3 reasons why training with sleds should be a staple in your training routine:
Effective training does not, and should not only consist of your conventional strength exercises: squats, deadlifts, bench, olympic lifts,etc, and should be considered something more complex than just working out. BUT what exactly does pulling or dragging around a heavy sled benefit besides the obvious ability to pull or drag around other heavy things?
- General physical preparation (GPP)
GPP can be characterized by the practice of general movements which may not be specific to the sport, but enhances performance nonetheless (Rippetoe, 2009). Pulling and dragging sleds can fall into this category depending on use. If you have never tried pulling a sled backwards or dragging it forwards then you might not know how challenging it can be. Whether you have a belt around your waist or use your arms, sled pulls provides a great cardiorespiratory stimulus with a time under tension element to promotes strength endurance. (an attribute every kind of athlete can benefit from).
Injuries unexpectedly and sometimes uncontrollably happen during training and competition usually due to some kind of overuse or imbalance in the structures relating to the injured area. It is imperative that when an injury happens you take a step back from intense training and competition to completely rehabilitate and prevent further injury. Pulling/ Dragging sleds is a great activity that lessens the stress of the musculature system while also working on deficiencies and imbalances. Whether you have weak/painful joints, poor quad-hamstring strength ratio, issues relating to gait and foot position, or left to right leg strength imbalance, pulling/ dragging sleds can help correct these issues.
For example: If you have low back injury/pain or simply struggle with a shift forward in your squat (using quads instead of hips) , anteroposterior exercises (those with a back-to-front load vector, where hips start behind and must move toward the center of mass) are going to be a lot more practical than axial posterior exercises (those with an up and down load vector, where the hips start behind and must move toward the center of mass). Dragging a sled forward with a belt around your waist provides an anteroposterior stimulus which loads the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) and strengthens those muscles that might not be working proficiently.
After a hard training cycle, week, or even day, the body can benefit more from a recovery day/week than another intense bout/set of intense training (depending on training age of athlete). This is because the body needs adequate time to adapt to the stress you put it through and manifest the the new found gains. Depending on the intensity, volume, and/or frequency of training will determine how intensive recovery should be. Active recovery is proven to be the best type of regeneration that expedites replenishment for the upcoming intense bout(s) of training.
The sled is a great way to induce active restoration. In many of the upper body dragging movements, the eccentric is eliminated because of the nature of the sled. This in turn is great for recovery because the tearing down of the muscle is much less in concentric-only movements.
The sled is also a great way to keep your work capacity levels high which translates into less recovery days down the road, and more time training under load.
Ways to properly use the sled
- Around waist forward:
–Target Area: Hamstrings, glutes, and entire hip complex.
– When to use: If you struggle with a shift forward in your squats or a weak post chain, do this before squatting to not only to activate but pre-exhaust the posterior chain to ensure it gets the work it might not be getting when squatting or deadlifting.
- Around waist Backwards:
– Target Area: Quads and hips.
– When to use: If you suffer from achy knees or tendonitis, poor quad activation, or any other injury that limits you from squatting or doing full range knee flexion exercises, this is a great way to burn up the quads and maintain their strength.
- Upper body pulls/raises:
– Target Area: Lats, upper back, and shoulders
– When to use:
– Pulls: Great for general back strengthening and postural re-educating.
– Front Raises and Rear Raises: Great for sore and damaged shoulders that can’t withstand a
lot of eccentric loading.
– Pulls: Face the sled with both straps in hands. Walk backwards and pull straps toward hip
– Front Raises: Face away from sled with both straps in hands, walk forwards and raise
straps in front of you from hips to eye level continuously as if you were doing dumbbell
– Rear Raises: Face towards the sled with both straps in hands, walk backwards and perform
a rear raise like doing a reverse fly.