by Matt Wiggins for MMAWeekly.com

It’s a good time for MMA on TV.

Not only do the UFC, IFL, Pride, and Bodog all have regular shows, but now we have the WEC on Versus. Along with the WEC, we also have the new reality show “Tapout,” where the Tapout gang goes around the country, finding up-and-coming fighters, sponsoring them, and taking them to their next show/fight.

In the second episode of “Tapout,” the crew sponsored and followed Antonio Banuelos, training partner and roommate of former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell. As part of the “behind-the-scenes” action, the crew visited John Hackleman’s “The Pit” training center – both his dojo and his actual “pit.”

Newcomers to Hackleman’s style of training (which, in many ways, is very similar to my own training) may have noticed the lack of traditional gym equipment. Sure, a Concept II rower and Versaclimber were used at the dojo, but at the pit itself, it was heavy medicine balls, sledge hammers, truck tires, and wheelbarrows.

This type of training is called “odd-object” training. Basically, it is training with implements that are “odd” in nature. By odd, I mean it’s not (usually) a balanced load, with handles, or anything else that makes it easy to lift.

Let’s take a look at my favorite odd-object… sandbags.

Sandbags are just what they say they are, a big bag full of sand. Heavy-duty canvas sea bags or military duffell bags (get at your local military surplus store) tend to work the best. Fill up with playground sand (which can be had at your local hardware store/depot), cinch up so it won’t leak, and there you go. (For complete instructions on how to build a leak-proof and adjustable sandbag, check out my article “Sandbag Construction.”) I’m such a fan of sandbags that the first book I ever wrote about S&C training was about sandbag workouts.

Why do I like sandbags so much? Because they’re odd-objects and tax you much more than traditional barbells or dumbbells. Think about it, a barbell has a giant handle that is easy to grip and hold. It is evenly weighted on each side. Most Olympic barbells have bearings so that the weights/collars spin on each side. The barbell makes lifting a heavy weight as easy as possible.

A sandbag, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. It is a giant blob, with no real hand-holds or place to grip. Because the sand shifts, the shape of the bag (which already made it harder to lift) can change during the exercise. It can also change the momentum of the movement, meaning you have to be in much more control. They are also big and clumsy, which also make them hard to maneuver. Overall, it is just a tougher object to manipulate.

If you think that “weight is weight,” regardless of what kind of weight it is, I want you to try something for me.

If you can easily barbell squat 200 lbs., find a buddy that weighs roughly 200 lbs. Now, Fireman’s Carry your buddy across your shoulders or simply put him over one shoulder. Now do squats. Does your 200 lbs. buddy feel the same as the 200 lbs. barbell? Darn right it doesn’t.

Why? Because the weight isn’t centered across your shoulders. It’s uneven and probably moving. This leads you to be a lot more unstable and you have to focus your energy on not just moving the weight, but keeping yourself stable, as well as keeping the weight itself stable. These are all characteristics that a sandbag can simulate.

This is one of the reasons that sandbag training is so good for MMA. There is a big difference between getting your hips strong from deadlifting barbells and having that hip snap that will let you suplex your opponent. And with the way the sandbag moves, you are training yourself to again, not only keep yourself stable, but to stabilize the weight itself. This all has a direct carryover to MMA… especially grappling.

Think about this, you hear quite often about guys who can move barbells loaded with 400-500 lbs. or more in the gym. (I don’t care what kind of exercise you’re talking about: bench, squat, deadlift, cleans, etc.) However, you don’t hear of guys moving 300 lbs. sandbags that often. Wonder why?

Look at it this way, you can master a 200 lbs. barbell, but that won’t mean you can pick up a 200 lbs. sandbag and lift it anyway you want. On the flip side, if you master a 200 lbs. sandbag, I guarantee you can take that 200 lbs. barbell and do what you want.

Are sandbags the only odd-object out there? No, but the materials can be had easily, be made in an hour, and are cheap. A 100 lbs. sandbag wouldn’t cost you more than $20-30 to make and maybe 30-60 minutes to build.

This doesn’t mean that sandbag training should replace your barbell or dumbbell training. They are both good forms of training and should both be a part of your programs. I make them both parts of my own program and the programs I design for fighters.

Try sandbag training. If you’ve never done it before, I think you’ll find that you’re not quite as strong as you think you are…

Train Hard, Rest Hard, Play Hard. 

Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins is a strength coach and author living in Cameron, NC. Having trained 15+ years, Wiggy is a strength moderator at mma.tv, columnist for MMAWeekly, and an avid fan of Mixed Martial Arts Training. His site, Working Class Fitness.com, is dedicated to designing low-tech, high-result workout programs for “regular joes.”

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