One of the most popular forms of resistance training today, especially for those interested in fat loss and athletic performance, is sled training. Sleds can be pulled, a training method that has origins traced to the Scandinavian forest industry; and sleds can be pushed, using specially-designed sleds with vertical posts. If you haven’t tried sled training, here are eight benefits to consider.
1. You can lose body fat quickly.
Sled training is ideal for performing anaerobic (interval) training, which is good news if your primary goal is fat loss. Compared to aerobic training, anaerobic training protocols are significantly more effective for decreasing body fat. Anaerobic training is particularly effective for reducing subcutaneous fat, which is the layer of fat just below the skin.
2. You are less likely to get sore from sled training.
Sled training is primarily concentric, which means it is less likely to cause muscle damage that can result in muscle soreness. Sports coaches who are concerned that muscle soreness can affect athletic performance in the days before major competitions should be more open to performing sled training rather than traditional weight training.
3. You can train indoors.
The increasing popularity of sled training has resulted in the introduction of many types of sleds, including those that can be pushed and pulled on carpet and those with wheels that can be used indoors on hard surfaces.
4. You can work the upper body with sleds.
Although sleds are an obvious way to increase lower body strength, they can also be used to increase upper body strength. By attaching ropes to the sled, you can perform exercises such as face pulls and horizontal presses to increase upper body pulling and pushing strength. For face pulls, a typical training protocol might look like this: 2-3 sets x 12-15 reps (or meters), rest 90 seconds.
5. You can increase lateral speed.
Sideways sled pulling is an effective way to dynamically train muscles such as the adductors of the legs that produce rapid lateral movement. Because it is performed in a standing position, sideways sled dragging movements are considered a more “functional” way to train the adductors than the seated adductor machines found in many commercial gyms. If you were to superset an upper body exercise with a sideways sled pull, the workout might look like this:
A1. Sideways Sled Pull, 3 x 15 reps*, rest 30 seconds
A2. Sled Face Pull, 3 x 15 reps, rest 30 second
*Rather than using reps, you can use distance, such as 15 meters.
6. You can improve starting speed.
Cyclic speed is the ability to move quickly from point A to point B. An athlete who can run 100 meters in 10 seconds would be considered world class. But having great straight-ahead speed for 100 meters does not necessarily mean that athlete would be faster in a soccer game than an athlete who runs that distance in 11 or even 12 seconds.
In a 100-meter race, sprinters often don’t reach their top speed until the last third of the race. However, the majority of sprints in soccer are less than 20 meters. Soccer players need to be exceptionally fast from the start, and sled training is the perfect tool for this. Unlike other resistance training tools such as parachutes, a sled provides immediate resistance and thus is especially effective for improving starting strength.
7. You can improve maximum running speed.
By using a theory called post-tetanic potentiation (PTP), athletes can use a sled to increase their top running speed. PTP theory contends that you can produce a more powerful muscular contraction if that contraction is preceded by a strong muscular contraction. When a baseball player swings a weighted bat before challenging a pitcher, that athlete is performing PTP.
Also known as contrast training, one way to perform PTP with a sled is to push the sled for about 5 meters, then release the handles and step around the sled and perform a maximum sprint for about 10-15 meters. Those who use this training method often say that when they release the handles, it feels like someone was pushing them in the back.
8. You can use sleds for rehabilitation.
Sled training is low-impact, which makes it easier on the body for those with orthopedic issues. For knee rehabilitation, one of the most important muscles that should be trained is the vastus medialis oblique (VMO). This muscle crosses the knee and helps stabilize the joint. One effective way to train this muscle is with backward sled drags, particularly a variation that looks like a Michael Jackson moon walk called the Petersen sled drag.
With such versatility, sled training offers a lot of “bang for your buck” as a training tool and thus has a place in any workout designed to improve physical fitness, athletic performance and overall quality of life.