If you are looking to improve your sprint speed, sled training is the way to go. Also known as Prowler training, pushing a weighted sled has numerous benefits (1):
- Helps avoid muscle soreness by minimizing eccentric contractions that cause muscle damage.
- Improves running technique because you can focus solely on leg drive.
- Serves as a great warm-up for intense activity, such as heavy squats or Olympic lifts.
Benefits of Sled Training
Sled dragging has been a staple of success for athletes, especially heavier athletes who struggle to perform split squats or step-ups without pain. Sled dragging is useful for populations who have a large amount of body weight and have difficulty executing bodyweight movements, let alone adding additional loading like squatting or lunging. It is easy on the joints, technically easy to perform, takes a lot of hard work and effort, and has minimal impediment to recovery (less soreness, but higher metabolic cost).
An important rule in training is to never train through pain. Pain sends an inhibitory signal to the brain to shut down contraction and lowers neural drive while raising cortisol. Sled work can produce significant adaptations and help with knee rehabilitations.
Here is phase 1 of a lower body training program after recovering from knee injury:
Phase 1 Structural Balance: Lower Body
|Exercise Series||Exercise||Sets x reps/distance||Tempo||Rest|
|A1.||Backwards Sled Drag||5 x 50 yds||1010||75 s|
|A2.||45° Back Extension||5 x 8-10||4015||75 s|
|B1.||Prowler Walk Forward||5 x 50 yds||1010||60 s|
|B2.||2-1 Lying Leg Curl||5 x 3-5||6111||60 s|
|C.||Standing Calf Raise||4 x 12-15||1211||60 s|
Sled Training Increases Sprint Speed
Sled training increases sprint speed, one of the most important factors for athletic success. Backward sled walking is especially effective, improving the elastic component of the muscle so that athletes spend less time on the ground with each stride.
Backward sled drags target the VMO muscle of the quad that plays a role in the top range of leg extension. This shortens the amortization phase of running. The amortization (or stance) phase is the moment during the stance phase when you transition from the eccentric to the concentric contraction. The faster the transition, the faster you go (2).
Sled Training Guidelines
Most important when designing sled training programs is to understand your training goals and vary your distances to meet the goal you’re trying to accomplish.
#1: Train Longer Distances During General Preparation Phases
When working the early phases of a General Physical Preparation (GPP) program feel free to go for longer distances; even 50 to 100 yards of continuous work. You can also go for a set amount of time. When going for longer periods of time, your goal is to bring up work capacity and improve conditioning. It’s also great for rehabilitation because of the low impact on the joints and the increased blood flow to the working muscle.
#2: Train With Short Distances To Improve Speed
When trying to improve speed with the sled, you want to make sure you shorten the distance and use a weight that you can accelerate with great technique and minimal fatigue. Keep the distance to a maximum of 25 yards. If you’re using heavier loads to improve acceleration, keep it to 10 yards and under. This is the amount of time it takes to accelerate to top speed. Any longer will lead to diminishing returns in technique.
#3: Start With A Load Between 30 to 50 Percent of Your Body Weight
A good rule of thumb is to start with a load of 30 to 50 percent of your body weight. I can’t give you an exact weight for two reasons:
- Different people have varying levels of fitness and goals they want to achieve.
- The resistance of the sled varies based on the surface. Starting with 30 to 50 percent of your bodyweight will get you accustomed to the movement. From there you can add resistance as long as you can maintain good technique.
Get Started With Sled Training
Here is a program for using sled workouts as part of a training phase aimed at increasing speed. Depending on training background, goals, implements, and training surfaces, you should individualize the load used on the sled for best results.
|Series||Exercise||Reps X Distance||Tempo||Rest|
|A.||Prowler Sled Sprints||8 X 10 Yards||X0X0||90-120 sec|
|B.||Prowler Sled Sprint||8 X 20 Yards||X0X0||90-12 sec|
|C.||Backward Sled Drag||4 X 20 Yards||1010||90-120 sec|