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April 15, 2022
You’ve probably seen people at the gym pushing and pulling a sled (also called a prowler sled). They push and pull the sled up and down the turf at the gym, and then collapse. If you’re unfortunate enough, you may witness someone suffer a bout of the prowler flu. If you haven’t seen or experienced this before, we’ll leave it up to your imagination. Trust us, it’s not pretty. That's because sled push and pull exercises are hard work, but with that comes a lot of benefits.
The basic sled push and pull exercise is very simple to perform, but (depending on the load) it's not easy. All you have to do is load the sled, then either push or pull it for a certain distance. It's brute strength-type work that's great for improving conditioning, joint-friendly muscle development, and mental toughness.
This article will cover:
The sled push involves pushing a prowler sled forward for distance or time. All you have to do is grab hold of the vertical handles and push. It's commonly performed on artificial turf or any other slick surface. Generally speaking, it's a great exercise to build powerful legs in a manner that's easy on the knees. There are also many other benefits of doing sled pushes. It is compound exercise that will improve your anaerobic capacity, explosive power, and mental toughness. You can add weights to the sled and adjust your body's position to help achieve both aesthetic and performance goals.
The sled pull has you pulling the weighted sled. You can do this walking backward or forward with a pulling strap and belt attached (or just a rope that you hold onto), or you can simply hold onto the handles and pull while walking backward. Where the sled push is more anterior muscle focused, the sled pull is more posterior chain focused. As with the sled push, it's a strength-based cardio exercise that's easy on the joints and will have you breathing hard and heavy.
There are different attachments for sled pulls. The most common are straps with handles or a strap with a belt that allows you to pull hands-free. Assuming you want to incorporate upper body and lower body strength at the same time, we will describe the sled pull using the former.
The sled push emphasizes the lower body, but there are a few upper body muscles trained which makes it a full-body strengthening exercise.
The standard sled pull is mainly a lower body exercise, but it emphasizes the posterior chain more (if pulling while stepping backward). That said, if you are doing a sled pull variation that involves pulling the sled toward you with your arms, your upper body pulling muscles will be the main driver.
Based on the standard sled pull that has you walking backward with your arms extended, or using a belt attachment, the primary muscles worked are your:
These two exercises do not tickle and will have you feeling the burn from the get-go. But they offer a great many benefits for all fitness levels and ages.
1. Adaptability To All Fitness Levels & Ages:
The sled push is adaptable from beginner to advanced levels, and young to old trainees. There is nothing complex about pushing or pulling the sled as it is a natural human movement that’s simple to perform. To make it harder, all you have to do is add more weight.
2. Strengthens Knees & Joint-Friendly:
There are three different types of muscle contractions - concentric (shortening), eccentric (lengthening), and isometric (force but no movement). The eccentric is where most of the muscular damage and force happens. The sled push and pull are mainly concentric muscle actions, which helps take stress off the joints.
For older people and those with bad knees, sled pushes and pulls are particularly beneficial as they are easy on the knee joint. You can build muscle and strengthen the lower body in essentially a risk free manner.
Think about it, the sled doesn't move you, you move the sled! It's not like squats where you have a load bearing down on you.
And not only is it good if you have bad knees, but it will actually make your knees way stronger! This makes it an awesome exercise for athletes, heavy lifters, and seniors alike.
By the way, backward sled pulls are the best for making your knees stronger.
All in all, if lunges, squats, and single-leg work hurt your knees, sled pushes and pulls are truly the best alternative for building lower body muscle mass and strength.
3. Total Body Strength & Conditioning Workout:
Not only will the bigger muscles of the legs, back, chest and core are trained but your lung capacity is too. Because these movements are a hybrid between strength and cardio, they will improve your strength and conditioning.
4. Improved Power, Strength, And Muscle:
To push or pull a heavy load requires power and strength. And with the sled, you can easily progress by adding more load, increasing the distance or time, and doing more sets. Over time, your strength, power and muscle mass will increase tenfold.
5. Improved Speed and Acceleration:
When it is your goal to improve speed, quickness, and acceleration, the sled is a very useful tool to improve these capabilities. Athletes and runners can develop serious speed and quickness specific to running and sprinting with sled pulls and pushes when varying load and distance. If you can run fast when pushing or pulling a load, imagine how fast you will run without it.
Of course, sled pushes are also hugely beneficial for athletes like offensive and defensive linemen. It doesn't take a Masters in Exercise Science to put two and two together on this one.
6. Lower Chance of Injury:
Because you are moving the sled, not the sled moving you (or bearing down on your joints), it's a lot easier on your joints and you’re much less likely to get hurt when performing these exercises. No bailing necessary. If something hurts, you just stop! Sled pushes and pulls are straightforward and low-risk exercises for almost all fitness levels.
7. Increased Calorie Burn:
The sled push and pull tests your anaerobic fitness like never before. And because your body has to play catch up to get more oxygen into your body when you’re recovering, this means increased calorie burn for you.
8. Grip Strength:
Gripping a heavy sled for extended periods of time will improve your grip strength and endurance. Make no mistake.
Now that you know some of the amazing benefits sleds can provide you might be thinking about purchasing one. Check out our post that covers the Best Weight Sleds on the market.
The sled is a great tool to improve your power, strength, and conditioning in a joint-friendly manner. Here are programming suggestions to get the best out of your sled training.
Note: When you’re unsure of load, make note of how fast you push it. If you feel slow, lighten the load accordingly. If it feels it's too easy, add load.
Backward Sled Push:
Lateral Sled Pulls:
Bent Over Sled Pulls:
A power sled is a great tool that can be used by all training levels to improve so many areas of health and fitness. It is simple to use, doesn’t require any specialized instruction, and is easier on your joints than other strength tools. We highly recommend adding it into your training routine - ASAP.
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