Sandbagging: Disaster relief, deliberate slow down, or tough workout?

My first recollection of the term “sandbagging” was when I lived in the St. Louis, MO area, and each spring, the news would announce volunteers were needed for sandbagging the banks of the Mississippi River to help prevent or slow flooding. I was impressed that such a simple tool could save lives and protect property by reducing the flow of water.

In college, I learned another definition of “sandbagging” when working on moving trucks. It was usually referred to in one of two ways, depending on the driver and crew. If the driver liked to work hard and finish as efficiently as possible, then a person might be accused of sandbagging if he stayed in the bathroom too long. On the other hand, if we were not charging a customer by the hour, a driver might encourage sandbagging to ensure we had a 40 hour work week. The concept of sandbagging to reduce efficiency was foreign to me and never felt right.

Last year, I learned of a third form of sandbagging, related to the first in practice, but instead of preventing a flood,the purpose of the exercise was to produce a flood of sweat. If you have never exercised with a sandbag, it is like a heavy version of a two year-old throwing a temper tantrum. Because the sand shifts every time the bag is moved or jostled, the weight is inconsistent and variable from one step to the next. For those new to sandbagging, the challenge is to position the bag into the most compact size possible to prevent shifting and to provide a firm grip. This takes considerable practice to master.

Lighter sandbags
An early introduction to lighter sandbags.

Today, at Pankow-Performance, we included sandbagging as part of a 3 round pull, push, carry medley, and, interestingly, sandbagging (definition 2) while sandbagging (definition 3) only makes things harder. For all 3 events, the weights were very reasonable (I was doing clean and jerk with more weight than the sandbag I carried), but together, the exercises challenged each of us. In the first round, I tried the 200 lb bag, as I figured I could lift 200 lbs overhead, so it should be easy enough to  lift to my chest and run. Unfortunately, I lifted the weight to my chest, but I could not run with it once it was there. I moved down to the 150 bag and found reasonable success for two rounds. On the third round, I was exhausted and could not complete the 50 yard course (25 yards down and back).

It was the third round of the carry that gave me the most growth, as I learned to lay down my burden when I could go no further. Dave was standing nearby offering coaching, encouragement, and, most importantly, the advice to evaluate what my body needed and listen to it. With this advice, I decided my body had reached its physical capacity to move the sandbag safely. Could I have muscled it up and finished the course? Possibly, but in order to do that, I would have risked injury in contorting my body to inch the weight along. There would be no benefit in doing this simply for pride and ego.

Why is this important? Because “a man has got to know his limitations,” as Clint Eastwood’s character Dirty Harry once said. Whether exercising, working, enjoying libations, or a multitude of other activities, we must learn and acknowledge our limitations. For me, this is one of my toughest lessons to learn and exercises to practice.