger, you will need to keep increasing the weight of the sandbag to stay within this range.
Sandbag squat benefits
Squats are a great way to get the benefits of sandbag training. Some of the advantages over more standard equipment options include:
- More stabilizing muscle engagement: The weight of the sandbag can move around a decent amount. This works a variety of stabilizing muscles to a larger extent. Whether this is actually a benefit depends on your training goals.
- Budget-friendly weighted squat: Workout sandbags are often more budget-friendly than the same weight in a barbell and weight plates.
- Keeps things interesting: Sandbag squats are different from the barbell version in coordination requirements, balance requirements, and equipment. These changes can keep your workouts fun and benefit consistency.
- Easier to do on the move: Most workout sandbags allow you to remove the sand. This makes it easy to take this piece of fitness equipment with you to other locations.
- Can be used in other exercises: This next benefit is a bit more general to workout sandbags and not just the squat exercise. Workout sandbags are versatile and can be used in a variety of movements.
Barbell back squats are still an extremely good exercise but sandbag squats also offer a few nice benefits.
Besides that, you also get the regular positive effects of lifting weights. You should definitely not underestimate these.
5 other sandbag squat variations
Similar to regular squats, sandbag squats can be done in a variety of variations. These have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Some of these could be a better choice than the sandbag back squat variation for you.
1. Bear hug sandbag squat
The bear hug squat is relatively unique to workout sandbags. In this variation, you hold the sandbag between your arms in a way where you hug the bag.
This hug engages your chest, shoulder, and bicep muscles in an isometric, static, way.
Additionally, the different weight distribution and more upright upper body position this causes make the squat focus slightly more on your quadriceps and slightly less on your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
A benefit of this variation is that most people find it easier to get the sandbag in position compared to the back squat variation.
If you like the way bear hugs engage your upper body, you can also consider the sandbag carry exercise.
2. Front sandbag squat
In front squats, the sandbag rests on the front part of your shoulders. The benefits are similar to the bear hug squat but the muscle engagement is different.
Front sandbag squats are somewhat easier to get into position. That being said, most people will not love the feel of this position, it can feel a bit awkward.
Next, the weight distribution is again more forward which leads to slightly more focus on your quadricep (front thigh) muscles and less on the back leg muscles and lower back muscles.
Additionally, to hold the sandbag in position, you will engage your front deltoids (front part of the main shoulder muscle) more.
3. Overhead sandbag squat
As the name implies, this next variation involves holding the sandbag above your head with slightly less than stretched arms during the squats.
This works your trapezius, deltoid, tricep, and scapular muscles a lot more. In turn, most people need to lower the weight of the sandbag compared to previous variations.
Overhead sandbag squats can be helpful for training shoulder strength and balance. To train the typical leg muscles there are more effective variations.
4. Bulgarian split sandbag squat
Bulgarian split sandbag squats require you to lean on an elevated surface behind you with one foot. Most of the weight rests on the front leg.
This makes it so your sandbag does not have to be as heavy. In turn, it can also make the initial clean movement to get the bag in position easier.
Additionally, Bulgarian split sandbag squats help you avoid muscle imbalances that come from using one leg more than the other in two-legged squat variations.
One downside of this exercise is that it can be challenging when it comes to balance. Especially with the instability of the sandbag.
Something else to note is that you should not forget to do the same number of repetitions on each leg to avoid muscle imbalances.
5. Zercher sandbag squat
Zercher squats involve holding the sandbag horizontally between your upper and lower arms. The weight distribution is more forward compared to the back squat and you engage your bicep muscles more.
While this variation is typically easier to get and stay in position, most people can do this sandbag squat with less weight. This can negatively influence your leg muscle training.
It is worth noting that some people will find sandbag squats uncomfortable in areas like their knees, back, and ankles.
People with (a history of) problems in these areas want to be careful, start with light weights, and potentially even start with sandbag squat alternatives.
Even if you are not in this category of people, you don’t want to forget to warm up before sandbag squats.
After that, having any pain while doing this exercise could be a sign that you are doing something wrong.
This can mean you have to change up your workout routine, improve your habits in other areas, and/or start with other movements.
Are sandbag squats an effective exercise?
Sandbag squats can be an effective exercise to grow and strengthen your quadricep (front thigh) muscles and improve endurance in a variety of other muscles.
Even if the sandbag is filled entirely, it will offer an extra challenge in terms of balance. This works your stabilizing muscles more than a regular barbell back squat.
Sandbags are also great in that they are relatively budget-friendly, can keep things interesting, and are easy to take to different locations.
One potential downside to note is that getting into starting position with enough weight can be more challenging for sandbag squats.
You may have to use less weight which can make the squat exercise less effective for muscle growth and strength progress.
That being said, sandbag squats could still be a fun and effective addition to your exercise routine. Especially if you like doing them.