Lab Rats Needed to Test Sandbag Training’s Ability To Increase Max Effort Strength

11/20/20 …. Sorry – No More Lab Rats Needed for this Study.


By Rob Shaul

MTI is calling for remote lab rats for an upcoming, narrow and focused, 3.5 weeks, 2-day/week Mini-Study testing the effectiveness of sandbag training to increase max effort strength.

This mini-study will begin Monday, November 30, 2020. The deadline to apply is 1700 Mountain Time, Wednesday, November 25, 2020.


In general, the only way to increase max effort, or 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM) Strength is to increase resistance – or the load being lifted.

What this means practically, is that doing more and more push ups will not lead to continued 1RM gains for the bench press, or doing more and more bodyweight squats will not lead to continued 1RM gains fo the front squat.

Depending on the individual athlete and his/her training age and incoming fitness, it is possible for a new, weak athlete to do nothing but push ups and increase his/her bench press 1RM. However, this likely will not work for an experienced, fit athlete, and even for the new/unfit one, eventually bench press 1RM will plateau, even if push up fitness increases.

We’re interested to test the ability of rep-based sandbag training to increase 1RM strength. Sandbags obviously have some mass, so we would expect some improvement, but we’ve never tested to see how much.

With the covid-caused gym closures, as well as limited equipment at austere deployment locations, often sandbags or similar are all that are available for strength training.

We have completed past research along these lines.

In a small, 2017 local lab rat mini-study we compared Leg Blasters to a percentage-based free weight progression to increase front squat 1RM. In that study, surprisingly, we found that leg blasters were as effective as heavy front squat programming to increase 1RM front squat strength. However, the sample size (just 4 athletes) for that study was very small, and therefore, somewhat questionable.

More recently, a remote lab rat mini-study compared the effectiveness of a limited equipment ACFT training plan to a fully equipped ACFT training plan to improve ACFT event scores, including the Trap Bar Deadlift 3RM.

The limited equipment group used sandbags and the sandbag clean exercise to train for the Deadlift.

The fully-equipped group used a trap bar and weight plates.

At the study’s conclusion, the fully-equipped group increased their 3RM Deadlift load by an average of 7.06% vs. the limited equipment group who increased their Deadlift 3RM by an average of 3.99%. These results were as we expected, but the sandbag clean exercise was not mirroring the Trap Bar Deadlift, and this could have skewed the results.


Lab Rats will be broken into 2 groups: Group A, and Group B. Both groups will complete a 1RM Push Press and 1RM Back Squat assessment, then each will complete different programming.

Group A will complete 3.5 weeks of barbell Push Presses and barbell Back Squats using their 1RM assessment results and MTI’s Density Progression Methodology. These athletes will require the following equipment:

  • Squat Rack, Barbell and weight plates
  • Repeating Countdown Timer

After the initial Push Press and Back Squat 1RM assessment, Group B will complete 3.5 weeks of a sandbag push press and back squat progression. These athletes will need the following equipment:

  • Squat Rack, Barbell, and weight plates for the pre and post-cycle 1RM Push Press and Back Squat 1RM Assessments
  • Repeating Countdown Timer
  • Sandbag (Men will need a 60-pound sandbag, Women will need a 40-pound sandbag)

Each group will perform its individual progression for 3 weeks, then on the Monday of week 4, each will re-test the Push Press and Back Squat 1RMs. After a rest on Tuesday, Group B will re-assess a sandbag assessment.   Overall, this mini-study will last 3.5 weeks.

Cycle Duration and Schedule:

This MTI Mini-Study will take 3.5 weeks. It will begin Monday, November 30, 2020 with the Push Press and Back Squat 1RM assessments.  On the Monday of Week 4, December 21, 2020, lab rats in both groups will re-test their Push Press and Back Squat 1RMs. Then on Wednesday, December 23, Group B will re-assess the sandbag Push Press and Back Squat rep assessment..


What We Hope To Learn

(1) The effectiveness of rep-based sandbag training to increase max effort strength.

(2) A direct comparison of barbell strength training to sandbag rep training to increase max effort strength.

To Participate

  • You’ll need to commit to training 2 days/week, and follow the program as prescribed.
  • You’ll need to commit to only do this training for lower and upper body push strength training for the study period. You may train cardio, work capacity, core, endurance, etc. on your own, but no additional lower body and upper body push strength training.
  • You’ll need the required equipment (see above)
  • You’ll need to be an experienced, fit athlete.

The cycle will begin Monday, November 30, 2020 and end, December 23, 2020.

We aim to limit the total number of Lab Rats 16-20 athletes.


Want to be an MTI Lab Rat?

Please email, and put “Sandbag Strength Lab Rat” in the subject line by 1700 mountain time, November 25, 2020.

Please include:

  • Your age, height, and weight
  • Training experience
  • Verify you have access to the required equipment, including a sandbag (60# men, 40# women)
  • Finally, please verify you can commit to the 3.5 week, 2 day/week training cycle.

You’ll be assigned to a Group, and provided with further instructions. Training will start on Monday, November 30, 2020.




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