This challenge is about grit. Fitness is a huge component of it, yes, but it’s mostly about the ability to bear down and push through pain and exhaustion to reach the finish line. In other words, this is a character builder.
Our tool? The humble sandbag. Similar to the kettlebell mile challenge, the task is simple. You are to carry a sandbag for a distance of one mile (1.61 km). You must carry the sandbag in the “bear hug” position, no handles or other assistance allowed, and the sandbag must weigh 100 pounds.
I’ll post more rules in a minute, but let’s first talk about what makes this one such a challenge.
As I’ve invested more time and funds into building my home gym and establishing my preferred exercise methods, I’ve taken a great interest in the world of strongman competition. Why? Because I think it’s an interesting cross between strength and functionality.
Traditional weightlifting and powerlifting events are absolutely fantastic demonstrations of strength and power. They also use tools and implements designed to make the lift as efficient as possible. Consider the barbell, a balanced steel shaft with knurling to enhance grip. Calibrated weights fit on spinning sleeves to keep the weight stable during movements up and down.
On the other hand, much of strongman competition consists of picking up and moving awkward objects that don’t always balance well or even have an easy way hold on to them. Consider events like the 733 lb Dinnie Stones lift (and carry) or the 410 lb Hussafel Stone carry. One of the most common activities involve picking up spherical concrete Atlas Stones and loading them over a platform.
These feats of of strength better replicate the real world when you get called to help move a friend’s refrigerator or couch. Perhaps more importantly, the ability to pick up and carry awkward objects might be a life saver in Scenario-X.
For this challenge, our tool is the strongman-style sandbag. Designed to affordably replicate Atlas Stones, the strongman sandbag is round, has no handles to hold on to, and can be extremely heavy.
Admittedly, Rogue equipment has a price premium over other bands. You can find similar products all across Amazon and save about $30-$40. Note that none of these products ship with the actual filler, as that would make the shipping costs ridiculous. You’ll still have to swing by your local hardware store for that.
The Sandbag Bear Hug Carry
Once you have your 100 lb bag, now you need to pick it up and carry it. Picking up a sandbag is similar to a proper deficit deadlift, with the notable change that you’re not holding on to a bar. From the ground, bring it to your lap and adjust your grip get a good “hug” on the bag. From there, stand up and begin the carry.
Brian Alsruhe, who inspired this challenge, has a great tutorial on this. I’ve embedded two videos below. The first is how to pick up the bag, the second is how to carry the bag.
This challenge taxes your entire body, particularly your posterior chain, spinal erecctors, abdominal strength, and arms.
On top of being heavy, one of the most difficult parts of this challenge is the fact that hugging the sandbag tightly to the chest and bracing with your core means you not able to breathe well. This is where the grit and determination come in.
Now let’s talk about the rules of the challenge.
Completing the Devil’s Mile Sandbag Challenge
Now that you’ve got your sandbag, filled it, practiced picking it up and carrying it, it’s time to do the challenge. As a warning, I really don’t suggest attempting this until you’ve become at least somewhat proficient with your sandbag technique and have developed your aerobic capacity.
There are three levels to this challenge. Each of them requires you to pick up and carry the 100 lb sandbag in the bear hug position for a distance of one mile. You may stop, drop the bag, rest, and do whatever you need to do along the way- but you must complete the mile.
- Level 1: Carry the sandbag for one mile in as much time as you need with as much rest as you need
- Level 2: Carry the sandbag for one mile. Once you pick the bag up, you may not ever put it back down until the mile is complete.
- Level 3: You may not put the bag down, and you must complete the mile in less than 15 minutes
If going for level 2 or level 3, you can stop to rest- but you must continue holding the bag. You may move it up to your shoulder, squat down and lap it, but no portion of the bag may touch the ground.
Tips and Tricks
Prior to posting this challenge, I made sure to give it a go myself. It was 26 degrees Fahrenheit, windy, and I was a little tired going into it. My plan was to go for Level 2 and not let it touch the ground. I figured I would be slow, but knew how to lap it well enough.
Well that didn’t work out. I completed the mile in 27:20. I managed to not let it touch the ground for the first quarter mile, but my upper back, lower back, and grip were all starting to scream well before that point. Prior to attempting this challenge, I’d not carried a sandbag like this for more than 150 feet at a time.
Unlike rucking, where you can lean forward a little to adjust your center of gravity, a 100 lb sandbag carried in front of you is not going to balance well. Your back muscles all up and down your spine fire constantly to both stabilize the load and stop you from falling forwards.
So here’s a few things I learned:
- It’s okay to build up by using lighter weight for a while or building up distance
- I found it helpful to pick a “target” every time I picked up the bag and not put it back down until I reached the target- by the last half mile, this was usually 75 to 100 feet at a time
- Learn the “Gable Grip,” which provides a more secure way to hug the bag to you without overly exhausting either hand
- Aside from regularly doing loaded carries, Front Squats and Zercher Squats can help build the strength needed
This proved to be a heck of a workout by itself, and it’s probably something I will probably add from time to time as a test of my progress.
How’d You Do?
Be sure to post your results down in the comments or in the community Discord server. Where do you think exercises and challenges like this fit into your strength and conditioning program?
If you haven’t given it a go yet, then get to training and have fun.