Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Whether an average Jane or a high-level athlete, the most fundamental movements you do each day are walk, jog and sprint. No matter which direction you move — forward, backward and even laterally — nothing is more functional than going from point A to point B. This is the basis of sled training, a superb cardio workout with a muscle-building bonus: the addition of weighted resistance. Incorporate sled training into your lower-body routine and you’ll sculpt your best-ever butt, thighs and calves in under a month.
Don’t be intimidated by the sled’s rustic appearance or its reputation as a footballer’s coaching tool; if you can walk, you can use a sled to enhance your lower-body training. Once considered only for strongman competitors and heavy lifters, track athletes eventually caught onto its ability to improve muscular power – how much weight you can move in a short period of time. Today, sled training is gaining popularity among the masses because it’s easy to learn, safe for all levels and one of the best functional exercises.
To use the sled, weighted plates are stacked onto its central peg and pulled via a set of handles, a belt attachment or a chest harness (see “One Sled, Many Options” to discover how each option changes your workout). Each of these attachments is anchored to the sled by a long or short tether; generally, the shorter the tether, the easier your load will be to pull. Testing the sled by taking a few steps with a low weight will help you gauge how much your body can pull; add on more until your first set feels challenging, but not impossible.
Bridging The Gap
Because it involves both strength and cardiovascular work, sled training bridges the gap between anaerobic sprint drills and muscle-building weight-room exercises. It can also be a nice break from the monotonous duty of counting reps, and whether done with a training partner or on your own, it can provide a strong source of motivation.
Using a sled is also a great departure from your regular cardio training. “Many women are cardio junkies, using long, slow distances on cardio equipment,” says Peter Twist, president and CEO of Twist Sport Conditioning. Even though you are exercising your heart and lungs, many of your other large muscle groups aren’t being thoroughly taxed, which can mean a weak workout with a low caloric burn. However, Twist notes that “pulling or pushing a weighted sled requires all muscles in the body to work hard in unison against resistance, making the sled the king of exercises for women desiring to expend maximum calories.”
Your Weight-Sled Routine
This hard-hitting, easy-to-learn workout will completely reshape your lower body in less than a month. All you will need is a sled, a harness, a pair of handles, dumbbells and an open space, preferably on a level grassy field outdoors. You can sled train inside on carpet or turf if you have enough room and permission to use your equipment in the area you have chosen.
This workout pairs two familiar exercises — the lunge and the deadlift — with two different types of sled pulls or drags, one working the front of your body and the other the back. You will be completing the circuit as described twice in a row with one to two minutes of rest between rounds.
This routine can be done twice a week, leaving at least two days between workouts for rest and recovery. Stay consistent, and you will get stronger within the first few weeks of practice.
While anyone can train with a sled, don’t push through any twangs of discomfort, and check with a doctor first before you get the weight sled go-ahead. Always start with a five- to 10-minute warm-up and finish with a cool-down stretch targeting the muscles used in your upper and lower body.
Arm yourself with a sled, harness, a set of handles, plates and a set of dumbbells. do the exercises in order, resting for one to two minutes after the last move before repeating. Try setting up so that you drag one way, then turn around and pull until you are back at the start.
|Walking Lunge||12–15 reps (each leg)|
|Sled Drag With Harness||40–50 yards|
|Sled Pull With Handles||40–50 yards|
Target Muscles: quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, calves
Set Up: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms extended and your palms facing the outside of your thighs.
Action: Step your left leg forward and bend both knees to lower your body into a lunge. Stop when your front thigh is parallel to the ground, then press through your right heel to stand. Without bringing your feet together, step your right leg in front of your left and lunge once again; continue repeating until your set is through.
Training Tip: Do half of your reps going in one direction, then turn around so you finish at the spot where you first started.
Target Muscles: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, erector spinae
Set Up: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasping a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing the front of your thighs.
Action: Hinge at your waist and stick your tailbone out behind you. When your torso becomes parallel to the ground and the dumbbells hit below your knee, slowly reverse the move to return to the start.
Training Tip: during your circuit, your strength moves, such as the stiff-legged deadlift, should be done with control, not at a speedy gait. Save the explosive power for your pulls and drags, which will require much more energy expenditure than these dumbbell moves.
Sled Drag With Harness
Target Muscles: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, core
Set Up: With the shoulder harness on, stand facing away from the sled. Step forward enough so that the slack of the rope is pulled tight.
Action: Using a 45-degree forward lean, walk forward fast, dragging the sled behind you. Pump your arms forward to generate power. Maintain a neutral spine by looking at the ground a few feet in front of you.
Training Tip: If you’ve shortened your tether, ensure your heels don’t kick the sled as you move.
Sled Pull With Handles
Target Muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, core, back, biceps
Set Up: Attach the handles to the sled. Stand facing the sled and grasp one handle in each hand. Ensure that there is no slack in the tether by ex-tending your arms and stepping back. Sit down as if easing into an “air chair,” knees bent 90 degrees.
Action: Begin taking controlled steps backward, pulling the sled using the power from your legs, at a pace that feels challenging. Keep your torso tall and your hips and glutes low.
Training Tip: Don’t worry about falling; the weight of the sled will balance you.
One Sled, Many Options
“The body doesn’t work in isolation,” explains Myles Astor, PhD, USAW, a personal trainer for Equinox Fitness clubs in New York City. “Sled training is a total-body exercise, engaging your feet all the way up to your head.”
You can alter your weight-sled routine to target certain muscles over others. When moving forward with the sled behind you, a shoulder harness should be used to target the glutes and hamstrings. The waist belt attachment is best suited for lateral, side-to-side movements, placing more emphasis on your hips as well as inner and outer thighs. Last, the handle grips are an excellent option for walking backward and dragging the sled. This emphasizes your entire legs as well as your back, rear delts and biceps.
Hop Aboard the Sled Train
Still wavering when it comes to sleds? Check out the benefits of sled training:
Great for Beginners: Sled training mimics a very natural motion pattern. The learning curve is low, so the movements can be picked up easily.
Joint Friendly: Because you go through ranges of motion you use during everyday movement, sled training treats your joints with respect. Peter Twist, president and CEO of Twist Sport Conditioning, says that using your whole body allows for a greater overall caloric burn.
Anaerobic Capabilities: A sled can help you train your anaerobic system if you use heavy weights and move in short bursts. This increases your metabolism during and after your workout.
Lower-Body Strength: A sled will help peak lower-body muscle activation and recruit more muscle fibers, resulting in stronger legs.
Closed Kinetic Chain Exercise: Sled training is a closed kinetic chain exercise wherein your feet remain in contact with the ground. This method of training mimics specific muscular and multi-joint movement patterns you use during everyday situations. Conversely, an example of an open chain exercise is a leg extension or leg curl where your feet don’t touch the ground.