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By Jessica Bento

Dynamic Variable Resistance Training (DVRT™) provides us the outline to change sandbag workouts from a “shock to the system” form of training to something far more beneficial and comprehensive. In the previous article, Introduction and Principles of Sandbag Training, we discussed the considerations we must give Ultimate Sandbags compared to barbells, dumbbells, or even kettlebells.

The overall goal of this article is to look how to piece together these concepts to construct highly effective functional workouts. The goal of DVRT is to increase strength, stability, power, and mobility all in an order to create greater movement efficiency. While “functional” training tends to be a term debated, we can all agree that the desired end result is to increase the efficiency in which people move in both sport and daily life.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Explore how to take the unique variables of DVRT and incorporate them into a functionally-based programs.
  2. Learn how to develop progressions and programming for beginners and more advanced individuals.
  3. Understand the concepts of DVRT in order to construct programs that build movement patterns to complex functional patterns.

The success of any program lies in knowing where to start and how to progress the different training variables. Since DVRT expands the options of sandbag workouts, we must need to know how to manage them.

It is worth noting that there is a difference between teaching and programming Ultimate Sandbag exercises. When we teach the various progressions in the system, we teach less complex drills first and then layer complexity through speed, load, body position, plane of motion, holding position, and/or stability of the Ultimate Sandbag (details will be discussed later).

The reason we teach from foundational to complex is to make sure the individual engrains good movement patterns. After all, each exercise is simply made up of various movement patterns – each one needing to be performed safely and proficiently. If the stress added by any form of complexity compromises the desired movement, it is considered too intense for the program at the time.

Programming, on the other hand, requires us to place the most neurologically demanding exercises toward the beginning of the workout. I want to clearly differentiate between “neurologically demanding” and “heaviest load.” For many years, strength programs have seen exercises such as bench press, squats, and deadlifts emphasized over lunges, step-ups, multi-planar movements, etc. These movements had long been emphasized because these types of movements typically allow us to use the greatest loads.

Unfortunately, high/heavy load does not automatically relate to most neurologically demanding. If we look at a squat versus a lunge pattern, we can see that the squat gives us a very stable body position and with the load often performed on the back, we have a very stable holding position of load. Even if we load the lunge on the back, we have horizontal as well as vertical forces being produced by the movement, along with the need to resist frontal and transverse plane actions. It is rather obvious that a lunge is more complex than a squat and, therefore, should actually be considered to be performed first in a training session. Additionally, this concept is similar for upper body dominant exercises.

Once we understand the priority of movement we can start looking at the movements themselves. In DVRT we look at movement patterns that are natural to the body.

Movement Patterns

While this may not appear dramatically different from many popular functional fitness programs, we do have to acknowledge that most sandbag workouts involve multiple movement patterns at once.

For example, an Arc Press is a combination of vertical pushing AND pulling, anti-rotation, anti-flexion/extension. A Staggered Clean involves a hip hinge, anti-flexion/extension, anti-rotation, and horizontal pulling (deceleration of the load coming downwards is partly done by the braking of the upper back).

Therefore, we don’t need to go down the line and train movement patterns separately. This allows us to actually keep most sandbag workouts to approximately 4-6 exercises. That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider how the body is taxed both from a muscular and neurological perspective, such DVRT programs are incredibly demanding.

Understanding how we see movement allows us to then look at the organization of the exercises and determine the progression of each movement. Much of determining the proper progression of DVRT exercise relates to the individual’s fitness level, needs, and goals. The good part is that with the same load, we have the potential of training three different levels of ability, simply by changing some of the other DVRT principles. Below are two examples:

Progression of Squat (Holding Position Emphasis)

Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Bear Hug Front Hold Shoulder


Progression of Vertical Pushing (Body Position Emphasis)

Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Bilateral Military Staggered

Based upon the two examples above, you can see how we emphasized either body position or holding position of the load to increase intensity. This is helpful from a variety of perspectives:

Builds Well-Rounded Strength

Our philosophy in DVRT is that strength is not just measured by the load one can lift, but also by the load one can resist! Therefore, we still regard load as a factor in challenging movement, but we add in the different positional work to challenge the ability to produce force in different environments. This allows us to develop strength, stability, and movement integration all at once – in essence, building a more well-rounded form of functional strength.

Provides Instant Customization

With the fitness industry moving more and more toward group-based training, the challenge becomes meeting the specific needs of the individuals in such environments. Instead of focusing solely on load or volume, we can use these other strategies (e.g., holding  and body position) to quickly and seamlessly provide customization in group-based training.

Space and Equipment Efficiency

The thing almost no coach, no matter how resourceful, can replace is space! Using these concepts we can maximize our training space because multiple pieces of equipment are not required for the different fitness levels. Additionally, allowing the coach to address the wide variety of clients without needing excessive amount of equipment could allow his or her business to be more financially viable without compromising the quality of work being performed.

How Much Weight?

Probably the most common question asked when it comes to sandbag training is, “How much weight do I use?” Obviously load is an important part of the equation. However, when we think about it, really only barbells and machines can be incrementally loaded. Most other tools (such as dumbbells and kettlebells) simply have more of these implements to allow for altering of load; while implements such as bands, suspension units, and even body weight training use other mediums to increase perceived load.

Having numerous amounts of sandbags is not really necessary. In fact, after ten years of working with so many different types of populations we have found loads and dimensions that cover most of the aspects of training.

Thanks to DVRT Master Instructors, Steve Di Tomaso and Kari Negraiff, who own Envision Fitness in Maple Ridge, BC, we have come up with a simplified means of looking at load.

It is a “stoplight” system in which green reflects the lighter (beginner) loads, yellow the intermediate, and red the most advanced. Since it is almost impossible to tell the load of a sandbag by just looking at it, having a small strip of color electrical tape around the handle makes it easier to communicate to both trainer and client. Due to the fact we have both dimension and load to DVRT, this fixes the challenges of quickly communicating to other coaches and clients. Instead of saying, “Grab the 60 pound sandbag” and simply saying, “Please grab the yellow Strength” makes it easier for everyone.

  Core Power Strength Burly
Green 10 lbs 20 lbs 40 lbs 60 lbs
Yellow 15 lbs 25 lbs 50 lbs 80 lbs
Red 20 lbs 30 lbs 60 lbs 100 lbs

It is important to note that as the sandbag becomes larger, the increase in weight becomes more dramatic. If you are just starting out and wondering where to begin, I recommend the following:

  “Smaller” Load “Larger” Load
Women Core – Yellow 15 lbs Strength – Yellow 40 lbs
Men Power – Yellow 25 lbs Strength – Green 50 lbs

You may ask what do the terms “core,” “power,” “strength,” and “burly” refer to? These are standard dimensions of Ultimate Sandbags. Just as lifting 4 foot, 5 foot, and 7 foot barbells would create a different outcome, so does using sandbags of different dimensions as discussed in our previous article HERE.

You will see there are a multitude of other ways to challenge the intensity or add progression to your workouts.

Order of Exercises

Traditionally, we have seen workout programs favor the most heavily loaded exercises as the first exercises in a program. In reality, we should be favoring and implementing the most neurologically demanding exercises first, as those require the most demand from the central nervous system. When both muscular and neurological fatigue accumulate, the drills with a higher neurological demand often become exponentially harder to perform; while the drills with a greater emphasis on load are still very possible to perform at a high level due to their more stable nature.

Let’s look at the variables that should determine order of exercise:

Body Position

  • Lunging should be programmed prior to Squatting,
  • Sprinter Stance prior to Bilateral Stance,
  • Half-Kneeling before Tall-Kneeling, etc.

Holding Position

  • Shoulder position should come prior to Front Load, while Front Loaded comes prior to Bear Hug.

Plane of Motion

  • Transverse plane should be implemented first,
  • Frontal plane movements second, and
  • Sagittal dominant movements last.


  • High velocity movements should come prior to more tension-oriented exercises.

There may be other considerations, but the above guidelines are a great starting point.

Program Design

When putting a training program together, we can start with a general outline and simply fill in the blanks.

The letters below refer to exercises that should be grouped together. For example, A1. and A2. are alternated between until the total number of sets are completed.

Since fatigue can be somewhat region specific, by alternating between movement patterns that typically have a upper or lower body dominant region, it makes it possible to build work capacity while keeping the quality of work to a high degree.

Sets Repetitions Rest Interval
A1. Lunge: Front Loaded Up Downs 3-4 5-6 per side 30 seconds
A2. Vertical Pushing: Rotational Press 3-4 5-6 per side 30 seconds
B1. Hip Hinge: Front Loaded Good Morning 3-4 10-12 30 seconds
B2. Horizontal Pulling: Off-Set Bent-Over Row 3-4 6-8 per side 30 seconds
C1. Anti-Rotation: Tall Kneeling Around the Worlds 2-3 5-6 per side 30 seconds
C2. Rotation: Shoveling 2-3 10-12 per side 30 seconds

The following workout would reflect movement patterns or some of the other variables not presented in this program. It may look like the following:

Sets Repetitions Rest Interval
A1. Hip Hinge: Lateral Step Cleans 3-4 4-6 per side 30 seconds
A2. Vertical Pulling: Pull-ups 3-4 3-5 30 seconds
B1. Squat: Bear Hug Paused Squats 3-4 8-10 30 seconds
B2. Horizontal Pushing: Lateral Drag with Push-up 3-4 5-6 per side 30 seconds
C1. Anti-Extension/Flexion: Single Leg Glute Bridge with Pullover 2-3 8-10 per side 30 seconds
C2. Flexion with Lateral Stability: Tactical Vaulting 2-3 3-5 per side 30 seconds

The movement patterns listed above are grouped together in regard to the dominant movement patterns. You will find, as discussed earlier, there are many crossovers to other movement patterns allowing us to optimize a full body functional fitness program with approximately 4-6 movements.

How Many Reps and Sets?

While there are other considerations we could discuss, most will probably want to know, “How many, how much?” Volume overall is somewhat individual and related to the following variables:

  • Fitness Level
  • Technical Proficiency
  • Fitness Goal

Complex drills should generally begin with lower repetitions, until higher fitness levels and great technical proficiency is gained. Higher tension drills are also related to lower repetitions. The drills that have more of a “flow” to them can be performed with higher repetitions as long as appropriate technique is maintained. Here are some ideas of which DVRT exercises fit into specific categories:

Low Repetition Complex Drills Low Repetition High Tension Exercises High Repetition Flow Movements
Rotational Lunge Tactical Vaulting Around the Worlds
Shouldering Lateral Drag Shoveling
Rotational Clean Up Downs Bear Hug Squats
Cyclone Arc Presses Power Clean to Push Presses

Dynamic Variable Resistance Training (DVRT™) with the sandbag offers a lot of opportunity for the fitness professional to accomplish a host of training needs. However, the key is to appreciate the unique aspect of using these tools and how to maximize the benefits to deliver the best result to the client possible. Hopefully this serves as a good starting point for you to implement DVRT into your own and your clients’ programs.

Optimizing sandbags may seem complex, but for many it is simply a new way of thinking about programming. We often say the good thing about DVRT is that it offers a lot of options; the bad thing is it offers a lot of options. Learning to manage these concepts will help you optimize your clients’ successes beyond sandbag training!

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