Bulgarian Bag Guide
Are you looking to add some variety to your regular kettlebell workouts? Perhaps you’ve heard of a new piece of gym equipment called the Bulgarian Bag? Originally developed for use by Olympic Wrestlers, the Bulgarian Bag is highly effective at combining strength training with upper and lower body workouts. My favorite workout is the Bulgarian Bag Spin; there is no better routine at strengthening the inner and outer core.
The Bulgarian Bag is a doughnut shaped sand bag available from 11 all the way up to 84-pounds. Unlike an adjustable kettlebell, the use of sand and soft leather make this tool suitable for routines where the bag may rest on, or come into contact with your body. It’s design comes from Bulgaria, where farmers would often carry weak animals around their necks.
Whilst there are numerous manufactures now producing them, the original Bulgarian Bag is still the best. Made from genuine leather, it comes with three different handles that allow you to workout using different grips. Because of the unique design, exercise routines involve dynamic movements with a focus on twisting, swinging and rotating.
Bulgarian bags come with three different handle positions. The handles are located on the side, via straps and at the feet of the bag. These allow you to utilize different grips for maximum flexibility.
- The Feet: Generally used for swinging/twisting or rotating motions
- The Straps: Mainly used when the bag is in a static position on your back i.e. running with the bag, squatting or pres-ups.
- Side Handles: Used for pulling motions when you need the weight of the bag to be evenly distributed
The bag was invented in 2005 by Bulgarian wrestling coach Ivan Ivanov who took inspiration from his homeland, Bulgaria. For hundreds of years shepherds, keen to show their physical prowess, carried live animals over their shoulders at local wresting festivals. Shepherds able to sustain the weight of their animals were awarded with offerings of lambs.
Whilst working as a coach for the US Olympic Greco wresting team, Ivan became frustrated with regular wrestling exercise routines. At the time, routines tended to focus on individual aspects, i.e. strength, aerobic exercise, movement or technique. There were no tools available that combined dynamic movement and strength training to maximize the effect of the powerful movements used by wrestlers.
Needless to say the Bulgarian Bag has been a great success. Today it is used by wrestlers, MMA fighters, NAVY Seals and within the wider fitness community for its ability to simultaneously work the upper and lower body. Like kettlebell training, the bag is flexible and can be used as a full body workout.
Bulgarian Bag Benefits
The Bulgarian Bag can be used to work specific areas, or as part of a full body workout. It’s comfortable, safe and easy to use. You can run with it, squat with it, lift it, swing it or throw it. The unique placement of handles also make it an effective tool for improving grip and forearm strength.
Working out regularly with a Bulgarian Bag will improve:
- All-round body conditioning
- Upper and lower body strength
- Strength and power
- Aerobic fitness
- Reduces injury risk (Most routines are dynamic which will reduce the risk of injury compared to static exercise)
What’s more, Bulgarian Bag workouts require little to no set-up and can be used individually or as a fun group exercise. The weight range (from 11 to 80-pounds) make the bags suitable for men and women of all standards.
Adjustable Bulgarian Bag
As mentioned the Bulgarian Bag comes in a variety of different weights. If you are looking to use the bags intermittently, a single, fixed weight bag will probably be suitable. As a guide I usually advise:
- Average Man: Start with the 17-pound bag
- Average Woman: Start with the 11-pound bag
If you are looking for a little more flexibility than an adjustable Bulgarian Bag may be more suitable. Like the adjustable kettlebell, these bags come with additional weights (sand bags) than can be used to increase or decrease the overall weight. Starting at 26-pounds the adjustable bags come with three additional weight bags weighing 2.2, 2.2 and 6.6 pounds. This means the overall weight range is 26 to 37-pounds.
I would recommend the adjustable Bulgarian Bag if you plan on using 3-4 times a week or more. In this case you are likely going to improve your strength and require more flexibility.
Best Bulgarian Bag Workout
In no particular order, these are my favorite Bulgarian Bag workouts:
The Bulgarian Bag Spin
This routine is best for slimming the waist and conditioning the inner and outer core. You’ll also tone shoulders and arms,pecks, improve strength and grip and push your endurance to the next level.
Starting Position: Facing forwards open your legs so they are shoulder width apart. Pick up the bag so it’s knee height, arms straight but not locked. Bend your knees slightly so you can feel it in your quads. Ensure your legs remain bent throughout the routine; this will work your quads.
Slowly start by spinning the bag so that it goes from the front to the bag of your head in a circular motion. As it reaches the side of your head, your arms will begin to bend; at this point, whip the bag around your head. As you’re spinning the bag round, ensure there is movement in the lower part of your body. Your core should be tense with movement in your hips. Use your legs and the front of your feet for power.
You’ll want to continue in the same direction for appx 45 seconds. After resting for 30 seconds repeat in the opposite direction.
Bulgarian Bag Power Snatch
The power snatch will provide a full body workout with particular emphasis on the legs, core and arms. It will also strengthen your back.
Starting/Finishing Position: Adopting a similar starting position as the Bulgarian Bag Spin, lean forward slightly so that the bag is in between your knees. You’ll need to open up your knees slightly to leave enough room for the bag. Make sure you keep your back straight throughout.
With the bag in between your knees, transfer the weight from the front to the back of your feet. This will give you starting momentum. Drive forwards with your hips, lifting the bag in one movement all the way from it’s starting position to the back of your head. As the bag reaches your shoulders, you should feel your core and triceps working as you slow down momentum. As you reach the mid-point position your back should be in a natural upright position and your head facing forwards.
Within the same movement, use your wrists to whip the bag and guide it down back towards the starting position. As you do this slowly lean forwards to guide the ascent. As you bring the bag back down you should feel your arms, core and quads working.
Bulgarian Bag Arm Throw
The arm throw is another great exercise for working the core. Once again it will improve strength and grip and condition the body. It also provides an intense workout the arms. This workout is especially useful for sportsmen or women who need to transfer weight from one foot to another.
Starting position: Swing the bag over one shoulder. Ensure your feet are facing forwards and your legs shoulder width apart. Once again, keep your legs slightly bent throughout. This is going to work your quads.
The idea of this routine is to shift the weight from one foot to another as you move the bag over alternate shoulders. If the bag if over your right shoulder, you’ll want to start with your weight on your right foot. As you swing the bag down towards the floor, lunge to the opposite side shifting the weight onto your opposite foot. You weight should follow the direction of the bag. The lunging movement will help as you whip the bag over the opposite shoulder. Assuming the bag is now over your left shoulder, shift your weight onto your left foot.