Explore the many uses of pulling and pushing sleds

Strength Sensei CP

Success leaves clues, and one clue many Iron Game athletes have discovered is that Scandinavian loggers have incredibly strong legs and were exceptional in the deadlift. They developed this strength by dragging the heavy trees they cut down to areas that were not accessible by vehicles. This served as the inspiration for the sled work used not just by powerlifters and strongmen but by anyone who wants a fast track to improve athletic performance.

As a general statement, consider that athletes in any sport that requires overcoming resistance will benefit from sled training. One obvious example is the linemen position in American football, which in the trenches is a battle between irresistible forces (defensive linemen) meeting immovable objects (offensive linemen). Then, of course, there are the running backs who must keep moving despite the efforts of defensive players trying to stop them from moving. There’s more.

In the 100m sprint or the 40-yard dash test popular in American football, the start requires tremendous leg drive to perform at the highest levels. Ben Johnson’s rocket start in which he essentially “leaps” out of the blocks was no doubt augmented by his ability to squat over 600 pounds. “To deliver a sprinter’s personal best, you must bring several components to peak: strength for the start and acceleration, speed for maximum velocity, and endurance to stay the last 30 or 40 meters,” says Charlie Francis in his book on sprinting and his work with Ben Johnson, Speed Trap.

Moving on from the obvious, here are four more uses for pulling and pushing sleds:

  1. Structural Balance Issues. If an athlete pulls a sled to one side, this suggests muscle tightness or weakness of the piriformis, a muscle involved in lateral rotation of the hips. I also use the one-arm sled drag to determine structural balance issues with the hamstrings.
  2. Lateral Speed Training. When I’m asked what the single best exercise is to improve lateral speed, my answer is sideways sled drags. I say this because sled training can precisely overload both hip adduction and hip abduction.
  3. Knee Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation. Especially in my work with alpine skiers, I’ve found that knee injuries are often associated with weakness in the vastus medialis oblique (VMO), a quadriceps muscle that crosses the knee and helps with knee stability. Backward sled walking is one of the best ways to strengthen the VMO.
  4. Energy System Training. Sled work has become a popular way to improve anaerobic alactic power, anaerobic alactic capacity, anaerobic lactic power, and anaerobic lactic capacity.

Push and pull sleds have been a mainstay of my strength and conditioning programs for all my athletes, and they should be part of yours!

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