In my next few blog posts, I will elaborate on some of the most underrated, versatile, and highly effective exercises, machines, and workout modalities. The first topic I’ll cover is the sled. The sled is also referred to as the prowler or the tank and it has a plethora of different uses and benefits that many people overlook. You can use it to get stronger, faster, improve your endurance, improve your joint health, and even as a recovery modality. In this post, I’ll break down all the different ways a sled can be implemented into your training routine.
One of the most underrated exercises for your lower body (and in general) is utilizing the sled. The sled is without question one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you can include in your routine. The sled is used mostly for lower body purposes, but can also be set up in a way to improve upper body strength and power development. How is it so versatile? There are countless different sled moving techniques you can choose from. If you’re a bit creative with it, you can set the sled up to improve any fitness goal. In this blog post I'll lay out the many different sled work techniques and include how each one can benefit an athlete or even just a regular gym-goer. If you’re not yet
convinced that sled work is good for you, by the time you’ve finished reading you should be.
Sled Work Benefits
Safe and Low-Skill
One of the best attributes of the sled is that it can be used by almost anyone. It takes very little skill to push, pull or drag a sled. Teaching someone to use the sled is far less time consuming than teaching someone to squat, for example. It’s also very safe, and unlikely to cause injury when used appropriately.
You can use the sled far more frequently than almost any other gym equipment. Because sled work does not include an eccentric portion (lowering) of the movement, the muscle damage you experience is far less than that of almost any other exercise. As long as you consider intensity, duration, and how heavy you’re loading the sled, you can do sled work of some kind several times per week. Some people even use the sled daily!
The sled can be used in several different ways depending on your goal for the day. You can push the sled with your arms locked out, you can push it with bent arms and the sled posts right in front of your chest, you can drag it walking forward, backward, or sideways. You can do heavy, slow sled pushes to improve leg strength. You can do lighter, fast, explosive pushes to work on speed. You can push the sled a certain distance, then use a rope to pull it back walking backwards. Whether your goal is to build muscle, strength, explosiveness, or endurance, the sled can be an incredible tool. Obviously, you’ll need adequate space to use the sled. I highly recommend looking for a gym that has a turf area or even an outdoor sled work area.
Sled Work for Different Goals
Loading a heavy sled and pushing it slowly for a relatively short distance can increase your leg strength tremendously. Just ensure you’re not turning it into an endurance workout. Think of this as a leg exercise like lunges or squats. Perhaps you’ll do 5 sets where you push the sled for 20 yards (or 8 steps per leg). Over time, add a small amount of weight, do more sets, or increase the distance as you get stronger. Doing heavy sled workouts 1-2 times per week as part of your lower body routine can have tremendous carryover to your other leg exercises (epscially unilateral ones like lunges and split squats).
Using a lighter load, you’ll explosively push the sled as fast as possible for a shorter distance. This will build your short duration speed because you’ll be forced to recruit the same musculature as you would for sprinting, but pushing against resistance. Ensure you’re keeping the distance short (10-30 yards), resting adequately (a few minutes) between each set, and loading the sled appropriately. Failure to consider these factors can turn it into an endurance workout.
Attaching a light sled around your waste and walking with it (usually forward) for a longer period of time without stopping to rest is a great low impact way to build endurance. You’ll want a comfortable way to attach it to your waist, and to ensure the load is light enough to move for a long period of time without getting your heart rate too high. I like to set a clock for 45-60 minutes and just simply walk back and forth keeping my heart rate in the 130 range. 60 minutes of sled work will burn a significant amount of calories and preserve muscle mass far better than most other forms of cardio.
Dragging the sled sideways is a great way to increase core strength, primarily your obliques adductors and hips. Many people neglect training in the transverse plane which tends to lead to movement dysfunction and imbalances over time. Dragging sideways is also highly transferable to tactical athletes because it can emulate dragging a casualty to cover on the battlefield.
Dragging a sled with moderate weight while walking backwards can improve your knee health significantly. Knee problems tend to be related to soft tissue (tendons, and ligaments) and walking backwards against a loaded sled will strengthen the soft tissue significantly. I do this technique as part of my warmup for nearly every lower body workout. I’ve had some nagging knee pain in the past and since implementing backwards drags multiple times per week, they’ve gone away completely.
Because of the aforementioned lack of eccentric portion of the movement, sled work can be great for recovery. Walking against a moderately weighted load will increase blood flow to the legs and help promote recovery from other training sessions. Keep in mind, when using sled work for recovery, you’re not trying to crush yourself. Keep the load light to moderate and the duration shorter (usually 10-20 minutes). You can literally do this any day, or every day. I personally do it the day after an intense leg workout. Even if my legs are sore to start out, by the time I'm done with it they feel much better.
Upper body power
Attaching a long climbing rope to a sled and pulling it towards you hand over hand is a great way to improve forearm, grip, bicep and upper back strength. It’s also very functional and depending on your profession, having this ability could come in handy. To improve pushing power, you can use the posts on the sled to get into a powerful position and push as hard as possible so the sled moves away from you across the pushing surface. Think of an NFL player making a block. For pulling power, use a rope with a handle for each hand, loop it around the sled in the center of the rope, get into an athletic and powerful position, and explosively row the sled towards you. Just ensure you have a long enough rope so that you’re not hitting yourself with the sled.
This list is not exhaustive, there are even more ways to use the sled. Be as creative as you want with it! If you start using the sled more often, you’ll be blown away by how much stronger your legs are and how much better they look and feel.
Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. What's your favorite way to use the sled?
Written By Kevin Smith of Terminator Training Method