Posted by on

Ryan Gambin is a 2008 Beijing Olympian (100m Butterfly) and multiple national record holder who successfully transitioned into a career in Strength and Conditioning.

Channelling the dedication of a lifelong athlete into his career as a Coach, Ryan quickly found himself at the forefront of his industry owning and coaching out of his own commercial gym on the Gold Coast, Australia and being recognised as one of Australia's top 10 fitness professionals (Good Health Magazine, 2011).

Ryan enjoys a strong interest in MMA and Jiu Jitsu and has worked with many amateurs - Pro level and UFC fighters.


What are the best ‘bang for buck’ exercises you can be doing at home to help your jiu jitsu?

I’ve got one word for you.

Necessity is the greatest motivator:

My appreciation for these deceivingly innocuous looking devices came from a place of necessity. Like many of you, my ego had a head start on my progression to understanding strength, conditioning and proper lifting technique. Also like many of you, this resulted in too much weight on the bar too early.

My body and technique was not rigid enough at the time to handle the stresses I was placing upon it. Needless to say, I ended up injured and frustrated as I now lost the ability to lift heavy which was my main assessment method for progression in the gym and the main thing that gave me the most feeling of satisfaction.

Hanging on to my mindset of an athlete, this did not deter me from finding another way to feeling a sense of accomplishment and betterment when I hit the gym. I had to find another way.

My pain was amplified via heavy axial loads (- force travelling down my spine), so that meant no more heavy barbells sitting on my back or gripped in my hands standing up (think barbell squats & deadlifts).

The answer, for me, was two fold. i) a switch in mindset from trying to lift as much weight on a bar as possible to focusing on dynamic, athletic power and ii) using Sandbags. Due to the various loading positions and variety of ways you can handle a sandbag, I could always find a way to achieve the desired effect of any given exercise, without pain!


I always had an appreciation for Strongman style training, what drew my attention was the ‘real world’ strength these guys had in multiple planes of motion. Many bodybuilders will argue that a ‘strong muscle is a strong muscle’ but I have to disagree. Have you ever met a heavy labourer such as a concreter or a removalist..? Those guys will shake your hand with the tightest grip you’ve felt and they’d be able to throw you over their shoulder like you’re a feather but put them in the gym under a strict Bench Press or Squat and.. nothing special. This is what I mean about ‘real world’ or ‘functional’ strength - your Deadlift, Squat and Bench don’t always translate to being strong outside of the gym as much as you might think.

Personally, I believe the answer comes from multiple plans of movement, awkward object shapes and prolonged ‘time under tension.’

No one wants your bells and whistles, mate.

This is why I love the raw style sandbags. Nothing fancy, no nonsense, no plastic parts or handles that just get in the way, break easily and scratch you while you’re trying to do work. A versatile, functional Sandbag should focus on durability while being pliable enough to wrap your arms around it without interference.

Sandbags demand effort and intensity. There’s no hiding from it.
The weight is centred in a single ‘blob’, not distributed across a barbell. Due to the fact that you’re dealing with fabric and sand as opposed to steel, the sandbags pliability allow a very rapid learning curve. It can take months, even years to learn safe lifting technique with a barbell, especially for the beneficial, major lifts such as cleans, snatches and dynamic triple extension based exercises. - Grab a sandbag and you’ll be smashing out the reps in no time!

Sooo... You pick ‘em up and put ‘em down, right!?

Pretty much. Yeah.. and then some.
One of the major benefits of training with Sandbags is the multi-placement positions of the load. You can front load by hugging the bag on your chest and/or belly - this recruits tremendous amounts of activation of your postural muscles and posterior chain from your glutes down to your hamstrings all in an attempt not to collapse and give in to the weight of the bag. Think of it like an arm wrestle between the muscles that keep you upright and the weight of the bag.

Loading the weight on your shoulder is a great way to engage deep muscles of your core. Throw it up on your right shoulder and feel your abs & obliques fire up on your left side to equalise and balance the weight.

Triple extension creates the most force that the human body can produce. Triple extension refers to the extension of your ankles, knees and hips. It recruits the largest joints and muscles in your body and is literally the most powerful thing you can do! If you’re an athlete trying to develop more power or someone looking to burn massive amounts of calories - grab a Sandbag and start throwing that thing from the ground to your should. Much like a clean with a barbel, you can pop it straight off your hips up to should shoulder for what’s known as a ‘Power Clean’ or you can bump the bag off your hip and drop down into a squat to receive the bag in the bottom position before squatting up with the bag. This is referred to as a full Clean.

But here’s where it gets really fun; because you’ve got a sandbag, you can add things such as jumping out of the bottom with the bag then releasing it as you land. You can drop the bag down and perform a burpee right on top of it before beginning your next rep you can even bump it off your hips straight over the top of your shoulder then turn around and repeat.
What I’m saying is, there’s so much more adaptability and variations when using sandbags.
To this day, I’m still making things up every time I train!

Yeah, but how does that apply to my sport!?

This is where I can rub people up the wrong way. I believe people take the word ‘sport specific’ waayyyyy too literally. In my experience, the general public’s opinion of sport specific is to replicate a movement performed in sport, with resistance.
The problem with this mentality is that most athletic movements we find in sport are not safe or efficient to load and will not produce any meaningful change to performance.

I believe I am in a pretty good position to have this discussion having worked at a high performance tennis and golf facility for the past 4 years. These athletes LOVE to get in the gym and pull on cables, mimicking their swing. This is not only an inefficient way to train, but loading these dynamic and sensitive movement patterns could create injury or even disrupt the natural movement pattern that they have been trying to develop with their respective coaches for years!!

So what is the efficient, logical way to perform strength and conditioning for these athletes?
I’m glad you asked! First of all, here is my personal coaching philosophy for athletes I take onboard for Strength & Conditioning:
‘Develop greater athletic potential by targeting sport-specific characteristics that can be isolated and developed in the most efficient & effective manner via the use of various strength & conditioning techniques and tools.’
With this coaching philosophy of mine in mind, I then delve deeper into developing a plan by using the following steps that will uncover the best exercises that this individual athlete should undertake.

Step 1 - Identify the muscles/muscle groups involved in the given sport
Step 2 - Identify the isolated muscular contraction for the above
Step 3 - Identify efficient and effective exercises (how to contract the above muscles under resistance)
Step 4 - Identify the contraction type (eg. short, fast bursts / long, slow movements)
Step 5 - Use research based set and rep training protocols for desired outcome

Circling back to the Sandbags and how they can be inserted to the above principles, we should note that exercises such as Cleans and Snatches have long been regarded as one of the best ways to develop athletic traits such as:
- Powerful triple extension
- Postural awareness and resilience via core strength
- Proprioception and coordination
- Dynamic recruitment of major joints and muscles

Sandbags make this style of lifting easier to learn while being more gentle on your body and giving you the ability to perform more reps, more often.

So, where can you get your hands on some high quality, no nonsense Sandbags?
Truth is, I couldn’t find any that met my demands, so I invested the last few years into developing them myself and am proud to offer my own C3 Sandbags via my website, www.RGStrength.com head there and enter the code 'AUTHOR15' for 15% off all sandbags!

Gypsy Tales Podcast feat. Ryan Gambin

Ryan Gambin

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published