Sled Pushes - The Ultimate Full Body Workout
Whether you want a lower-body or full-body workout, the sled push is a fantastic exercise for individuals and athletes of all experience and fitness levels.
Pushing the sled can be used as a general fitness exercise, for athletic performance, or as a way to develop strength and power with minimal impact on the body.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know to get all the benefits of a sled push workout. If you're in the market for a sled, you can check out my article on the best push sleds of 2023.
How To Do The Sled Push
One thing I love about the sled push is that it is a simple exercise to learn and perform, making it useful for individuals of all experience levels.
To complete a sled push, follow these simple instructions:
Step 1 - Add Weight To The Sled
While you can start with no weight, most people will need to add some weight plates to the sled. Grab a weight of your choice, throw it on the sled, and you will be ready to get to work.
If you have a remarkably large sled, you may not need any weight plates when you first start. Most sleds will have ample room to place weight plates, so you can easily increase the load by whatever increment is best for you.
Step 2 - Grip The Sled & Set Up Your Starting Stance
Once loaded, you can position yourself behind the sled. Firmly grasp the sled using vertical posts or horizontal hand grips, ensuring you have sufficient grip to push aggressively.
Once your grip feels comfortable, set up your starting stance by staggering your feet (one foot further back than the other) as if you were about to do an explosive sprint. Engage your core to stabilize your spine, and you are ready to push the sled off!
Step 3 - Push As Hard As You Can
Once your grip and stance are set up, it is time to get pushing! Push aggressively through the ball of the foot, rapidly extending through the hip, knee, and ankle joints. As you push, drive the other leg forward, attacking back at the ground for the next step.
To get the most out of the sled push, try to avoid letting your ankle collapse once your foot is on the ground; that way, you engage the calf and foot muscles and develop strength throughout the entire leg.
Benefits Of The Sled Push Exercise
Sled pushing offers a range of science-backed benefits that contribute to overall health, fitness, and athletic performance. Whether you're looking to build stronger muscles, become a more powerful athlete, or improve your health and get in better shape, sled push variations should be a part of your workout routine.
Some benefits of a sled push workout include the following:
- Improved strength and power: Sled pushing is an effective way to target and strengthen the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. The resistance provided by the sled helps to develop force production and power output, which can enhance athletic performance.
- Increased cardiovascular endurance: Sled pushing workouts performed at moderate to high intensities with short rest intervals can boost your cardiovascular endurance, without having to go on a long run.
- Enhanced speed and agility: Resisted sprinting with a push sled can improve acceleration and sprint performance (Cahill et al, 2020). Using moderate to heavy loads when sprinting can improve force production and sprinting ability, especially for acceleration.
- Functional training: Sled pushes are a functional exercise that mimics everyday movements and sports-specific activities. Daily activities such as getting out of a chair, walking up stairs, or catching yourself from tripping and falling can all be improved by utilizing sled pushes.
- Caloric expenditure and fat loss: High-intensity sled workouts boost your metabolism, burn calories, and make you healthier when included in a well-rounded workout routine.
- Reduced impact on joints: While back squats and deadlifts can cause people issues who are prone to back pain or knee pain, sled pushes offer a safe way to develop strength, power, and endurance without having to load your spine.
- Improved anaerobic capacity: High-intensity sled pushing workouts performed over short distances with sufficient rest can help improve the anaerobic energy systems of the body, such as the ATP-Creatine Phosphate energy system. This is particularly beneficial for athletes participating in sports that require short bursts of high-intensity efforts, such as sprinters or football players.
- Versatility and scalability: Sled pushing can be easily adapted to various fitness levels and goals by adjusting the weight, distance, and intensity of the exercise. This makes it an accessible and versatile training tool for individuals of all fitness levels.
What Muscles Does A Sled Push Work?
One of the great aspects of sled push workouts is that they can give you a whole-body workout with one piece of equipment.
When pushing a sled, users will engage arm muscles, shoulder muscles, and the core, upper back, and leg muscles.
Some of the muscles that are worked by a sled push include:
- Pectoralis and deltoid muscles.
- Muscles of the upper arms such as triceps and biceps.
- Abdominal muscles, such as the rectus abdominous.
- Leg muscles such as the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps.
If you only want to work your legs, you can attach a harness or belt to yourself, connect it to the sled, and do walking sled exercises or running sled pulls. Using a belt attachment and forward movement (like running) will engage the glutes and other hip muscles the most, while walking backward with the sled will target the quadriceps and hip flexors.
If you want to emphasize your upper body, you can attach a battle rope or strap to the sled, pulling it toward you, similar to a dumbbell row. You can also do rotational movements to target the obliques.
Sled Push Workouts For Strength
You should use heavy weights, short-duration repetitions, and maximal effort to develop strength with a push sled.
For example, you can throw as much weight as you are comfortable with onto the heavy sled, pushing it for 7 to 10 steps with as much intensity as you can generate. You can perform anywhere from 4 to 8 sets within a workout.
For strength development, you need to use a heavy load that you can only push walking forward at a slow pace, as this ensures that the stimulus you are applying to the body is targeted at maximal strength.
Repetitions should be short rather than long; otherwise, you would be more likely to develop strength endurance than strength itself.
You can keep adding weight to the sled until you cannot move it, which you can write down as being the maximum load you can handle. From there, you can work with 70% to 90% of that maximum load when doing sled pushes for maximal strength.
Sled Push Workouts For Power
For building power output, sled pushes should be done with moderate to heavy loads (such as 50 to 100% of your body weight) in an explosive, aggressive manner.
Start with a foot stance similar to a sprint start with your arms extended and pressing into the vertical bars of the sled. With your abdominal muscles engaged and your body position angled forward, push aggressively through the knee joint and ankle joint, moving the sled as fast as you can forward.
Drive your knees forward and attack back at the ground with your feet, accelerating yourself and the sled forward. Complete between 7 and 16 steps, performing 3 to 6 sets per workout.
To ensure you promote adaptations to improve power development, you should aim for a natural running position and only perform sled push sprints if you can maintain a high intensity and velocity.
If you are trying to improve early acceleration, you can use a low hand grip arm position as a sport-specific power movement. In contrast, a high grip hand position can be used to develop later acceleration.
Push Sled Workouts For Sprinting Speed
If you want to use the push sled for developing speed, you should perform short sprints at maximal intensity using moderate to heavy loads.
To develop speed with a push sled, you can follow these guidelines:
- Perform 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 6 seconds of maximal effort sled pushing.
- Rest for 2 to 5 minutes between each sprint.
- Aim for a velocity decrement around 50-75%, meaning that the sled load slows you down by 50-75%.
- Start in a natural running stance, with your shin angles pointed forward and your body angled forward, similar to early acceleration.
Over time, you can gradually reduce the load to light weights, allowing you first to build strength for acceleration and then transition to expressing speed with less load.
This allows you first to develop strength specific to acceleration and then increase the velocity at which you sprint while under load.
In my experience as a track coach, this progression has worked well for enhancing sprinting ability, especially regarding acceleration performance. This allows you to work on both speed and power over time as you progress.
Push Sled Workouts For Strength Endurance
To develop strength endurance with a sled, load it with moderate weight and push the sled for a high number of steps over multiple sets. This full-body workout can build the ability to produce force while under fatigue and can be done with a prowler sled or with sled drags.
A moderate to heavy load can be used, but to target strength endurance, you need to be able to take 20 to 30 steps with the sled. As such, the load for sled training should be appropriate to your ability level.
Once you can do 20 to 30 steps for 3 to 6 sets, you can add more weight to increase the intensity of your lower body leg workout for strength endurance.
Pushing Sled Workouts For Fat Loss
If you want to burn fat with a sled, you can use a much lighter weight or weighted sled push than you would use to develop strength or power.
For fat loss, you should push the sled at a moderate to high intensity while keeping the rest periods short and your heart rate relatively high.
You can push the sled for 10 to 20 seconds at a time, resting for 30 to 90 seconds between each sled push. Perform 6 to 10 sprints per workout.
Upper Body Push Sled Workouts
If you want to develop muscles of the upper body with a push sled, there are two ways to do it.
First, simply pushing the sled normally will help develop your upper body's pectoralis, deltoid, triceps, and core muscles. You will engage arm and trunk muscles effectively by pushing the sled through an upright high grip position.
To target the back muscles, you can attach a rope or strap to the sled and pull it with your arms. When doing this, you'll want to squat down into a half squat so that you have a stable stance, engage your core, and then pull the sled forward toward you using your arms, shoulders, and upper back muscles.
You can pull the sled in a straight line, or you can rotate a bit with each pull to further engage the lateral and rotational muscles of the trunk.
Whatever you do, a push sled can be a great tool for developing upper-body strength, endurance, and muscularity.
Getting The Most Out Of Your Sled Push Workouts
To get all the benefits that sled pushes have to offer, follow these simple tips:
- Wear Supportive Shoes: Proper footwear, such as the Nike Metcon 8, can help ensure you have the grip and stability needed when pushing the sled.
- Warm Up Properly: Performing dynamic movements, such as skips, sprint drills, air squats, and lunges, can help warm up your body so you can perform well and stay injury free.
- Train 2-4 Times Per Week: Being consistent with your workouts and recovery is important to maximize your results. Incorporate sled training into your workouts frequently to get the most out of them.
- Use Variation In Your Training: Giving your body different variations of the same exercise is smart. On some days you can push the sled, while on other days you can do a sled pull. You can also use either a straight or bent arm position to vary how you engage upper body muscles.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pushing Sleds
Is pushing a sled a good workout?
Pushing a sled is an excellent workout that engages various muscle groups, offering both strength training and cardiovascular benefits. Sled pushes are a functional full-body exercise, effectively improving overall fitness levels and sport-specific power movements.
What is the benefit of sled push?
Sled push exercises offer numerous benefits, such as building muscle mass, improving functional strength, and enhancing cardiovascular endurance. They also promote proper hip angles and body positions, improving overall athletic performance and reducing injury risk.
What is the average weight for sled push?
The average weight for a sled push depends on an individual's fitness level and goals. Beginners might start with lighter weights or just the weight of someone pushing the sled, while more advanced athletes might use heavier loads to challenge themselves. It's essential to use moderate to heavy resistance that allows for proper form and technique during the exercise.
Is sled push better than squats?
Both sled pushes and squats are effective lower-body exercises, but they serve different purposes. Sled pushes focus on functional training and power development, while squats target muscle building and strength. Incorporating both exercises into a workout routine can provide a well-rounded approach to lower body development.
What body part does sled push work?
Sled push exercises primarily target the lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. However, they also engage the core muscles and upper body, making it a comprehensive workout.
Is it better to push or pull a sled?
Both pushing and pulling a sled offer unique benefits. Both variations develop strength and power in the legs, but a sled pull tends to focus more on the posterior chain muscles, such as the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. You can maximize the results of your workouts by incorporating a sled pull on some days while you push the sled on other days.
Does sled pushing build muscle?
Sled pushing can build muscle when performed correctly and combined with other strength training exercises. The sled push exercise also targets several muscle groups, promoting muscle growth and functional strength development. Make sure you are ingesting enough protein and carbohydrates if you want to build muscle using sled training.
Can you do sled pushes every day?
Sled pushes can be performed daily if done with lighter loads and lower intensity. To get the best results, you are better off incorporating sled training every other day and doing these workouts at a higher intensity level and with heavier loads.
What are sled pushes for?
Sled pushes are a functional training exercise designed to improve lower body strength, power, and cardiovascular endurance. They can be utilized by athletes for sport-specific training or by individuals looking to enhance their overall fitness and muscle development.
Sled pushes, and squats are both valuable exercises targeting different aspects of lower body training. Sled pushes focus on functional training, power development, and cardiovascular endurance, while squats aim at muscle building and strength. Incorporating both exercises into a balanced workout routine can provide comprehensive lower body development.
Are sled pushes good for muscle building?
Sled pushes can contribute to muscle building, as they engage multiple muscle groups and promote functional strength. When combined with other strength training exercises, sled pulls and pushes can effectively support overall muscle growth.
Is pushing a weighted sled a good workout?
Pushing a weighted empty sled forward is an effective workout that targets various muscle groups, providing strength training and cardiovascular benefits. It's a functional full-body exercise that can improve overall fitness levels, making it a valuable addition to any training program.
What are the benefits of pushing a weighted sled?
The benefits of pushing a weighted sled include building muscle mass, enhancing functional strength, improving cardiovascular endurance, and promoting proper body mechanics. Weighted sled pushes can also help athletes improve their sport-specific power and reduce the risk of injury.
What is the average weight for a sled pusher?
The average weight for a sled pusher depends on an individual's fitness level and goals. Beginners may start with lighter weights or just the weight of the basic sled push-up, while more advanced athletes might use heavier loads for a challenge. It's essential to use a resistance level that allows for proper form and technique during the exercise.
What is a good push weight for a sled?
A good push weight for a sled varies based on individual fitness levels and goals. Choosing a weight that allows for proper form and technique is crucial, while a light load still provides a challenge. Beginners might start with lighter weights, while advanced athletes may opt for heavier loads. You can use your best judgment, aiming to use a load that feels like a 5-8 out of 10 as far as your perceived level of exertion.
How many reps of sled push should you do?
The number of reps and sets for sled pushes will depend on the individual's fitness level, goals, and intensity of the exercise. A standard recommendation is to perform sled exercises for 4-6 sets of 20-40 meters with moderate to heavy resistance, ensuring adequate rest between sets so you can exhibit a good quality of movement.
Should you pull or push a weighted sled?
Both pulling and pushing a weighted sled offers unique benefits. Pushing a weight sled focuses on lower body strength and power development, while pulling a sled, like a sled drag, targets the posterior chain muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Incorporating both push and lateral sled pulls and pull movements into a fitness routine can provide a balanced approach to training.