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Master the Sled

This old-school gridiron favorite just might be one of the most versatile pieces of equipment in your gym.

If you played high school football, you probably remember weighted sleds — probably not so fondly, though, if you frequently left the remnants of your breakfast in the sled’s wake. Yep, pushing a sled across an expanse of turf can be brutal, especially in full pads under the burning heat of a summer sun. However, like many training-related torture devices of old, the sled has found a new home in today’s gyms, providing a strength-testing, muscle-building challenge to men — and women — who welcome it.

“What I like about the sled is that you can push or pull heavy loads and build muscle endurance,” says Gerren Liles, a Reebok One ambassador and Equinox Master Instructor based in New York City, who has been incorporating the sled into workouts for approximately five years. “It’s safe and easy to use and there are many benefits — it raises your heart rate, builds muscle mass and can even improve your running speed.” 

Indeed, numerous studies have concluded that pulling sleds with heavy loads while sprinting increases speed when running without the sled in tow. And, according to a study published in the November 2016 issue of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, sprinting while pulling a heavy sled also improved mechanical effectiveness.

On the Slide

There are various sled models, the most familiar of which is probably the Prowler, which has vertical posts that can be pushed from a standing position. Others have a lower profile and can be pushed along the floor, and both kinds can be pulled by attaching a rope or towline to one end.

To start, keep it simple: Push a sled across the length of a floor, then pull it back to the start as part of your warm-up for a few days. Note: Most gyms have a designated space in which to use sleds, so athletes don’t destroy flooring or carpet. Once you’re comfortable with its feel, replace a few of your regular exercises with the moves listed here, using them in circuits, as finishers or as part of a lower-body workout. “There is no better or worse way to incorporate sleds into your program — it’s only limited by your creativity,” says Liles.

One thing you might notice: Although a sled is challenging, it won’t necessarily waste you the next day. “Because the eccentric workload is minimal when using a sled versus a typical weighted exercise, you’ll probably experience less soreness,” explains Liles. “That means you can go super hard without worrying that it’ll affect your upcoming workouts.”

Sled Moves

Here are six moves to try using either a Prowler or flat sled. For all but the Thrust Push, attach a rope to the front of a loaded sled, then place the sled at one end of the room and stretch out the rope toward the other side. Repeat each move until the sled reaches you, then push it back to the start.

Standard Pull: Stand with your feet beyond shoulder width and hold the rope in both hands. Assume a squat, keeping your abs tight and back flat. Maintain this position as you pull the sled toward you, hand over hand.

Seated Row: Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet planted, with the rope between your legs. Hinge forward slightly at the hips and grab the rope with both hands, then lean back, driving your elbows back to pull the sled toward you. Reposition your grasp farther down the rope and repeat.

Lying Rope Pull: Lie on the floor with your head toward the sled (across the room). Reach overhead and grasp the rope with both hands. Keeping your arms straight, move them in an arc over your torso and down to your thighs to pull the sled toward you. Reposition your grip farther down the rope and repeat.

Between-the-Legs Pull: Facing away from the sled, take an athletic stance with feet shoulder-width apart, straddling the rope and holding it at hip height. Hinge forward from the hips until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor and move your grip down hand over hand. Then stand up, pushing your hips and glutes forward and pulling the rope upward.

Biceps Curl: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, maintaining a slight bend in your knees. Hold the rope taut in both hands, arms outstretched. Perform a biceps curl. Then move your grasp farther down the rope and repeat. Alternately, use a strap attachment with handles to perform the curls, stepping back after each rep.

Thrust Push: Load a sled, then put both hands on it, elbows bent, and squat down deep. (Use the vertical handles of a Prowler sled.) Press forcefully forward with both arms to push the sled away from you. Quickly follow, remaining low; reposition your grip and repeat.