I have always thought that sled workouts were reserved for professional football players and fitness-dedicated celebrities (like Lucy Hale) until fitness trainer Chase Weber had me try it when I visited his gym in Los Angeles. He took me out to the garage and told me to push a weighted sled all the way across the astro turf, then pull it all the way back. And let me tell you: It is as hard as it looks.
The so-called "sled" looks kind of like an upside down, halfway-built desk, with two pillars to hold onto and a base that you can load with weight. The fairly low-tech piece of equipment has been around for a long time, but seems to have been pretty underrated until recently. Sleds are infiltrating more gyms and fitness studios (since my stint with Weber, I've also done it at New York's Dogpound, and it's a circuit staple at Performix House) and for good reason. Thanks to the combo of pushing and pulling movements with a cardio burst, it's a way to get creative with full-body strength and power work at the same time.
"The sled is a multi-purpose and body composition exercise machine," says Weber, who has his clients use it all the time. "There are a ton of benefits for athletes all the way down to the general population, and it's generally used for conditioning, strength, and stability." He likes it because you can use it in so many different ways. "You can use the sled for lateral movements, row movements, pushing movements, or multipurpose, like with squat rows," he says. And you can use as much or as little weight as you want, opting to use the sled for power or speed to increase your athletic training.
You truly feel like a professional athlete when you're doing it, too—I was out of breath and felt my entire body turn into Jell-O after a few back-and-forths. And also really felt Superwoman-levels of badass pushing so much weight.
While Weber had me use the sled to do pushing and pulling movements (the pulling part happened when I walked the sled back to the starting point in squat form) there are a slew of other options that will use the strength of your entire body. Trainer Meg Takacs likes the tool as a way to load locomotive and running mechanics in the front of your body. "You can use it for power bursts that tap into your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, too," she says.
Since it's so powerful, though, it's key to keep your form in check... ya know, so you don't hurt yourself. "When pushing a sled, it's all about form," says Chris Gronkowski, FlexIt master trainer and contributor. "You want to have a flat back and you want to be pushing and exploding through your legs. Slow down the tempo and increase the weight to really get a good burn through your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves." Weber's pro tip? "When you have heavier weights, focus on marching with your steps when pushing instead of just pushing," he says. "When you're pulling, make sure you practice a good seat, meaning keep a good posture and your chest up, elbows tucked to your ribs at all times."
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Back at it!! . 4 Ways to CRUSH a sled workout 🤘🏼 . . . . Why use the sled? 1. A way to load locomotive and running mechanics in front of your body 2. Power bursts tap into your EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) for fat burning. 3. Because doing a hard workout is rewarding 💯 Got it in with my girl @trainingwithheidi today 🙏🏼 . . . . #powertools #girlpower #partnerworkout #mondaymood
A post shared by Meg Takacs (@meg_takacs) on Aug 19, 2019 at 12:42pm PDT
Ready to push a sled around? Try these 3 sled workout moves for yourself
Forward running: "My all-time favorite exercise with the weighted sled is definitely a forward run," says Branko Teodorovic, a FlexIt master trainer. "It provides a constant level of resistance, keeps the body in a consistent position, and is the safest way to run under resistance while engaging primarily your quads, hamstrings, calves, and hips like no other exercise." Do two to three sets of 20 to 30 meters.
Backward walk: For a more controlled exercise, Teodorovic suggests doing this one slow, one leg at a time. "Your hamstrings and glutes are under constant tension," he says. Do three to four sets of 10 steps on each leg.
Low weighted sled push: Pro tip? Use a lighter weight with this exercise to practice good running form. "Keep your back straight and don't put pressure on your lower back," says Teodorovic. "Focus on visualizing your legs doing all the work." Do two to three sets twice of 10 to 20 meters.
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