As we age, we lose nearly twice the amount of power as we lose strength. Every decade after 40 years old, power declines 17% and strength declines 10% so by the time you are 70 years old you would have lost over 50% of power and 30% of your strength. Yikes! This is a problem, especially for the aging client. This is why we need to train our nervous system to maintain the power that we currently have. One of the best ways to do this is through power training, such as performing sandbag cleans.

Sandbag cleans are a full-body exercise that relies on posterior chain strength from the hinge position to aggressively move the Sandbag up to the Zercher position (front squat position). This a much better exercise to learn compared to standard Olympic lifts due to the learning curve (assuming with the right type of instructions).

The argument could be made with why not just do cleans with a barbell? As a personal trainer I’m always looking for the right solutions for my clients and, what I have found is, while the barbell clean is a great power exercise, it has its drawbacks. Handling a barbell is tricky, so barbell cleans can be difficult to learn and not forgiving on the joints.

The sandbag clean in comparison is a much better option especially for clients 4o and over; you get similar power benefits, it’s easier to learn and implement right away, and its very user friendly with the joints (clients can still train hard without getting hurt)

Muscles the Sandbag Clean Challenges

Although you can think of this as a total body movement, primary muscles recruited are hamstrings, glutes, latissimus dorsi, and deltoids. Secondary muscles include rectus abdominis, trapezius, and bicep brachii.


How to do Sandbag cleans 

Sandbag1 1) Setup with feet under sandbag and about hip-width apart.

2) Hinge your hips back and grab the neutral grip handles (palms facing each other), as in setting up for a deadlift.

3) Pull or “rip” the handles apart (this engages your latissimus dorsi muscles to protect and stabilize the lower back).


4) Drive through the ground and you bring your hips through lifting the bag up.

5) Lift the sandbag up until it’s about belly button level.




6) Pull your elbows back behind you and flip the sandbag up and over to the nooks of your elbows.





7) Roll the sandbag down and hinge back into position.

*Exhale through the exertion (lifting the sandbag).



Common Mistakes

  • Letting the arms drift out in front of body, causing the bag to flop 
  • Not moving the sandbag fast enough to flip up and over into Zercher position
  • Too late on the transition of flipping the sandbag over 

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Clean it up

Learning the sandbag clean is an effective and fun way to build strength, improve conditioning, and train for power. The best part is, after you master the clean, you can progress the movement to alternate movements and planes of motion. Learn the technique, practice, and you might not have to ever slow down and lose power. Cleans are not just pro college or pro athletes and with the right tool such as the sandbag you get the benefits of training your nervous system for more power and keep you training without getting hurt which is more common with barbell for Olympic lifts.

Ian Nimblett

Ian Nimblett, CFSC, CSCS, NFPT-CPT and is a functional strength & conditioning coach, personal trainer, and author. He is the founder and owner of Premier Fitness Group LLC in South Salem, NY, a world-class functional training facility that provides private, semi-private, and group training.