Minimalist Training: How to Make and Use a Bulgarian Training Bag

by A Manly Guest Contributor on October 21, 2011 · 53 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports

Steve Nave

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Joe Hashey, CSCS.

Are you sick of waiting for machines at your local commercial gym?  Perhaps you just want to spend more time at home and are looking for a workout solution.  Whatever your reason might be, making your own version of a Bulgarian Training Bag is an effective and practical solution.

What Is a Bulgarian Training Bag?

The original creation of the Bulgarian bag is credited to Ivan Ivanov, a former Greco-Roman wrestler from Bulgaria that was hired as a US Olympic wrestling coach.  The official bag is shaped like a half moon and typically filled with sand.

The bag was soon adopted by fitness professionals as a versatile tool for muscular endurance and general fitness.  It can be used to perform any exercise the lifter can do with a shoulder-loaded barbell.  Additionally it can be used for rotational swings and multi-planar training.

Depending on your exercise selection, the Bulgarian Training Bag can be used to target the legs, shoulders, core, upper back, triceps, biceps, and forearms.

Even though it was originally developed for wrestlers, the Bulgarian training bag is an excellent fitness tool for everyone. If you do home workouts for overall health, a full body program can easily be designed around this one piece of equipment.

Buying a premade Bulgarian Training Bag can run you anywhere from $150-$250. But you can easily make your own for around $15, less if you can get some of the materials for free.

How to Make a Bulgarian Training Bag

Materials Needed:

  • Duct Tape (optional)
  • Truck or Tractor Tire Inner Tube
  • Wood Pellets or Rubber Mulch
  • Zip Tie

I prefer wood pellets, as they don’t leak as much as sand and rubber mulch.  Also, in the video below I have truck and car inner tubes purchased from a tractor supply store. However, the best construction came from using tractor tire inner tubes that I got from a heavy equipment company.  I went in and asked them if they had any tubes with holes in them.  They gave me a stack for free, and the holes don’t matter since you can cut them out.

Basic Instructions

  1. Cut the inner tube in half.
  2. Zip tie one handle tight, leaving 4-5 inches for a handle.
  3. Fill with wood pellets.
  4. Trim the open side to comfort (or so it forms a better “U”).
  5. Zip tie the other end tight, leave 4-5 inches for a handle.
  6. (optional) Duct tape around the zip tie and handle piece for a more uniform grip.

You may have a desired weight in mind, so weigh the bag periodically while filling it.  Once you hit your goal weight, trim the excess bag off (but not the handle space!).

Video Instructions

The baseballs were for grips on the backside as shown in the second video.  However, after using Bulgarian Training Bags for about two years, I heavily favor the original and basic construction detailed above.

How to Use A Bulgarian Training Bag

Most common uses:

  • Loading your shoulders (squats, lunges, jumps, etc)
  • Front position loading (similar loading pattern to a front squat)
  • Swings
  • Controlled handle exercises (rows, curls, etc)

For your use, here is a Bulgarian Training Bag Exercise Index:

Some of these movements are small accessory training (flips, etc), so choose some larger exercises first and then finish with the smaller ones.

Bulgarian Bag Combos

One more awesome aspect of using Bulgarian Training Bags: it is easy to link exercises together.  Here is a core conditioning combo we have used at Synergy Athletics–simple and effective.

Conclusion

Minimalist training needs to be both simple and effective.   This Bulgarian Training Bag project fits both of those criteria, and whole general fitness training programs can be built around it.

___________________________________________________

Joe Hashey, CSCS, is a personal trainer and owner of Synergy Athletics. Joe has been a featured author in Men’s Fitness Magazine and a speaker at National Strength and Conditioning Conferences (Vermont, Ohio, Las Vegas).  Joe has over 500 free fitness articles and  giveaways at www.Synergy-Athletics.com.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike October 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I made a vary good one and filled it with soy beans! It worked well and the beans are heavy!

2 John Mitchel October 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm

These are amazing pieces of training gear. If you want practical power, swing one of these a few times a week. A buddy of mine made a 170 lbs. one. I am about 215 and can swing that, but wow does it take it out of a guy.

3 Troy October 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Awesome post! I made one earlier this year the same way. It is a great DIY workout tool.

I used duct tape on the handles but it gets all over my hands. Any ideas on what else would make a better handle?

4 Don October 21, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I like AOM, but this time I have a beef. You allow a guest writer to use Steven Nave’s picture and don’t give Steve any credit nor his business of IBBConline.com, and then allow the writer to then go on to show people how to make their own Bulgarian bags. As far as I’m concerned, it’s stealing. Whoever used the picture, loses integrity with this one.

5 Anon October 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I didn’t know there was a way to negate the extreme manliness of this useful tool until you said you used “Soy beans” to fill it Mike.

I’m dissapointed.

6 Brett McKay October 21, 2011 at 7:32 pm

@Don-

The writer didn’t put the pics in, I did. And I didn’t get it from IBBConline.com, I got it from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgarian_Bag

Wasn’t trying to steal from anyone at all, and I would have been happy to give credit if I knew where it came from. I’ve taken it down.

7 Shane October 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm

For a poor college graduate that can only get part time work, this is right up my alley, definately gonna give this a try!

8 Darren October 21, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I didn’t know something like this existed. I’ve had something like this in my head for a long time, but I didn’t know how to make it practically.

9 Go For Miles October 21, 2011 at 9:21 pm

As much as I endorse alternative training methods, I urge caution here. “Bulgarian training bags” might be the stuff of long time training for certain aspects of fitness, but there are real risks associated with some of the movements presented here as “muscle building exercises.” Risk, yes, just like any other workout routine, but still – outright dangerous is outright dangerous. If you are limited to a home fitness routine, I’d recommend sticking with bodyweight or some other minimal equipment training. Without a significant background in weightlifting or some kind of exercise science (or sports exposure), this piece of equipment is a bad idea. Skip it and do some pushups – your rotator cuffs will thank you.

10 Joe October 22, 2011 at 12:01 am

I remember using these when training with my old rowing team. Running backwards up a hill with these things over your shoulder = fun times.

11 Zach October 22, 2011 at 1:30 am

Go For Miles is absolutely correct. I tried this a couple months ago and ended up injuring my back from the circular swinging motion, and I’m a young guy who regularly trains crossfit style. I probably pushed myself a little too hard the first time so just ease into it if you’re going to do it.

12 Russ Ebert October 22, 2011 at 5:21 am

Another great article. I am looking forward to making one of these and trying it out. So simple, so economical…brilliant. Kudos again!

13 Russ Ebert October 22, 2011 at 5:28 am

In reading the comments, some of the other gentleman (Zach and Go For Miles) raise very valid concerns about possible injury. I believe I will give Zach’s idea of less weight a try. I am thinking to put a zipper in at some point along the seam, coverable with a velcro flap in order to empty and refill to manage the weight. Has anyone tried this or have a good suggestion as to going about doing it?

14 Joe Hashey October 22, 2011 at 7:27 am

Thanks for reading the article! I’ll help out where I can with the questions:

@Russ: If you use a “car tire inner tube” it is much lighter. However if you want to make an adjustable one, I would think just releasing the zip tie with a screw driver and just dumping some out and re-zip tying would be easier than adding a full zipper. I am curious to see what you come up with though! Good thoughts!

As for the injury concerns, like with anything start with the basics and progress when you are ready. I find the movements no more stressful than many kettlebell movements or even olympic lifts (but that’s after some practice!)

@John 170 lb swings is very strong! I’ve personally never seen one over 100, and just to pick that up is a workout! Nice job.

Joe

15 Daren Redekopp October 22, 2011 at 7:34 am

As a substitute, you could tie a rope around your child/wife/aging parent’s arms and legs and get your Bulgarian on. Just a thought.

16 Dave B. October 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Very neat tool. Seems like a fun weekend project with awesome results. I personally do not practice much cross-training, but I know it works very well for some people.

As with any form of resistance training, I have to urge people to move with caution. It might even be worth it to make a couple of these with different amounts of mass so that you can both safely build to an acceptable output level during your training and so that on appropriate days (this doesn’t mean morning/evening 7 days a week) you can burn out on the lighter bag. You can take yourself out of the game by training too hard or incorrectly at any extreme sport, with any form of weight lifting or other resistance training, on any type of cardiovascular training, or on any flight of stairs. Just be careful and work your way up slowly.

17 Rob October 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm

What size tractor tire?

18 jeff October 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Or just go to an Asian specialty food story and buy a 50 lb bag of rice.

19 John October 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm

This is a great idea! I’m adding to this to my arsenal of odd objects. Question: can they handle abuse like sandbags and kegs after being thrown?

20 Joe Hashey October 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm

@John, good question! I haven’t ripped one, but I have blown a zip tie off once. It was an easy fix. I think you are pretty good unless you strike it on something sharp enough to tear the rubber.

21 daniel October 22, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Even simpler, if you have a child in the house, you can perform many of these exercises just as well.

22 daniel October 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Should’ve read all the comments, I see Darren beat me to that idea

23 Alex October 22, 2011 at 9:01 pm

@Don
@Brett McKay
There is no reason to take the picture in question down, because if one takes the time to look at the usage rights on Wikipedia, Steve Nave released his picture into the Public Domain.
This means that it can be used on a site such as this!

It would be nice to give a link/credit, but not morally or legally required.

24 Brett McKay October 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm

That’s what I was thinking Alex–pics on wikipedia tend to be public domain. But I forgot that you can verify it by clicking on the pic to see. So thanks for the tip and Steve has now returned, with credit because I’m nice.

25 Adam October 23, 2011 at 12:54 am

Anon,
Soy beans are the only vegetable that is also a complete protein. America is the worlds largest producer of soy beans, so it is probably a domestic product (if you are American). Edamame (green soy beans boiled and salted) can contain up to 45% protein and go great with beer.

Not all soy products are nancy boy vegan fare.

26 Native Son October 23, 2011 at 10:00 am

For a couple of alternatives, there’s always good old fashioned made in the US building and gardening materials.
Spend some time toting those large bags of planting soil or moving those old fashioned squares of shingles up the ladder without any machinery.

27 Daniel October 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm

It’s ironic that you wrote about these things because I saw a guy jogging down the street with one of these last week and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell he had slung over his shoulders.

28 JCRogers October 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

That’s a crescent moon, not a half moon. Just sayin’.

29 Ben October 23, 2011 at 7:09 pm

A duffel-sandbag is another option, although without the same shape and not being properly called “Bulgarian” this or that. I make mine with my old military duffel bag (GI, so free for me, but you can get army duffels or navy seabags for less than $20 on Amazon) and I buy a few 50-lb general purpose bags of sand (about $2-3/each) from the hardware store. Then I double bag the sand into a bunch of freezer bags and seal them off with duct-tape. The double bagging helps with leaking and makes them last longer (they break down from rubbing one another while being used). In gallon-sized bags each one ends up being roughly 5-lbs so you can guestimate what you are utilizing pretty well. Whatever you do it really busts your forearms and grip – really nice. Also, it is nice because the bags can be but into a cheap backpack for things like pull-ups, dips, running, etc.

The boxer/trainer Ross Enamait wrote a good book years back in his Underground Warrior Fitness series that dealt primarily with sandbags (also with tires, sleds, sledgehammers, etc.). I am not sure if it is still available since it was his own cottage press thing. However, I am pretty sure that he is still active on his website but I don’t really keep current on that. Either way, his workouts are always beast.

30 Chris October 23, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I don’t doubt that this would make for a tough workout but I don’t think the world needs another tough workout. Just get off your butt and do SOMETHING. If you do anything hard enough you’ll get a workout….if you take this miracle weight thing and then just swing it a couple times and quit you won’t get anything out of it.

31 Echase October 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Nice article, cool idea. Definitely adding some derivative of this to my arsenal of sand-filled play balls. If you want the weight of sand, without the leak factor, try pea-gravel… I think it’s about 10¢/lb at home depot, or less at a landscape supply place. Combine that with free damaged inner tubes and you’ve got dirt cheap gear.

32 Parker October 23, 2011 at 11:40 pm

How do I know how heavy to make it?

33 JT October 24, 2011 at 12:21 am

Hey I’m 15 and 5’10” 160lbs. I’m planning on making my own training bag, how heavy should a make the bag to start off with.

34 Duran October 24, 2011 at 1:58 am

@Troy I was thinking duct tape would be messy when looking at the build. Was thinking of using duct tape to form the handles, but then going over them with unique grip tape or hockey tape. Should be a little less sticky. If I have any issues with it after the build I’ll come back and let you know.

35 Claude October 24, 2011 at 11:56 am

Great project for this winter and addition to my home gym. Thanks.

36 LukeS October 25, 2011 at 9:26 am

Good lord, AoM is a veritable dichotomy. The articles are absolutely fantastic – informative and well-researched, but the comments and the forums are rife with misinformation and metro-sexual musings.

Don’t use a Bulgarian bag because it might damage your rotator cuffs, yet think bodyweight exercises are the stand-in solution? Ninja, please! _Any_ resistance training has the potential to be damaging if the exerciser performs it incorrectly (and even then…). It shouldn’t be standard practice to eschew something – everything – just because it *might* hurt you. One needs to be knowledgeable about working with proper form, starting with a usable weight and increasing it and understanding your body when it comes to fatigue and pain signals.

And Adam, please refrain from extolling the virtues of “perfect soybean protein” until you have a remote grasp of how bad genistein and daidzein – phytoestrogens, are for a man’s body.

37 Sparky October 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I made one out of a truck inner tube, and used clean cat litter for weight. I’m 6’1″ and weigh 250 lbs and out of shape. I weighed the bag and it weighs 25lbs, and I’m thinking about reducing the weight until I can do the exercises without straining. I used zip ties to close the bag, and I spaced the ties so that my fingers fit between each one when grip the bag.

38 Paul October 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

@Luke S:
You state: “And Adam, please refrain from extolling the virtues of “perfect soybean protein” until you have a remote grasp of how bad genistein and daidzein – phytoestrogens, are for a man’s body.”

You mean, that they do nothing at all?
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11352776
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19524224
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17403269
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20378106
http://www.ajcn.org/content/early/2009/02/11/ajcn.2008.27029.abstract

39 LukeS October 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm

@Paul:

You state: “You mean, that they do nothing at all?”

That, of course is an unfair derivation of what I wrote. I didn’t say that “do nothing at all” but rather phytoestrogens do bad things (inferred) to men. Now, you seem to like the role of isoflavones as a potential tumor inhibitor, but I’m going to do all I can to stay cancer-free by not eating crap that may cause it.

So, if you want to throw medical publications at each other all day:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21958682
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19919579
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18650557
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9464451

And for good measure: http://whole9life.com/2011/04/legume-manifesto/

40 Horkos October 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm

@Paul @Luke S:

How about you guys take your fight to the appropriate forum and use your surplus energy for something like, oh, I don’t know, tossing around a Bulgarian Training Bag, before both of you start growing breasts. You both sound like babies and you aren’t going to change the mind of those trenched in the ideas.

41 LukeS October 27, 2011 at 9:20 am

@Horkos:

That’s rich: Chastising people about appropriate comment use and then throwing insults in for good measure. Internet Tough Guy much?

42 dave October 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm

With regards to the grips:
Tennis/Squash over grips on top of the duct tape would work much better than just duct tape. Some of the tackier ones last quite a long time if there isn’t too much torsional slip. I think I will build one this weekend and see how well the grips do.
My only concern is having the bag slip out of my hands and hit someone/something.

43 Mark October 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I’ve used the ‘heavy chain’ for most of these exercises for years plus a few others that I don’t think would work with the bag, nice to see these tools joining the kettlebell in the rebirth of all round body training.

44 Ken October 28, 2011 at 10:00 pm

I think its pretty messed up that these have come into the mainstream like they have. I remember I time when we used them for training (freestyle and greco-roman wrestling) and they didn’t cost more than $50 or so for a good 80lb one; now I can’t find them for less than $200. If you really want to use these, do it up right; make the whole thing yourself out of tire tube, sand, and leather; it would be a shame to get ripped off for something that you could make yourself at a higher quality.

45 Russ Davis November 2, 2011 at 10:33 am

This looks like a great idea. We’re all grown men here, and if you don’t know how to use one of these and you hurt yourself, it’s on you. I’ve personally jacked up both rotator cuffs just doing pushups and pullups – I like the idea of jogging with one of these on your shoulders.

46 Carl Colburn November 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Wow, that’s cool. That’s the ticket to early morning workouts in the park when it’s still dark out. I’ve been looking for something “kinda” like a kettlebell type thing. This just might fit the bill. Thanks!

47 Kelm November 5, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Heres a minor improvement to the original creation of the Bulgarian bag by Ivan Ivanov.
While the tube is still open put a good thick length of rope through it,
now tie the first zip tie and fill with whatever.
Put on second Zip tie and tighten.
The handles now are not just the rubber tube but also the rope core which is through the whole amazingly simple and effective multi purpose training device.
This added bulk inside the handles has obvious benefits without any restriction to the great original idea.
If you’ve ever done any splicing of ropes you can also bulk up the ends of the rope into “monkey fists” or similar for great non slip flexible full strength handles . . . enjoy

48 jake November 6, 2011 at 11:56 am

I’ve already made a sandbag out of a army duffel bag and some pea gravel,and it’s a heck of a workout, so I think I am going to make the Bulgarian bag next. Since they are so cheap to make, I think I will make 2 or 3 of them at different weights.
Also it sounds like we might have a few dinosaur trainers who read AOM,so Brett if your reading this,you’ve got to do a Brooks Kubick interview. Dinosaur training is what the old time strong men used to do.

49 Jesse November 10, 2011 at 4:03 am

$2 sandbag with free dirt. Might get a little dirty but that’s what men do.

50 LukeS November 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm

@Kelm,

Perfect thinking. I had also thought of that solution was too dang lazy to come back and post it. Glad you did.

51 neil February 10, 2013 at 7:17 pm

How about old bicycle inner tubes as handles? I got loads, so think I’ll give it a go. They are quite robust, cheap and grippy and pliable enough to tie knots in etc.

52 Daz February 26, 2013 at 4:45 am

Just made 4 trg bags , 2 of 10kgs and 1 15kg and 1 20kg. Hoping to combine them with KB and TRX trg. Loooking forward to seeing the results.

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