As CrossFitters, we generally strive to be better. We want PRs, from benchmark WODs to strength movements. We chase our first double under, ring dip, and muscle up with a fervor felt by few. But as we pursue fitness we should ask ourselves, truly, what is fitness? If you’ve gotten to where you feel great about everything you do–you have butterfly pullups, Rx all the WODs, and are hitting WOD and strength PRs–maybe you’re happy about your level of fitness. While none of us would argue against the value of practice, there is a different way to improve your level of fitness that complements traditional CrossFit training and is beneficial in and of itself. Enter sandbag workouts.

Comfort and Lobsters

A compelling metaphor StrongFit creator Julien Pineau uses to describe the danger of comfort is that a lobster, in order to grow, has to break its hard outer shell. The shell of a lobster, while it doesn’t grow, acts as a protective exoskeleton that lasts as long as the animal is growing a new, bigger, but soft and undeveloped exoskeleton underneath. Until that soft exoskeleton hardens, the lobster is particularly vulnerable without its older but smaller shell. This cycle of growth and molting is never-ending and occurs as long as the lobster lives.

Humans are obviously not lobsters. However, we also need vulnerability, or discomfort, to grow. If we think back to the beginning of our CrossFit journey, we’ll likely remember how challenging those first classes were, how weird a barbell felt, how even scaled movements seemed difficult. Even if you were an incredible athlete, you may recall seeing people flying past you, lifting heavier than you, and generally kicking your ass. We all pushed harder. We overcame soreness, through asking what a clean was again and again, and through not being able to kick up to a handstand. The first year or two seemed to have PRs every week. We all got better because we were uncomfortable.

We all get comfortable. It’s easy, because who really likes to be uncomfortable? After a year or two of PRs, we naturally get confronted with a plateau, and this is a dangerous place because complacency and comfort sets in. This is where bands for pull-ups become addictive. No one wants to sacrifice a Fran PR by going from a green band to a red band. So we stay where we are, and stop growing. Does that improved Fran time with the green band mean improved fitness? Or did pull-ups with the green band just get easier instead?

Why Sandbag Workouts? 

You may asking WTF this has to do with sandbags. Maybe you caught on immediately, but then wondered what’s with the lobsters? Sandbags make us uncomfortable with their unwieldy shape, shifting contents, and learning curve. We feel vulnerable trying something new, especially when our ego is involved. Shockingly, the sandbags have less of a learning curve than a barbell, and provide the uncanny ability to build strength fast.

It might seem impossible to clean a 60lb sandbag your first week, but the next you might pick up the 80. What you won’t realize in that moment is that you can clean much more than 80lb. You might hate walking any distance with a sandbag of any weight, but you won’t realize that learning to brace and breathe through the walk is the bracing and breathing you need for a deadlift, a squat, even a ring dip.

Ask yourself, do you hate the sandbags because they’re worthless devil bags, or do you hate them because you’ve forgotten how uncomfortable and vulnerable you were at the beginning of your CrossFit journey? And if you’re ready to break through your outer shell, join us for some sandbag workouts at StrongFit on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and throughout the day on Thursdays (schedule subject to change–see Wodify).

Tobi is a CrossFit Level 2 trainer and a StrongFit coach and enthusiast.