Why sandbags?

17-03-2017 Nolan Mooney

Most have you have probably been lucky enough to experience the sandbags and, I have heard that some of you are beginning to ask yourself, “What the hell are these f*cking sandbags good for???


Everyone has their own reason(s) for doing CrossFit. Some come for the results, some for the camaraderie and some just because they’re crazy and love suffering. I fall in to the last category I think. However, regardless of your reason, the goal of CrossFit is to become more fit and fitness as defined by CrossFit is: work capacity across broad time and modal domains or in other words, the ability to perform any and all activities as long or short as you want. Fitness is the goal and to achieve that goal we use the CrossFit methodology.

If we’re going to talk about CrossFit, we need to define it: CrossFit is constantly varied, functional movements, executed at high intensity. This is typically where it goes wrong. Many people think that CrossFit is merely a certain set of skills and exercises for example, snatches, muscle ups and other super sexy skills, however that couldn’t be further from the truth! If that was the case than all the people that could not perform snatches, muscle-ups and super sexy skills would not be able to perform CF. We all know that due to the universal scalability of the program, everyone can do CF. And if the goal of CrossFit is to become more fit, then we want to take advantage of as many functional movements as we can. Movements that have an effect on our daily lives and have a large impact on our ability to accomplish all task that are thrown at us, not just the task or exercise we choose to do in the gym. Enter the sandbag.


With respect to functionality, the sandbag is probably more comparable to an object that you would find outside of the gym in real life than what you find in the gym. In the real world there are no barbells, rings or dumbells just lying a round. (Even in Russia, you can’t find single kettlebell on the street corners or in the park!) If you have to pick something up at home whether it be a bag of dog food, a child or your backpack, you typically have to bend over and grab the object in between your hands in front of you. If you carry your kid, cousin or dog(?) they are probably in front of you. And most importantly, when you give someone a hug, you bring it in for the real thing, face to face. The functional application of the sandbag should be fairly obvious at this point but what kind of stimulus are we talking about? What do we get out of it?


Often times, at CF FSF and UnScared CF at least, we have you carry the sandbag in the front of your body and because of this, you are forced to contract your “core” muscles. Your core is comprised of the muscles that are responsible for stabilising your spine, among other things, and when carrying the sandbag you do this automatically. We call contracting your core muscles like this “bracing”, which is what you do to some extent with almost every exercise you perform. From an air squat to a 1 rep max Deadlift. The stronger your core, the faster you squat, the heavier you can deadlift and most importantly, the more beautiful/handsome you will become ;-) If you walk while carrying the sand bag, we introduce movement in the hip which engages many small stabilising muscles isometrically(maintaining a fixed position) but also iso-laterally(one side independently moving from the other). This can help with balancing deficiencies between right and left sides, help prevent improper movement patterns and even help to correct them. Okay, I get it, it’s good for my body but I hate them because they are horrible!


We don’t do CrossFit because it is easy. No one ever did their first CrossFit WOD and thought, “well, that was easy?!” Most of us, after the first CF WOD, are questioning our own sanity, wondering if there is an AED in the vicinity, if your insurance will cover self-imposed torture, and sometimes “where do I sign up?” ;-) We all have a WOD (or a movement/exercise) that we are “allergic” for or that we absolutely loathe. That WOD for me is Fran. I do Fran once a year because I know how hard I will have to push myself in order to get a new PR. I know hoe much I am going to have to suffer both mentally and physically to shave a even one or two seconds off of my time. Sometimes I get that PR and sometimes I don’t, but ultimately, it’s not about the PR. That mental and physical battle makes us mentally and physically stronger which in turn gives us perspective. We look at everything differently; our jobs, our lives, everything! After I’ve “survived” Fran, I know that no matter what life throws at me, I can do it! It won’t, it CAN’T, be worse than Fran. This is exactly the reason that at FSF we don’t say we “can’t” do something. Maybe, I can’t do it YET, but I’m going to do the best I can and that is what it is all about.


A long time ago, a colleague of mine Dennis Tanamal said, “CrossFit is not about what you can do, it’s about what you  can’t do yet.” Exactly! The battle, the struggle, the defeats and the successes, the falling and getting back up, and everything that makes us better people; that is what this is all about. What do sandbags have to do with all of this? Well, how does it feel when you get to the 400m turnaround while you’re “hugging” your sandbag? Does it feel nice or easy? No, absolutely not! But, how do you feel when you cross the threshold of the roll door, the “finish line”? Awesome! We become as strong mentally as we are physically and the next time that you are carrying your groceries, your child, suitcase or whatever it is that you have to carry, it’s no problem. You got this! And by the way, the sandbag is way worse!!! ;-)

Nolan Mooney

About Nolan Mooney

Nolan Mooney has been doing CrossFit for 9 years which doesn’t mean he's any good at it, it just means he is thoroughly aware of what he’s not good at.  He's Head Coach and co-founder of CrossFit FSF in Driebergen and and spends his weekends as a Flowmaster for the L1 and L2 CrossFit Seminars throughout Europe and the rest of the world.  He also has a risky addiction to ice cream and tank tops.

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