Like weight vests, weight sleds always seem to get featured in commercials for intense exercise gear. You know the type: Some jacked dude (possibly an NFL back, or The Rock) tears around on a football field, the weight sled bouncing along behind his tree-trunk legs.
But we’ll let you in on a secret: Training with a weight sled is actually pretty simple to learn, and pretty much anyone can do it.
“You don’t need to be an elite athlete to learn how to sled. You don’t even need to be that coordinated,” says Beth Bishop, C.P.T., a trainer at and owner of The Phoenix Effect, a functional training studio in Los Angeles. “Sled work does not require complex movement patterns that Olympic lifts or even power lifts demand. As a result, the risk of injury from sled work is relatively low and can challenge a vast array of athletes, from office warriors to NFL linebackers.”
Sleds are plenty versatile—read on for some proof—but they really shine as training tools for runners, sprinters, or any athlete looking to improve their explosive legs power (and, in doing so, build some absolutely shredded legs).
“Sled pushing and pulling develops some solid strength in the glutes, calves, hamstrings, quads, and core,” Bishop says. “Not only will you get gains in strength with sled work, but you will also improve your aerobic and anaerobic conditioning—it’s intense, and it will burn so good.”
Weight sleds give you plenty of flexibility when it comes to adjusting the difficulty of an exercise. “If you're on turf, it's much easier than pushing on cement,” Bishop says. (A traditional running track will work well, too.) Use a light load when you’re starting out, and work your way up to heavier weights as you get used to the training.
The weight sled workouts
As always, whenever you’re trying a new piece of workout gear, take it easy. It’s tempting to load up that sucker like you’re gonna run an Iditarod by yourself, but you should probably make sure you can do any of these workouts absolutely perfectly without a weight sled first.
Also—and we can’t stress this enough—be cautious and work out smart. If at any point you feel overworked, or if your form starts to suffer, STOP. Take a break, and recuperate.
Ready? Here are three workouts you can try, courtesy of Bishop. Each has its own set of physical challenges, especially if you switch up the surface and weight.
Workout 1: Sled sprint pushes
This workout is perfect for your upper body (especially your shoulders), your core, and your legs.
Set up your sled on a flat area where you can move in a straight line for 25 to 50 meters. Grab the top handles, and bend over so your arms are straight in front of you, head slightly down, and spine neutral, Bishop says.
Push the sled for 25 to 50 meters, sprinting the whole time. That’s one rep. Reverse course and do another sprint with the sled. Do 10 reps a set, making sure to take a minute-rest between each set. Do as many sets as is comfortable, within your normal workout threshold.
Workout 2: Weight sled pull circuit
In this workout, you’ll be pulling the sled using a harness. Use a lighter weight than you would with the sled push.
Each circuit has two components:
A) 100-meter bear crawl with sled: Maintain a neutral spine while crawling on your hands and feet. Try to keep your head slightly up, but not too far up so that you’re putting strain on your neck.
B) 100-meter sled pull: Stand up, and run with the sled behind you.
Perform four sets of the circuit, resting between circuits as necessary.
Workout 3: Push-pull circuit
Attach a long strap that has two handles. Your harness may work for this—just make sure the strap is long enough so that the sled won’t hit your feet when you’re pushing or pulling with the strap.
Each circuit has two components: A “push” and a “pull”. Perform 10 reps of each exercise before moving on to the next set.
A) Standing sled chest press: Essentially a standing cable press, except with a weight sled instead of a cable machine.
— Stand facing away from the sled, with the sled several feet behind you. Hold a strap in each hand so each strap is taut. Stand in a ready position with your hands at your sides, shoulder-height. Your feet can be in a tandem stance, or side by side—whichever helps you stay balanced.
— Fire your chest, core, and triceps, and push the straps forward explosively, as the sled also moves forward. Keep your feet still (it’s a chest press, not a lunge.)
— Step forward, and put tension on the sled straps to return to your start position. That’s one rep. Perform 10 in a set.
B) Standing sled row: Essentially a standing cable row, except with a sled.
— Stand facing the sled with the straps taught, and arms forward.
— Fire your back and biceps, and pull the sled explosively toward you.
— Step backwards until you restore tension on the sled straps in your start position. That’s one rep. Perform 10 in a set.
Perform six rounds of the circuit, resting between circuits as necessary.