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Best Functional Workout To Build Whole Body Strength

Updated on December 8, 2012

An alternative to the shoulder get-up, we dare you to try it...

The Turkish Get-Up with a Sandbag

Josh Henkin of showing how it's done
Josh Henkin of showing how it's done

Get up get down with the sandbag

The term functional training has grown to become any style of training that challenges the body to bring as many muscles as possible into stabilizing the body while performing the lift. The concept is that by taking your muscles through a range of motion you may not get with traditional lifts, you are getting 'real' functional strength, at least for that task.

Of course, it's one thing to do dumbbell flyes or bench presses on a stability ball, and entirely another to try standing on it with one foot while doing a squat or a military press (yes, I have actually seen this, with a trainer standing nearby.) In any case, we're not concerned with either of those exercises. The fact is, if you do heavy deadlifts, bench presses, and squats, you will develop one hell of a lot of muscles, and your stabilizer muscles must be engaged if you are working hard enough. The pain you feel as your muscles are pulled will indicate to you when they are not engaged.

For fight training, although these are great strength training exercises for any sport, the basic lifts are obviously not enough for a rounded workout.  Strength training for a fight, especially one on the mat, requires training your muscles through a range of motion that mimics the positions you might find yourself in when grappling on the ground, or standing locked in a struggle.  This is applicable functional training that can improve joint stability, improve your flexibility, and keep you from sustaining avoidable injuries.  Enter the sandbag.

Sandbags can easily be made at home inexpensively or purchased online through a couple of websites. They are often referred to as 'odd object lifting' because they are not balanced and do not stay balanced through the lift. This challenges your body to keep adjusting and working to manage the weight and keep it moving. Sounds like a wrestling match, doesn't it?  For a quick tutorial on how to make a sandbag (it's rocket science, really,) I've included a link below.  Now let's take a look at a very effective workout that gets you to activate your stabilizers for your lower back, hips, and abdominal muscles, and builds strength that translates to any sport on the mat:

After a thorough warm-up, perform the following three exercises, as heavy as you can, for the prescribed amount of reps.  Don't slack off either, if it says five reps, give your body the benefit of all five reps, even if you have to drop the bag and pick up the dog, keep going.  These are heavy sets for strength, so rest about two minutes in between each.  For an intense cardiovascular workout, lighten the weight (or don't) and do each exercise back-to-back, resting between rounds.

  • Shoulder Get-UpWith a heavy sandbag on one shoulder, that same side knee bent, and the other leg straight, drive your body up to your opposite elbow, then to the hand.  Keep driving the bag up as you get your legs under you and stand up.  Reverse, and repeat.  Three to five reps on each side.  If you are able, you can always do the traditional version of this exercise, shown in the video below.
  • Mo's Get-Down:  Ok, a video will coming up for this soon, but for now I'll just explain.  Clean the sandbag up and over your head, bringing it to rest on your shoulders like you're going to do a squat. Squat down as far as possible, and drop carefully to your knees; or kneel one leg at a time.  Carefully lower your upper body towards the floor in front of you, keeping your elbows and forearms on either side of your face holding the sandbag. Extend one leg and then the other, keeping your face off the ground with your forearms.  When you are fully stretched out on the floor, reverse the process, legs first, rolling your body up to a squat and standing up.  Three reps each side.  **For extra fun, push the bag out in front of you at the bottom position, then pull it back onto your shoulders before getting back up.
  • Round Back Deadlift/Triple Extension Lift:  Picking heavy stuff up off the ground.  Only you'll be starting by getting your arms under the sandbag that is resting on the ground between your legs, like you are going to hug it, because basically you will.  Your back will be rolling up from the crouch out of necessity as you hug the bag to your body, come all the way up, and extend your spine at the top of the movement.  Five reps heavy.

These are taxing exercises, but use them to supplement your workout to some degree, not replace it.  Although you can perform all the traditional exercises in addition to the 'functional' ones with sandbags and odd objects,  I would add exercises like this to a routine that includes the basic power lifts or Olympic lifts.  There are great reasons for this, but for now, I suggest you go roll around on the ground with a sand bag!

A well made sandbag will take punishment much better than homemade. Here are two of the best of the best.

Hugger Mugger Unfilled Premium Sand Bag (Aqua)
Hugger Mugger Unfilled Premium Sand Bag (Aqua)
This bag is EMPTY, waiting for you to fill with sand, corn, rice or any other dry item. A strong zipper allows for easy replacement and cleaning. DO NOT USE WATER to fill (it will leak). This empty sand bag can be filled partially or up to 10 lbs of sand, making it handy in your Yoga Practice.

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