Article by Sam Tomkins B.Sc CSCS
The Bulgarian bag was said to have been developed in 2005 by Ivan Ivanov. At the time he was working as a U.S. Olympic wrestling coach and wanted to improve explosive actions and dynamic movements involved in pushing, twisting, swinging, pulling, bending, rotating, squatting, lunging and throwing.
An official Bulgarian Bag is mainly made out of goat skin and filled with small sand parcels packed out with wool. This gives the bag its smooth filling and makes the bag easier to handle. It is also very easy to hand make a similar piece of equipment using an old spare car tyre and sand. A homemade Bulgarian bag, might not have the same appearance and smoothness, but can be equally as effective.
The bag can be used as a weight in itself or can be held on the body to act as additional weight. The good thing about the Bulgarian Bag is that it is very different to other actions performed in a traditional gym with free weights. When used as a free weight the body has to control acceleration and deceleration of a mass, which uses different muscles to conventional movements of push and pull.
The bag allows people to develop agility, speed and power in ways that conventional training does not allow, but can also highlight areas of inefficiency or lack of flexibility that can arise from free weights training.
Everything you would want to do with a barbell, dumbbell or Kettlebell, you can do with a Bulgarian Bag. However, I believe the single most valuable aspect of the Bulgarian bag is that this one piece of equipment allows work to be carried out through all planes of motion including rotational work in the transverse plane.
One other aspect of a Bulgarian bag is grip. Now, personally I have mixed opinions on this; on one hand it is very good for increasing grip strength and within minutes of a beginner using the bag, the one thing they will find is that they struggle to keep hold of it, but this also brings a downfall. The handles that protrude from the ends could have a slightly rougher surface, which would allow you to hold onto the bag even when sweating. With such a smooth surface to hold onto, as soon as sweat gets on the palms, the grip goes and the bag becomes very hard to control. This can be controlled by careful exercise selection and rotating between the 3 grips;
a) Main handles – two hold points which taper out toward the end of the bag
b) Exterior handles – three tube-like protrusions that sit on the outer top of the bag.
c) Straps – two looped nylon straps sewn directly to the bag’s exterior.
By rotating the exercises through these grips you should avoid fatigue in particular grip muscles.
In my experience, the Bulgarian Bag will make an individual work in a way they haven’t before and whether experienced at gym work or not, they will have DOM’s in places they haven’t before. This can only be a good thing and shows the areas that it works, that haven’t necessarily been worked in that way before.
Sam is a Sports Scientist and personal trainer with a distinguished sporting career. Starting as a professional Rugby player he now competes as a GB age group triathlete at the Iron Man distance. Sam was selected for the GB team for the World Championships in Vegas in 2011. Sam’s clients include top sports people to a number of celebrities, pop groups, journalists and television personalities at the Drummond Clinic and in London. His knowledge of movement and functional training makes him a sought after leading national trainer. Presenting has become a passion to Sam over the last few years and his easy relaxed style makes him well liked and easy to listen to.
If you want to learn how to use this bag in circuits with other functional equipment make sure you enrol today onto the Drummond Power Circuits Workshop. Dates are available now in Edinburgh and Maidenhead.