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December 06, 2021 3 min read

Build strength and power with Bulgarian bag training

With calisthenics and bodyweight training, it can be harder to work on the more traditional compound movements associated with strength and power, such as clean and press, fireman’s carries, squats, deadlifts and thrusters. Basically, anything that involves a barbell at the gym. Enter the Bulgarian bag!

Bulgarian bags come in varying weights and sizes, but essentially a Bulgarian bag is a more portable, more versatile and more comfortable version of a barbell. They can be used in smaller spaces and settings with a real focus on the more traditional compound movements, which are still fundamental and very useful in the training pantheon.

Invented by former Bulgarian Olympian Ivan Ivanov, the Bulgarian bag was invented for the fundamentals of wrestling, by allowing an athlete to perform throws, pushes, rotations, pulls and twists all at the same time. Obviously trying sideways throws and slams with a barbell or rigid equipment would be impossible. The Bulgarian Bag is crescent shaped, making it easy to throw over or shrug off the shoulder, to lift overhead or to swing around by the sides, with two well placed handles.

Dynamic compound movements are the key facets trained for Bulgarian bags, allowing you to string together combinations of movements over the course of a session, not only increasing endurance but also working through a full range of planes and motion. Imagine being in a wrestling ring; you need to be able to take down and opponent, then perhaps rotate them on the mat, or lift them over head for a Supplex. The Bulgarian bag allows for this type of training, which lends itself to all round strength, power and explosiveness. That’s why sandbag methods of training are used for our military and special forces.

When starting out with a Bulgarian bag, make sure your foundation starts from a good core, and solid trunk stability. These will strengthen over time, along with rotational and straight arm strength, as well as your overall endurance. But make sure your engagement through these areas is strong from the outset, as any rotation or pushing could lead to injury without the proper base. As with any new piece of equipment, practice the individual components of any combination before putting them together. Always practice the fundamental basics! 

Below I’ve listed an example Bulgarian Bag session which is slightly simpler to perform in your workout space, without having to grapple someone to the ground! You can level this up or down and adjust the times depending on your skill level.

  • Thrusters x2
  • Alternating Step forward lunges with bag rotation x2 each side
  • Repeat for 30 – 40 secs
  • Rest 10 – 20 secs
  • Fireman’s Carries x max
  • Repeat for 30 – 40 secs
  • Rest 10 – 20 secs
  • Get Ups x 5 on Left side
  • Side throw from shoulder on left side
  • Press Ups on bag x 5
  • Repeat for 30 – 40 secs
  • Rest 10 - 20 secs
  • Get Ups x 5 on right side
  • Side throw from shoulder on right side
  • Press Ups on bag x 5
  • Repeat for 30 – 40 secs
  • Rest 1 minute

Repeat Session 3 - 5 times or for as long as you can (i.e. a timed period you can sustain)

There are so many training sessions for the Bulgarian bag out there, making it very easy to find information on using one carefully and efficiently. YouTube is definitely a good place to start. Gravity Fitness also have a heavy duty sandbag video you can watch to get some inspiration. You can also use any sandbag training methods and apply them to the Bulgarian bag. Here’s a link to a heavy duty Sandbag article as well for more information.

Go ahead and tag us on Instagram to show us your progress with your Bulgarian bag or sandbag training.

by Guy Joynson for Gravity Fitness