Sleds have gained popularity in the past few years, most notably due to Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell for promoting the effectiveness of sled work.
Sleds aren’t available everywhere. You will be hard-pressed to find a sled in most commercial gyms.
However, with the gain in popularity, there’s a chance you may find one in yours.
And it might be that neglected piece of steel with ropes attached to it, sitting in the corner of your gym, unused.
Whether your goal is to get stronger, get faster, increase power output, increase conditioning, increase your anaerobic threshold, or just want to feel like a badass, there’s no doubt that sled work will help you in all of these categories.
In this article I will discuss variations of how to use the sled, ranging from beginner to advanced, and progressions based on your goal (increase speed or increase power).
Let’s get down to it, shall we?
1. Sled Push
Sled pushing is the most basic technique involving the sled. Whether it’s up high or down low, get in an athletic stance, hold onto the handles, and drive forward.
My favorite cue for my athletes is for them to push “through” the sled. Don’t just push the sled, drive your entire body through the sled.
A sled push is going to load your quads heavy. Since it will require repeated hip flexion and knee extension, the two motions of the quadriceps and the hip flexors, you can expect this.
Speed Development: Load the sled with weight that allows you to reach a good amount of speed without an insane amount of resistance. Drive as fast as you can through the sled. This will increase stride frequency, as well as the contractibility of the quads and hip flexors.
Power Development: Load this sucker up. Depending on the surface your pushing this sled on, you can get away with 3-6 45lb plates. The point of this is to recruit as many motor units as possible and increase force output. If you aren’t increasing your force output, you aren’t pushing this thing anywhere.
2. Sled Pull
Most sleds come with harness attachments, that have two loops that your hands can grasp onto. A sled pull will recruit a ton of motor units in your hips, hamstrings, and a bit of quads. This is an excellent way to overload the posterior.
Generally, most people’s posterior is a lot stronger than their anterior, so you can load this up with more weight than you did with your push.
Speed Development: Again, to get more speed, only throw about 50-60% of the max amount you can pull. Pull this with quick feet. This will increase stride frequency and contractibility of the hip extensors and hamstrings.
Power Development: Since your posterior is going to be stronger, you can load this up real heavy. I’m talking 5-10 plates heavy. The key here is to take bigger steps, driving your hips back and contracting each step.
3. Sled Rows
Sleds allow you to hit your upper body with this as well. This can be a lot more effective than sitting stationary on a machine doing pull-downs or rows.
Load this up with about 60% of the max you can pull.
Grasp your hands in the harness handles, step all the way back, pulling the slack out of the harness, slight squat and at the same time, row both handles, pulling the sled towards you, squeezing your lats. Rinse and repeat, constantly walking back to pull the slack out of the harness.
4. Sled Lunge
Sled lunges are easiest performed with a belt. Put the belt through the harness loops, and position them in the center of the back of the belt, and put it on.
Load this sled up with only 30-40% you can pull.
Walk forward until you pull the slack out of the harness, and start lunging. This will pull you back, so you have to overcompensate by keeping pressure forward when you are lunging.
Speed Development: Lunge forward quicker with less weight on the sled, with no pauses at the top.
Power Development: Taking reaching leaps forward with your lunges, with a greater amount of weight loaded on the sled.
Progression: Hold dumbbells at your side, or up by your face.
5. Sled Pull-Through
In my opinion, besides a squat and deadlift, this is the third best movement you can do for total hip strength.
The hips love to be in extension, and the ability to generate force throughout the entire movement of hip extension allows you to blast them and really develop strong hips.
Load the sled up with about 70-80% the max you can pull. Grasp both handles in between your legs, walk forward pulling the slack out of the harness, and with a wide stance, bend over, and then extend your torso and hips forward, pulling the sled forward.
This movement is really only useful for hip strength and power.
6. Sled Lateral Shuffle
This requires a belt. Loop the belt through the loops of the harness, but instead of having the harness behind you, you will have it to your side. Load the sled with 50-60% of total weight you can pull.
With the harness attached to the belt at the side, shuffle laterally the opposite way. Get low and keep the slack out of the harness. Repeat the opposite way, keeping your lateral movements even.
Speed Development: Increase your footwork laterally by dropping the weight, keeping lower and shuffling a bit faster.
Power Development: Load the sled up with a bit more weight, and take slower, but constant shuffles.
7. Sled Bear Crawls
Nothing is more primitive than crawling like a bear pulling heavy weight. Sometimes you just need to get down to your primitive state and work hard. You can do this with a belt, the same way you attached it for your lunges. Or you can wrap the harness handles around your shoulders. Be careful pulling heavy weight this technique as it can be bad on your shoulders.
Get in basic bear crawl position, with the sled attached in some form or another, crawl down, pulling the weight of the sled. Keep constantly driving forward.
Speed Development: Lower the weight, but crawl like a bat outta hell. Crawl like you’ve never crawled before.
Power Development: Load the sled up, and crawl through the figurative mud. This is where you have to dig deep and reach that inner beast in you.
8. Sled Forward Jump
These will increase explosive power in your hips. Forward jumps are hard enough alone, but there’s always room to make something harder.
Attach the harness to your belt, or around your shoulders. Use only 30-40% of the weight you can pull. There’s no need to put a whole lot of weight on this movement, or you can risk hurting yourself.
With the sled attached, squat, and swing explode your arms and legs forward as far as you can like a broad jump, pulling the sled with you. When you land, walk forward, pulling the slack out of the harness, and repeat.
Power Development: This is excellent for creating greater force output. The harder you jump forward, the more force you are creating, thus leading to greater power development (because power = work x time).
Start taking your conditioning and power training to the next level. Sleds provide an extremely simple, yet extremely effective way to increase your conditioning.
Now that you have some ideas of how to use this piece of equipment, let’s get after it!