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In Part 1 of my series on sandbag training (CrossFit Journal 65, January 2008), I discussed the rationale behind sandbag training, talked about how to make a sandbag, and explained the fundamental lifts. This month, we'll take a look at more useful lifts and talk about integrating the sandbag into workouts and training programs.

Pressing motions done with the sandbag offer a unique training stimulus. Unlike with barbells, or even dumbbells, sandbags sag, shift, and present a surface that is difficult to hold on to and exert force against. In order to maintain the integrity of the load, you have to squeeze the bag together as you press it. Almost any barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell pressing motion can be replicated with the sandbag, to slightly different effect. Common examples are the overhead press, push press, jerk, floor press, bent press, and, of course, the bench press. Sandbags can add a new dimension to thrusters as well.

Sandbags also make excellent implements for upper-body pulling motions. The primary difference between them and other implements is the difficulty you will have finding and maintaining a proper grip. In order to get the maximum benefit, grip the fabric of the bag rather than any handles it may have. Initially, the overload on the hands and forearms may be a limiting factor, but your grip strength will quickly build up. For athletes who participate in other sports such as grappling, football, or rugby, this also translates to a much more secure hold on the opponent's gi or jersey.

One of the main challenges facing new CrossFit affiliates, once you find a box and get some equipment, is figuring out where everything should go. The layout of the platforms and pull-up bars, and where you put your medicine balls, kettlebells, rings, and other equipment will enhance or diminish the experience your clients will have. If your facility is disorganized, your classes will be too.

Workout programming, space organization, and class flow are essential to operating successful group and individual training. Getting your layout and equipment right gives you the opportunity to train larger numbers of people in relatively small spaces. Larger classes--of, say, 15 to 30 people--require the instructor to have strong skills in handling equipment and class flow. The ability to morph, move, and manage large groups in effective workouts is strongly affected by your facility's layout.

CrossFit Ann Arbor/HyperFit USA had more than more than 30,000 people-hours of CrossFit training in 2007 (up from 24,000 in 2006), with class sizes ranging from a high of 77 people to as small as one. Even before we found CrossFit several years ago, our bootcamp classes often had 30 to 50 people in them, with a very limited amount of equipment. The key then as now is organization and leadership.

When we were getting ready to open our main facility (the "compound") in August of 2006, I knew that we would need to be able to move equipment and change up the facility depending on the class and the workout. One of the major issues I saw was pull-up bar placement.

Sandbag Training

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Sandbag training has been around as long as there has been manual labor. Even in our industrial age, luggage, duffels, and those huge bags of dog food, concrete, or potting soil don't get onto the shelves or into our cars by themselves; someone has to put them there. In attempts to make fewer trips from the car, we tend to carry our grocery bags into the kitchen in strange and creative ways. Finally there are times when the real-world item is actually a sandbag, as in the case of flooding or military fortification. So as unusual as it might be to see a sandbag in your gym, it is one of the most functional pieces of gear you can get. And one of the least expensive.

This article introduces sandbag training and equipment and the fundamental lifts. In the next one in the series, we will take a look at some more exercises and combinations and some ways to integrate sandbag work into your CrossFit training.

Why sandbags?

Let's take a closer look at the training stimulus that the sandbag provides relative to the more traditional barbell. The first issue comes with how to grip it. Asked to lift a barbell, the average untrained person won't stare at it all too long before taking a relatively symmetrical grip and giving it a good heave. The lifting mechanics may be all wrong, but there is usually little problem with the grip itself. This is not so with the sandbag. Even a well-trained athlete who has never done any sandbag work will often look all around it, spread and gather it, grip and re-grip it. In addition, he or she may re-grip it mid-rep or change grips over the course of a set as the hands and arms tire. Sandbag lifting provides an entirely different, unique grip challenge and strengthening.

Personal Equipment


There is actually very little personal equipment that is absolutely necessary to take to the gym. But it is surprising how much stuff some people carry with them. As a general rule, some equipment is useful, some equipment is most definitely not useful—and in fact is a bad idea—and some is just absurd. In order of most useful to most silly in the gym bag we have squat shoes, chalk, a lifting belt, lifting straps, knee wraps or knee sleeves, wrist wraps, elbow wraps or sleeves, gloves, devices such as a “Manta Ray” or a “Sting Ray” that hold the bar for you, and anything you intend to use to shave anything but your face.

I had a member named Lonnie a while back. Nice guy, lovely wife (whom he met there in the gym), and strong under the bar, but with a few annoying habits. One day I walked out of the office and saw him doing incline leg raises on the incline sit-up board, holding on to the bar behind his head with his hands strapped to the bar. I, of course, approached him to question this behavior. He said that he was using straps so he could concentrate on his abs better, which is, of course, very important in an ab exercise. I made fun of him for several weeks...

Plyo Boxes


Plyo boxes are very popular in CrossFit gyms. They're great for all kinds of workouts—or for just sitting on after a good workout with your head cradled in your hands waiting for the room to stop spinning. However, commercial plyo boxes can cost as much as $100 to $200 each, plus shipping. Homebuilt equipment—a favorite CrossFit brand—can be constructed with quality at least equal to that of the best commercial designs and at significantly lower cost. Square boxes and open-sided boxes take a bigger toll on the shins from missed jumps, and slant-sided boxes are stackable, so they require less floor space for storage. So this month's journal brings you the do-it-yourself CrossFit custom plyo box with slanted sides. Your friends, relations, workout buddies, and clients will be sore impressed! Or just plain sore after a hard workout on one of these babies. Total cost for this project should be in the neighborhood of $40-60 per box or less, depending on the size and your bargain-shopping abilities

Hardly a week passes that I don’t hear someone say, “I hear you opened a gym. That must have cost a fortune.” My usual response is, “No, not really. You would be surprised at how small the start-up costs are relative to mainstream commercial fitness facilities.” Typically, their eyes glaze over at this point, their eyebrows wrinkle, and I suspect that they walk away thinking, “Yeah right, no need to play it down. There is no way you can own a gym without spending a bundle.” Well, there is.

Part of the start-up process is not only to plan gym layout but to prioritize equipment purchases by determining which are required for the exercises that are most important and used most frequently—the staple movements that make up the core of our core.

You would be surprised at how small the start-up costs are relative to mainstream commercial fitness facilities...

In my analysis, the core movements boiled down to the pull-up, squat, handstand push-up, and running—all things that require no significant cash outlay and are enough to establish an initial client base around. For the items that do require fairly large expenditures, there are often creative work-arounds, what I like to call the circumnavigation of retail purchases.

This article is essentially the story of how we at newly opened CrossFit San Diego effected such a circumnavigation and managed to open our doors with a minimum of cash outlay–and a minimum of construction aptitude.

Stall bars are an excellent tool for developing strength, conditioning, and flexibility. A set of stall bars looks like a wide ladder, typically about three feet wide and eight feet tall, with round steps, mounted to a wall. Good stall bars are heavy and robust, and they are made to handle any person or activity without failing. They are valuable to athletes, gymnasts, physical therapists, military and police personnel, martial artists, weightlifters, and to anyone who wants more function than the “all-in-one” fitness machines can provide. Over 100 years ago, stall bars were common equipment in YMCA and college, high school, and private gyms, but their popularity waned during the middle of the last century. However, growing health consciousness, along with the popularity of gymnastics, has brought about a renewed appreciation for stall bars.

In the late 1700s to early 1800s, the word gymnastics was used to mean physical education and development generally, rather than to describe a specific sport. Johann Guts Muths, who is sometimes called the grandfather of modern gymnastics, started a new movement in physical education for school-age boys and young men in Germany and published a book titled Gymnastics for Youths in 1793. He built a 20-foot-high wooden frame outdoors for climbing, and suspended climbing ropes, a rope ladder, and a climbing pole from it. He had a wooden ladder that was used to climb to the top of the frame when needed.

The CrossFit Journal was launched in 2002 with an issue titled “The Garage Gym.” In that premier issue we decried the lack of efficacious programming in commercial gyms and proffered a solution with the promise that “you can build, rather inexpensively, a world-class strength and conditioning facility in your garage!”

Now we revisit the CrossFit garage-gym concept to report on the successes of what may be hundreds of CrossFit start-up gyms and the aspirations and motivations of the people behind them.

CrossFitters are holding court in London, New York, New Brunswick, Puerto Rico, Baghdad, Afghanistan, and Qatar. CrossFit crews are convening in public parks, garages and carports, basements, barns, deposed tyrants’ homes, commercial gyms, storage lockers, martial arts academies, and universities, under bleachers, and on military bases.

Three years ago we saw the CrossFit movement as an alternative to the prevailing commercial gym establishment and its signature “big-box,” machine-based, bodybuilding approach to fitness. We promoted the garage-gym notion in large part to provide refuge for our more athletic programming, which couldn’t find quarter in the commercial gyms.
Today we see ourselves as part of a wider war between the big-box franchises such as Gold’s, Bally’s, and 24-Hour Fitness and the small-box facilities of which the Curves chain is the best-known example.


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Twenty years ago I was awarded my first full-time job as the university's first fulltime strength and conditioning coach. Fresh out of graduate school and having served as an assistant conditioning coach in a Big 8 (now Big 12) athletic program I was ready to whip the world. There was only one problem. The school had a designated area for their new weight room but not enough equipment. The school was inadequately equipped with the classic barbell and the accompanying weights. I had conditioned using barbells and I had learned to write programs involving barbells. With only enough equipment to service half the team, it was determined that the underclassmen would use the dumbbells for their training. Since they were the lowest members of the food chain, they would have to wait to graduate to the next class. What happened next was a tremendous learning experience for this young coach.

What we discovered during the post-assessment phase of the program that included agility testing, speed and power was that the kids using dumbbells improved as much, if not more than the older kids using the barbells. Now I understand that it was not a controlled study and that the majority of the underclassmen had never experienced any structured conditioning before college. The impression it left on me was so powerful I began a quest to try new exercises and ways in which to incorporate dumbbells.

Two Training Aids

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It has long been said that necessity is the mother of invention and this month we give support to that adage with two exceedingly simple inventions. Both devices address problems that have long plagued our training efforts.

The first problem in dire need of remedy was how do we bring the pull-up to people who've never done one? Our first and easiest solution was the use of an assisted pull-up device like our favorite, the Stairmaster Gravitron, and we have long made regular use of the Gravitron with all our pull-up initiates.

There are several aspects of the Gravitron, though, that make its use problematic. First, the Gravitron is outrageously expensive. At nearly $3,000 after shipping, few pieces of gym equipment come even close in price. The steep price is perhaps particularly foreboding to someone relatively new to serious strength and conditioning training as are most people working to develop their first pull-up. Imagine if your first weight set had to be an Eleiko; there'd be a lot fewer weightlifters!

The second major problem with the Gravitron and all other assisted pull-up devices is that they are about as portable as your kitchen refrigerator.

Parallettes training is fun and highly developmental. Without gymnastics training we opt out of the most potent neurological training (coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance) available to an athlete, and parallettes training is essential to your gymnastics development.

We hope our fervor for parallettes training specifically and gymnastics training generally will inspire all of you to get hold of a pair of parallettes and begin your gymnastics training in earnest.

To that end we offer this month step-by-step instructions for building a great set of parallettes out of PVC pipe available wherever building supplies or landscaping materials are sold.

Four things inspire this project: 1. They’re dirt-cheap ($10-20), 2. ANYONE could make them, 3. They come out not just good but fantastic – you couldn’t ask for better parallettes; we’re shocked at how nice they are, and 4. It was a lot of fun building them.

The Garage Gym


The Need

The ideal gym would be located close to home or work, well equipped, clean, and manned by knowledgeable helpful staff. Our ideal gym would also not be overly crowded yet available to friends and family that we'd like to workout with. An ideal gym would be supportive of hard-core fitness, a la CrossFit. As long as we're dreaming it might also play only the music that we want to hear.

Many of us are blessed with gyms we love dearly. If that's your situation, great! For the rest of us our gyms are very different. Often the drive to the gym is 20-30 minutes coming and going, the music is worse than annoying, the staff are less than worthless, the place is packed with selectorized equipment for which we've no use and the few pieces of equipment thatyou want to use are in near constant use...


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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Equipment category.

CrossFit Games is the previous category.

Exercises is the next category.

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