February 2nd, 2016 | Karen Bawabeh
Sled training is a highly effective and fun training modality for general conditioning and athlete-specific programming.
The use of sleds in athletic training is not new, and has actually exploded in the fitness industry’s popularity for quite some time now. The sled comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, which allows us to use a variety of training methods based on our goals. The sled can be pulled, pushed or dragged. In the case of the prowler sled, weight can be added to make the exercise target specific muscles, whether its for increased power, muscular endurance or aerobic training. The versatility of the sled allows you to program a number of different workouts that offer great benefits.
The Key Benefits of Sled Training
1. No Eccentric Loading
Without a doubt, the key benefit of using a sled is the lack of eccentric loading. As you probably know, eccentric loading (the negative part of a movement) generates large amounts of muscular tension, causing muscular damage and soreness.
Sled training won’t give you the same muscular beatdown that traditional strength training does, allowing you to program it on a regular basis without interfering with other training elements. Be forewarned, even without the eccentric load, sled training still provides a brutal workout that will kick your butt!
2. Improves Acceleration
Acceleration is crucial to many sports. Sled training allows you to load traditional sprint-style work without interfering too much with the sprint mechanics. Loaded sprinting forces the body to work harder and recruit more musculature, leading to notable power and speed improvements.
3. Functional Strength and Conditioning
When I say functional, I’m referring to the ability to manipulate sled training to deliver many different muscular or energy system training effects. Try some light sled drags or sprints to build acceleration and speed, heavy maximal sled pulls for lower-body strength boosts, or heavy sled pulls for time for muscular and cardiovascular strength-endurance benefits. As most sports or fitness activities require you to overcome resistance during movement (e.g. bodyweight or external resistance), sled training has useful transfer to sport
4. Reduced Joint and Muscle Loading
The heavy nature of the sled will limit you to low-speed and/or low-duration efforts. This by nature reduces the loading on the joints and muscles. This is of particular interest to distance runners and other endurance athletes as it provides a means of conditioning without beating your body down or requiring huge periods of recovery.
5. Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation
The lack of eccentrics and joint loading that comes from sled training make it ideal for injury prevention or rehabilitation training for lower-body focused athletes. I have personally used it as my primary form of running-specific training and conditioning when coming back from knee surgery three years ago. I highly recommend the same for anyone coming back from knee, ankle, or hip injuries.
6. Variety and Fun
Whether you’re an athlete or a novice, sled training offers something different from normal training methods. While challenging, it also adds a truly unique element of fun and variety to your training.
How to Use a Sled
As mentioned earlier, you can push, pull or drag a sled. As a point of reference, forward drags and pushes are useful for speed work (e.g. sprinting) and primarily target the posterior chain, while backward sled drags or pulls are brutal on the quadriceps. Sleds also provide the ability for lateral drags or pulls, which are fantastic for targeting the often-underutilized key muscles of the hip musculature.
In terms of harnesses, I recommend using a vest-based system for all forward drags and pulls and a TRX or something similar for all backward or lateral drags and pulls.
How Heavy Should The Sled Be?
There is no set rule, so it depends on your programming and goals. Generally, the lighter the sled, the more you will focus on acceleration and speed-based benefits. Heavier sleds will focus you on maximum strength and/or strength-endurance benefits. As a rule of thumb, aim for 10-15% sled weight for acceleration work and up to 40-45% sled weight for more strength-based outcomes.