Ode to the Sandbag Getup

By Jason Ford
Captain, Houston Fire Department 


If you’re doing MTI programming you’re likely acquainted with the sandbag getup. For those that have not spent time under a sandbag getting to and from the ground, you are now on notice that the holy grail does exist. It is the most simple and real-world useful exercise in the playlist. It sucks! It isn’t sexy and bragging about your numbers won’t give you much street cred but it will improve every facet of your game.

Here is my shortlist of the benefits of the sandbag getup:


1. The sandbag getup is scalable to everyone from kindergarteners to old folks.

It doesn’t matter where you fall on the bell curve of physical fitness. The user can adjust load, volume, speed, break it into its individual elements, etc. The sandbag getup is versatile, useful, and welcoming of everyone.


2. Sandbag getups train a tactical athlete movement pattern that spans the full spectrum of mountain athletes to patrol officers.

Going to the ground and back up again under load is not likely to be a high-frequency movement in your day today. But we all do unloaded getups multiple times a day, the sandbag getup serves to make that much easier. If we’re doing it under load it’s probable that things have gone bad. A few examples: the LEO having to fight to get off of his back in a physical confrontation with a bad guy, the soldier who has to get his wounded buddy picked up and moved to a safer location, or the firefighter, fully geared up working primary search of a residence moving from standing to the floor looking under beds.


3. Barbell training is damn near unbeatable for building strength over time. Sandbag getups make barbell training even better.

If barbell training is Bill Belichick, sandbag getups are Tom Brady. We’ve all had those little annoying injuries that come with barbell training. The shoulder twinge, lower back tweaks, and gimpy knees. This is where the sandbag getup makes its money by shoring up the combat chassis. You build a stronger “core” and strengthen every other part of the chassis through multiple planes and ranges of motion. If your squat numbers don’t improve after a cycle of sandbag getups, there is something very strange about your body and you should consider donating it to science.


4. Training the sandbag getup is an elite mental strength development tool.

The first time you do a max rep, 10-minute set is a spiritual event. You’ll be deep down the rabbit hole of suck breathing uncontrollably, seeing tweety birds wondering which side of the Great Divide you’re on. The next time getup day rolls around though you focus on controlling your breathing. It still sucks mightily, but you can control your breathing with the heart rate clicking somewhere north of 180. The tweety birds are at bay, getting up and down and up again becomes the sole focus in this moment. You have control of your response to the suck. Improvement. Then the next time around Rob programs for you to hit the same rep total with less time or gives you another 20 pounds in the bag. →Stimulus  Response. Embrace the suck.


In the end, we’re talking about a bag full of sand, rocks, legos, or other assorted crap you repeatedly lie down and stand back up with. There are no infomercial gadgets or magical pills here. It is absolutely Sisyphean in nature just like a hundred other things we do in life. We suck it up, we do them, they get easier and we get harder. Do hard shit → get hard. 


Questions? Email Jason Ford



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