How Powerbag Training Works

By: Victoria Vogt
athlete black tired
Training with a weighted bag will increase the difficulty of your workouts.
Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

If you live in the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand, chances are you've heard of Powerbag training. It combines principles of resistance training and sport-specific conditioning -- even for runners. British sports psychologist Dr. Mark Bellamy designed Powerbags to suit the workout needs of anyone from children at school to military personnel in the combat zone. Since 2003, people have being using the patented training tool to increase the effectiveness of weightlifting or callisthenic movements. Athletes can also use the weighted bags as part of workouts on the track, field or court [source: LeisureLines GB Ltd].

A Powerbag looks like a cross between a punching bag used by boxers and a duffel bag with two carrying straps -- one on each end. Filled with sand, Powerbags come in various sizes, ranging from 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms) to 110.2 pounds (50 kilograms.) Although you'd probably get in big trouble for dropping iron weights at the gym, you can throw or drop a Powerbag on purpose without damaging property or smashing someone's fingers or toes. If you're traveling, you can empty the contents and fold up the bag, then refill it with a plastic sack of sand when you get to your destination.


Three branches of the U.K. military including the Royal Army, Navy and Air Force have formally adopted Powerbag training into their physical training programs. Their troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan use Powerbags to work out wherever and whenever they can. Many fitness trainers and gyms in Europe offer exercise sessions using Powerbags, and rugby, soccer, martial arts and swimming teams are using them as well [sources: Navy News , SPSS, Ltd.].

Stride over to the next page to learn more about Powerbag training benefits for runners.


Powerbag Strength Training for Runners

barbell hand foot
There's a risk of damaging property or crushing fingers and toes with barbells. A Powerbag doesn't present that risk.

Powerbag training offers runners the type of benefits they can get from core strength training workouts -- but with additional perks. Beyond weight or resistance training, runners can focus on the specificity of their sport by mimicking on-the-track movements with these heavy devices that are still soft and malleable. For example, an athlete can lift a Powerbag over his head or hold two of them under each arm while sprinting or jogging. As long as you're holding a Powerbag, the sand inside it constantly shifts inside the flexible, loose casing, as opposed to how a barbell remains solid regardless of whether or not you're lifting it.

Because Powerbags are more unsteady than Olympic or traditional weights, working out with them challenges the body's stabilizing muscles, improving coordination and balance. This muscle training can prevent injuries, conditioning the body to remain steady even in unexpected situations, like stepping on an uneven surface or suddenly having to dodge another runner who falls down on a path. Strong core muscles keep an athlete's trunk from wobbling as she runs, transmitting energy more efficiently and ultimately increasing speed.


Powerbag enthusiasts say they get more intense workouts from these weighted bags than from barbells or other solid weights because lifting, pushing, pulling or throwing Powerbags allows complete follow-through motion rather than a more isolated range of movement. Skeptics argue that you can just as easily fill a duffle bag with some sand or simply use a bag of sand itself and save money.

Plyometric movements like jumping and hopping can be done while carrying Powerbags. Performing these drills while focusing on form can not only improve speed and endurance but also help prevent injuries like ACL tears, which can sideline a runner for weeks or months.

Take a deep breath and leap to the next section to learn more about Powerbag workouts for runners.


Speed Training With Powerbags

sprinter black woman
Powerbag training makes more sense for a sprinter than a long distance runner.

As we learned earlier, an advantage of Powerbag workouts is that you can design them specifically for your sport or particular event like a marathon or 100-meter dash. A sprinter may want to tailor drills to knock milliseconds off his personal record. A distance runner may want to work out with Powerbags to bolster endurance in the latter part of the race when form can tend to get sloppy, slowing him down and possibly leading to injuries. For instance, a sprinter may use a slightly heavier bag while the distance runner would tote a lighter bag around for a longer period of time. The rule of thumb is that running with weights on only helps runners who race 800-meter and lower distances. When it comes to distance runners, using any type of weights when doing running drills won't directly increase speed. Instead, it should increase stamina and reduce the risk of injuries -- two things that can ultimately improve a runner's race time [source: Benson].

You may wonder if weight training with Powerbags will transform your physique from one that looks like Achilles into one that resembles Hercules. The idea with this type of resistance exercise is to increase power, speed and endurance without bulking up. The key is to focus on form and work with moderate rather than the maximum weight you can lift [source: Vogt].


Some people find the convenience of Powerbags appealing: Rather than buy a bunch of weight-training equipment to get a cross-functional, full-body workout, you only need one tool [source: Whitehaven News]. Sure, you probably won't tote a Powerbag for 5, 10 or 42 kilometers at a time -- although you could -- but you can do a series of weightlifting and running drills with just one Powerbag.

Take squats, lunges, bench step-ups and toe raises, for example. You can enhance these common exercises by performing them while holding one or two Powerbags overhead, out in front, in a bear hug or steadying a bag on your shoulders. These exercises strengthen various leg muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Then you have core exercises like the crunch or chest throw -- where you get into crunch position then throw the powerbag out in front of you.

A few ways to do running drills with the Powerbag are skipping, then doing butt-kicks or high-knee raises while walking or running. The bag can be carried above the head, laterally or linearly, on the shoulders, out in front, in a bear hug or with a curl-type grip. You may even try rotating these holds while running for more variety. Some athletes create obstacle courses using a combination of all of the above exercises.

For more information on Powerbag workouts and running training, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Benson, Roy. "Lite Weights: Three reasons why runners should lift weights." April 2007. (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • Jenkins, Mark A. "Resistance is not futile." 1997. (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • Little, David. "Enter Stage Left, The Powerbag." Whitehaven News. March 1, 2007. (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • Murphy, CJ. "Sandbag Training." (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • Vogt, Victoria. "How Core Strength Training for Runners Works." Sep. 2, 2010. (Sep. 3, 2010.)
  • Men's Health. "Baggage Handled." Men's Health UK. May 2006. (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • Navy News. "Of bats and bags." Navy News. Dec. 2008. (Aug 26, 2010).
  • Peak Performance. "The Powerbag." (Aug. 24, 2010).
  • LeisureLines (GB) Ltd. "Application." Powerbag™. (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • LeisureLines (GB) Ltd. " Powerbag™. Overview." (Aug. 28, 2010).
  • PureHealthMD. "Preventing Female ACL Injury." Discovery Health. June 28, 2010. (Aug. 28, 2010).
  • Speed, Power and Stability Systems, Ltd.. "NZs Army Elite Embrace New Training System." 2010. (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • Speed, Power and Stability Systems, Ltd. "NZs Testimonials." 2010. (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • Whitehaven News. "One Piece of Equipment That You All Need: The Powerbag." Dec. 4, 2008. (Aug. 26, 2010).
  • Whitehaven News. "Power To The Powerbag." Whitehaven News. May 29, 2008. (Aug. 26, 2010).