Photo Credit: Rogue Fitness
Sled training may have started with high level athletes, but today everyone is doing it, from gym newbies to special forces members and even pro bodybuilders. Why? Because sled work can do things that nothing else can.
You can pick up a metal sled just about anywhere these days, or make your own. You can even get a more portable cloth sled that’s safe for gym floors. Rogue Fitness and EliteFTS sell several options.
Why Sled Work Is Awesome
- Low learning curve. There isn’t much technique that needs to be understood for many sled exercises. Anyone can do them, from pro to average Joe.
- Low impact. Many sled dragging variations can be done at a walk.
- No eccentric (negative) component, only concentric contractions.
- High volume, low stress. Without the eccentric stress, the nervous system is spared. That means sled work can be done at high volumes and frequencies. A sled is a great tool to use during de-loading phases or on a recovery day.
- Nutrient delivery. Repetitive concentric only muscle contractions deliver lots of blood and nutrients to working muscles. This makes using a sled great for warm-ups, for pump work, or for finishing any workout.
Basic Dragging Variations
Sled drags can be used to develop leg strength and power, and to build stability at the hips, knees, and ankles. A forward sled drag is great for doing precisely this, while a backward drag mutes the involvement of the posterior chain and places high emphasis on extending the knees using the quads. Forward and backward sled dragging can be done at slow speeds using heavy loads, or at higher speeds using lighter loads.
While you can’t go wrong with a basic drags, there are many more ways to use a sled, ways that can be used to target and isolate certain muscle groups.
Facing away from the sled, grab the sled straps between your legs. Hinge at the hips and reach your arms further back between your legs. From this position, inch forward to take the slack out of the straps. Push the hips forward as you contract your glutes hard (expect the sled to move very little).
Make sure to keep the hips high and the knees only slightly bent. Too much knee bend will result in a loss of hamstring tension, and will set you up to “squat” the sled through. Done correctly, the quads should be fully disengaged. For each rep, reposition yourself so that there’s no slack in the straps.
Facing the sled, grab the straps and slightly hinge at the hips to establish a neutral spine. Inch away from the sled until your arms are extended in front of you with the straps taut. Drive your elbows back to perform a row. Keep your elbows tight to your side. Resist the urge to pull the sled further by engaging the triceps. Take a few steps back to reset for the next rep.
Row with Leg Involvement
Do these the same way as a sled row, but initiate movement with the legs. As you push off the ground with the legs, flow right into the row. This teaches you to properly transfer force from the lower body into the upper body, and efficient movement sequencing with every rep. The involvement of the legs will also allow you to move more weight.
Position your body the same as you would for a row. Do a reverse flye by keeping the arms extended as you pull them apart. This disengages the biceps and forces the upper back to do the work.
Extended Arm Pull
If you can position your body correctly, a pulldown can be replicated with a sled. When doing an extended arm pulldown on a cable column, the line of pull goes from high to low. Since the sled sits low to the ground, you’ll need to hinge your torso down pretty far in order to produce a somewhat equivalent movement (the more upright your torso, the less range of motion you’ll be able to use, and the less it’ll feel like a pulldown.)
Face the sled and hinge at the hips as far as you can. With your arms fully extended, reach as far overhead as possible. Inch back to get tension on the straps. Keeping your arms completely straight, pull the sled toward you by bringing your arms to your sides. Reset for the next rep.
Facing away from the sled, grab the straps so they go over the top of your arms. (This will be a stronger grab, and more comfortable than letting the straps go under your arms.) Move away from the sled until the straps get tight and your hands are positioned near the lower portion of your chest. Plant your feet into the ground as you press the straps away from you.
The straps give you the freedom to press at many different angles. The staggered foot stance is best. You’ll be able to apply much more force into the ground. If you stagger, make sure to alternate your back leg with each rep. The back leg is the leg that drives into the ground and produces the force that will travel through the body and into the arms to complete the pressing motion.
Set up similar to how you would do a press, but extend your arms and bring them out to the side for your starting position. Once there’s no slack in the straps, contract your pecs to pull the sled toward you. You’ll be able to move your arms at different angles to target your chest differently.
A staggered stance can also be used, but isn’t as necessary as when doing presses. This is meant to be an isolated pec and anterior delt movement that won’t require as much weight.
Facing away from the sled, grab the straps and start with your arms at your side. Drag the sled toward you by lifting your arms straight up in front.
Assume the same starting position as for a sled front raise, except move further away from the sled so your arms start slightly behind you. This will place more stretch on the elbow and shoulder flexors, and set you up to pull through more range of motion. To target the brachialis, be strict about only flexing at the elbow to pull the sled (keep your humerus fixed in place). To target the biceps brachii, allow your upper arm to move forward as you curl the sled through. This will also allow you to move more weight.
To target the medial and lateral heads of the triceps, face the sled, hinge down, and bring your upper arms up and to your sides so your humerus is parallel to the ground and your elbows are pointing behind you. With tension on the straps, straighten out your arms using only your triceps. Keep your upper arm absolutely glued in place.
To target the long head of the triceps, start with your arms out in front of you (instead of brought up to your sides). Initiate the movement by pulling the sled toward you, then merge into the same kickback motion. Aside from the triceps long head, this also involves other shoulder extensors, making for a stronger movement that’ll enable you to work with higher loads.
Face away from the sled and extend your arms in front of you. Stabilize your shoulders by slightly retracting and depressing your scapulae. Drag the sled behind you while maintaining this position. This variation is great for building a strong and stable shoulder girdle.
Flye Isometric Drag
Get tension on the pecs and begin walking away from the sled. Use the pecs to keep your arms as static as possible. Don’t allow the sled to pull your arms further behind you as you start dragging, and don’t compensate to a position of better mechanical advantage by bringing the arms forward.
Reverse Flye Isometric Drag
This variation is antagonistic to dragging while holding an isometric flye. Instead of facing away from the sled and walking forward, you’ll face the sled and walk backwards. Keep your arms positioned out and to your sides. Your back muscles will work to keep your arms in place. The video shows a hybrid reverse flye and extended arm pulldown position, but it can be done with the arms positioned at many different angles.
Face the sled and take a quarter turn so both of your feet align with the sled. Grab the strap and move away from the sled until there’s tension and your arms are at hip height and across your body. Brace your trunk to lock your hips in with your shoulders and move the sled by explosively pulling your arms across your body and overhead.
Allow your feet to pivot and focus on rotating your hips and shoulders through together to avoid directly twisting your spinal column. This exercise will work best with a longer strap to allow the sled to slide without crashing into you. Repeat for reps facing the other direction.
Anti Extension Drag
This appears to be similar to dragging the sled with your arms extended in front of you. To differentiate, work to stay as upright as you can, with your arms overhead as far as possible. This will shift the emphasis to resisting lumbar extension, with less emphasis on packing the shoulders. You can make this even more dynamic by making an overhead pressing motion as you walk. Don’t break position through the midsection as you drag.