The Bulgarian Bag was designed specifically with one sport in mind, grappling. In 2005, the bag’s creator, Ivan Ivanov, was looking to create a fitness tool that could be used on the wrestling mat while offering an intense, functional workout without damaging the mat’s surface. The crescent-shaped, sand-filled bag was the result, and since then, the Bulgarian Bag has been used by Olympic-level wrestlers, ADCC champions, and fitness enthusiasts alike. The construction and shape of the bag are what make it unique, as it offers users a very effective workout like no other exercise tool can. With respect to jiu-jitsu, the Bulgarian Bag has tremendous carry-over to the mat, by improving grip strength and endurance, developing the shoulders, legs, and core, and seriously challenging the cardio respiratory system. Let’s take a look at some of the key components of the Bulgarian Bag.
Get A Grip
The first thing new users will notice is how dramatically the Bulgarian Bag affects the grip. For the first few sessions, even seasoned grapplers will have trouble maintaining a tight squeeze on the bag’s leather handles. This is one of the bag’s strongest features. Although you won’t get the same type of finger workout you would gripping a gi, the Bulgarian Bag does wonders to develop the musculature of the hands and forearms. Typically, exercises are linked together in a circuit when using the bag, so strength endurance, or the ability to maintain strength over time, is developed, which is a must-need for jiu-jitsu. The bag was originally constructed for Olympic wrestlers, so the idea was to simulate gripping a wrist or an ankle. No-gi grapplers will immediately notice the benefit. However, a strong enduring grip is of value to any athlete on the mat.
The day after your first session with the Bulgarian Bag, you’ll most likely notice that you’re sore in places like you’ve never been before, one of which being your core. There are certain exercises that can only be done with the Bulgarian Bag, and these new movements force a new response from the body. The spin, an extremely dynamic full-body exercise, is a staple movement in Bulgarian Bag training. It is the equivalent of the swing in kettlebell training and requires you to spin the bag around your head and body for repetitions. This motion involves counteracting dynamic forces and requires you to stabilize through the core, throughout the entire set. If core stability is compromised during the spin, the force of the bag will pull you out of alignment and often the result will be some unwanted contact with the bag. This translates quite well to jiu-jitsu, as grapplers are constantly resisting and imposing forces on the mat.
The Bulgarian Bag can also be used to perform a variety of classic exercises, like the pushup, press, lunge, squat, row, etc., which is what makes it such an excellent tool for grapplers. Due to the relatively low weight of the bag (18lbs for small athletes, 26lbs for medium, and 37lb for large athletes) strength will never be the bag’s main focus. Functional athleticism and full body strength-endurance, however, are the bag’s key qualities and can be developed through an endless mix of classic and sport specific movements. Grapplers can choose more standard protocols, like 3 sets of 10 repetitions, or elect for more jiu-jitsu focused sets of 30 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, for 5 to 10 minutes. Either way, the bag affords you the flexibility to get creative in your workouts without requiring multiple exercise tools or traveling to a gym.
You’ll Want To Quit
The bag’s final, and maybe most beneficial asset, with respect to grappling, is its ability to challenge the cardio respiratory system, and thus, one’s mental toughness. Any exercise performed long enough or fast enough can challenge the heart and lungs. However, the exercises specific to the bag have a unique way of simulating that feeling you get in your last round of sparring against that upper belt who doesn’t quit. It’s a combination of burning muscles, lack of oxygen, a grip ready to quit, and down right fatigue that we all know too well. Somehow, though, we pull through, forcing those last ditch efforts, knowing that the buzzer will soon sound, and we can submit to exhaustion. The bag makes men out of boys and women out of girls. Often, the idea of quitting comes to mind working with the Bulgarian Bag. Sometimes the body does quit before the mind, as often is the case when the grip fails, sending the bag flying off on its desired trajectory. However, with continued use, all of these components with the bag will improve, as will your efforts on the mat.