I can still hear Coach Walton’s raspy, intimidating voice taunting me and some other hapless member of the Ft. Belvoir Bulldog’s 110-pound limit football team.
“Hit it! Keep movin’ yo’ feet, Es-KEY!”
In this case, “it” was the heavy blocking sled. It’s almost comical to think that the combined effort of two, small-ish boys was expected to move the sled’s weight, combined with that of Coach.
Truth be told, we went 0-10 that year, but not because of our “inadequate” sled training. Pushing a sled around (especially that sled) was a heck of a workout and probably strengthened my still-growing legs more than any of the other stupid, fad exercises I was doing at the time.
The kind of weighted sled training we’re going to talk about in this article is a little different than what me and the Bulldog crew were mercilessly subjected to.
…but the main concept is the same: load the sled, push or pull it around for a bit and see for yourself the kind of strength and endurance gains you make.
Not interested in taking my word for it (which is offensive, considering that extremely vulnerable anecdote I just dropped on you!)? Read on!
Table of Contents
Use a Sled in your Training Today, Do a Weighted Sled Workout!
Heavy sled workouts have gained popularity in recent years as they constitute an effective and versatile training method. Weighted sleds can provide a unique training stimulus as using them can build strength while also serving as effective conditioning implements. Whether you’re a newb or you’ve been hitting the weights for years, you should use the sled the next time you see it at the gym.
Weighted sleds are simple pieces of equipment that consist of a large, metal platform (the sled, itself), a long and sturdy strap or rope, and (optional, but encouraged!) weight plates. Trainees can push or pull the sled to target various muscle groups and tailor workouts to their specific goals.
Sled training is considered to be a “low-impact” option (I mean, if you’re doing it right, it is pretty difficult to get in too many steps at any type of speed with one) and is highly recommended by strength development experts such as powerlifting guru Mark Rippetoe. According to him, “I don’t sell these things, but if you don’t have one you’re fu**ing up.”
(makes you really want to get one, doesn’t it?!)
What Are Weighted Sleds?
So, on the off chance you’ve made it this far without actually having any idea of what a “weighted sled” let’s get to know them a little better.
As briefly alluded to above, weighted sleds are fitness equipment that consist of a metal frame with poles or handles, and a platform or a hook to attach weight plates or other objects. They usually come in different shapes, sizes, and designs, such as prowler sleds (Rippetoe’s favorite!), speed sleds, drag sleds, and power sleds.
You can do a lot of exercises with sleds. They can be pushed, pulled, or dragged across various surfaces, such as turf, grass, concrete, or rubber, to create various types of resistance. Each of the designs mentioned above is preferable for these different surfaces and conditions, so it’s important to choose one that covers the vast majority of your needs.
Why Do Trainees Incorporate Weighted Sleds into Training?
Weighted sleds are effective tools with the multiple capabilities of improving strength, power, speed, and endurance. They can also be used as conditioning tools to burn calories and fat, and/or to develop functional and core stability.
One of the reasons trainees of all levels like incorporating weighted sleds is their adaptability. You can mix things up by changing the load (just, ya know, throw on another plate or two), distance, speed, or technique (push, pull, rope pull, etc.).
Additionally, sled training can be combined with other exercises or movements. This is most clearly on display during Hyrox competitions where both sled pushes and sled (rope) pulls are intermixed with 8 other fitness movements!
Sled training allows you to target specific muscle groups, most notably your quads and back. Your joints will also benefit, as sleds place less strain on them compared to other, more conventional exercises.
Another great benefit of sled training is the boost to your heart rate and endurance. As a result, you can improve your cardiovascular fitness and increase your overall work capacity. For those who don’t really dig “traditional” cardio…I’m just sayin’…
Finally, using weighted sled can lead to improved posture, balance, and mobility. Focusing on core stability and body awareness during your sled exercises will enhance these crucial aspects of your fitness. Improved core strength can also translate to better running performance, which is essential for endurance athletes.
Common Weighted Sled Exercises
Weighted sled workouts are versatile and can be classified into three main categories, depending on the sled direction and technique of the movement: pushing, pulling, and dragging.
When it comes to pushing exercises, you’ll generally focus on pushing the sled forward with your hands on the poles or handles. Some examples of pushing exercises include:
- Sled push: The “humble” basic sled push is an exercise where you push (seriously!) the sled at a moderate-to-fast pace for a short-to-medium distance, targeting the quads, glutes, and calves.
- Sled sprint: A more advanced pushing exercise where you push the sled at maximal speed for a very short distance (sprint training!), emphasizing acceleration and explosive power.
- Sled chest press: In this pushing exercise, you target the chest, triceps, and shoulders by pushing the sled with your arms fully extended and your hands on the platform.
Pulling exercises, on the other hand, involve pulling the sled backward or sideways using a rope, harness, or belt attached to the sled. Some examples of pulling exercises include:
- Sled pull: The basic pulling exercise where you pull the sled backward with a rope at a moderate-to-fast pace for a short-to-medium distance, focusing on your hamstrings and glutes.
- Sled row: A pulling exercise that targets the back, biceps, and forearms; you’ll pull the sled toward your body with the arms bent and the hands on the rope.
- Sled lateral pull: In this pulling exercise, you engage your obliques, hips, and thighs by pulling the sled sideways with your feet facing forward and your hands on the rope.
Last, dragging exercises involve dragging the sled (who coulda guessed?!) behind your body with a belt or harness attached to the sled, while walking or running forward. Some examples of dragging exercises are:
- Sled drag: The basic dragging exercise where you drag the sled at a moderate-to-fast pace for a medium-to-long distance, targeting your entire lower body.
- Sled march: A dragging exercise that targets the quads, glutes, and calves; you’ll drag the sled while lifting your knees high and driving your arms forward.
- Sled jump: This dragging exercise focuses on explosive power and plyometric ability, as you drag the sled while performing jumps or hops.
Incorporating these weighted sled exercises into your workout routine can lead to increased strength, improved conditioning. “Only” doing these movements is generally more than sufficient to get a good workout in, but feel free to perform them in conjunction with other movements.
Effective Weighted Sled Push Workouts and Sled Pull Workouts for Different Levels
Here are some examples of weighted sled workouts for different levels of trainees:
Beginner Sled Workouts
This workout is suitable for beginners (either to fitness in general or specifically to weighted sled training). It requires only a sled and some weight plates (but not too much weight). It consists of three exercises, performed for 5 sets. In each set, each exercise is performed once, covering 5-10 yards with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between sets.
The workout goes as follows:
- Sled push
- Sled pull
- Sled drag
…and if you want an even more “simple” beginner sled workout, try out this WOD from the 2020 CrossFit Games competition:
Just running and light sled pushing!
Intermediate Weighted Sled Workout
This workout is suitable for intermediate trainees who have some experience and strength in weighted sled training and want to improve their power and speed. It requires a sled, some weight plates, and a rope. It consists of four exercises, performed for 4 or 5 sets. In each set, each exercise is performed once, covering 5-10 yards with 45 to 60 seconds of rest between sets. The exercises are:
- Sled sprint
- Sled row
- Sled march
- Sled jump
Advanced Sled Work
This workout is suitable for advanced trainees who have mastered the basic exercises and are looking for a challenge. It requires a sled, some weight plates (by this point, you should be ready to add weight!), a rope, a belt or a harness, and a timer. It consists of five exercises, performed for five sets. In each set, each exercise is performed once, covering 5-10 yards with 30 to 45 seconds of rest between sets. The exercises are:
- Sled push and pull
- Sled lateral pull
- Sled drag and sprint
- Sled chest press and row
- Sled drag and jump.
…or, give this one a try. Bonus points if you can complete it under the time cap…on one foot!
Weighted Sled Movement Variations
There are a few ways to alter up the core weighted sled movements. Let’s dive into some variations that focus on different muscle groups and movement patterns.
Low Sled Push: By lowering your grip height on the handles and getting into a more horizontal body position, you increase the demand on your quads. Make sure to maintain a straight back and stable core during a low sled push to reduce the risk of injury.
Sled Pull-Through: This variation focuses on your posterior chain, including your glutes and hamstrings. Begin by facing away from the sled, holding the rope or straps in front of your thighs. Hinge forward at the hips, reach back between your legs, and step into tension. Drive your hips forward and stand tall by contracting your glutes and hamstrings.
Here are some additional tips to consider when working with weighted sled equipment:
- Gradually increase the sled weight as you progress, but never compromise form for heavier loads.
- Mix up the distances and intensity of your sled pushes, drags, and pulls to keep your muscles guessing and stimulate growth.
- Feel free to add other exercises, like weighted bunny hops or upper body sled rows, to create a full-body, high-intensity workout.
Frequently Asked Questions
I totally get that when you’re talking about something as…odd as pushing or pulling a sled around, questions arise. As such, we’re gonna answer a few of the more popular/common questions that we come across on the topic!
A sled workout targets several muscle groups in both the upper and lower body. When pushing the sled, the primary focus is on your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. But don't forget about your upper body – your arms, chest, and shoulders also get worked as you drive the sled forward. Pulling the sled emphasizes your back muscles, such as the lats and traps. As such, you can expect to work multiple muscles whenever you move the sled.
Absolutely! Sled workouts are fantastic for increasing speed and power. They force you to use your lower body muscles more explosively (otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to budge the sled). Additionally, they improve the coordination between your upper and lower body, which is critical for sprinting.
The versatility of sled training makes it easy to integrate into CrossFit workouts. You can use sled movements as part of your warm-up, strength work, or conditioning. For instance, you could include sled pushes into a WOD/metcon or incorporate sled drags within a circuit to challenge your strength and endurance. Moreover, sled exercises can complement the functional movements often found in CrossFit, such as squats, deadlifts, and cleans.
By experimenting with various sled workouts, you'll be able to fine-tune your CrossFit performance and will truly be ready for anything.
“I don’t sell these things, but if you don’t have one you’re fu**ing up.”
Yeah…I wasn’t quite sure how to best sign off so defaulting back to the wise words of Mark Rippetoe (again) seems appropriate!
For something as “simple” as just pushing and pulling for a few yards at a time, I can assure you that weighted sled workouts can be grueling, full-body workouts.
Whether you decide to make your sled the “centerpiece” of your training or if you would prefer to “relegate” it to an off-day conditioning piece, the time has come to pull or push your way to strength and power gains.
…maybe if I had started just a little bit sooner, we would have gone at least 1-9 or 2-8 that year…
Interested in some other…”non-traditional” objects for getting a workout in? Check out our article on walking with a weighted backpack…you’ll never look at your kid’s bookbag and collection of textbooks the same again!