When it comes to endurance events and high performance, Australian adventurer Kyle Williams knows what he’s talking about and walks the walk. Kyle recently conquered his ‘Peak to Peak Challenge‘ where he set out to climb the highest peak in each Australian state and territory (8 peaks in total) in record time. And he did just that. In fact he smashed the world record with an unbelievable time of 5 days, 23 hours and 35 minutes. So, it’s safe to say he’s no stranger to preparing his body for enormous physical challenges, all in his ioMerino of course! Here he lets us in on one of his secret training techniques – ‘Sled Training’.

By Kyle Williams, Australian Adventurer & AthleteSled training is a highly effective and fun training modality for general conditioning and athlete specific programming. For endurance athletes, particularly runners, a sled based strength/power session blended with some lactate tolerance work makes for a great running session substitution. I particularly recommend it early in the season or during a base phase instead of long run or slow paced run to get some quality strength and cardiovascular work in. This article will give you an overview of sled training, the benefits, and tips on how to effectively program it into your training regime. 

Sled Training Origins 

Whilst relatively new within the mainstream fitness industry, sled training has been around for quite sometime. Drawing its inspiration from Scandinavian loggers who developed powerful legs and lower backs from dragging downed trees out of forests all-day, the first commercial sleds starting appearing around 2005.  

The most ubiquitous of these, The Prowler, was initially designed to enhance the sports-specific conditioning of American Football linemen. Soon after, The Prowler and other variations began appearing in gyms around the world. These days, you will find sleds being utilised for interval training, speed training, strongman training, fat loss conditioning, and general cardiovascular conditioning.  Whilst there are a variety of different sled models, they all have the same general commonality: They can be dragged, pushed, or pulled, with the ability to add weights to provide extra resistance. Some models (e.g. The Prowler) have vertical posts on which weights can be loaded that also allow the sled to be pushed, whilst all models feature attachment points for towing straps. The versatility of the sled allows you to program a number of different workouts to target specific muscular benefits, energy system development, or general conditioning.  

Sled Training Key Benefits  

1. No Eccentric Loading 

Without a doubt, the key benefit of using a sled is the lack of eccentric loading. As most would know, eccentric loading (a.k.a. the negative part of a movement) generates large amounts of muscular tension, causing subsequent muscular damage and soreness. In other words, sled training won’t give you the same muscular and hormonal beatdown that traditional strength training does, allowing you to program it on a regular basis without interfering with other training elements. Be warned though, even without eccentrics, sled training still provides a brutally difficult workout! 

2. Improves Acceleration 

Acceleration (a.k.a velocity) is crucial to many sports. Sled training allows you to load traditional sprint style work without negatively interfering too much with sprint mechanics. Loaded sprinting forces the body to work harder and recruit more musculature, leading to notable power and speed improvements in sprinting. There is some good research demonstrating the benefit of sled training on sprinting times compared to just sprinting alone.

3. Functional Strength & Conditioning 

When I say functional, I’m referring to the ability to manipulate sled training to deliver many different muscular or energy system training effects. Try some light sled drags or sprints to build acceleration and speed, heavy maximal sled pulls for lower-body strength boosts, or heavy sled pulls for time for muscular and cardiovascular strength-endurance benefits. As most sports or fitness activities require you to overcome resistance during movement (e.g. bodyweight or external loading/resistance), sled training has very useful transfer to sport.

4. Reduced Joint & Muscle Loading 

The heavy nature of the sled will limit you to low-speed and/or low-duration efforts. This, by nature, reduces the loading on the joints and muscles. This is of particular interest to distance runners and other endurance athletes, as it provides a means of conditioning without beating your body down or requiring huge periods of recovery. 

5. Injury Prevention/Rehabilitation 

The lack of eccentrics and joint loading that come with sled training make it a great means of injury prevention or rehabilitation training for lower body focused athletes. I have personally used it as my primary form of running-specific training and conditioning when coming back from knee surgery 3 years ago. I highly recommend the same for anyone coming back from knee, ankle or hip injuries.  

6. Variety & Fun 

Whether you’re an athlete or a weekend warrior, sled training offers you something uniquely different than normal training methods. Whilst challenging, it adds a truly unique element of fun and variety to your training! How To Use A Sled 

As mentioned earlier, you can push, pull or drag a sled. As a point of reference, forward drags and pushes are very useful for speed work (e.g. sprinting) and primarily target the posterior chain, whilst backwards sled drags/pulls are brutal on the quadriceps. Sleds also provide the ability for lateral drags/pulls, which are absolutely fantastic for targeting the often under-utilised key muscles of the hip musculature.  

In terms of harnesses needed, I recommend using a vest-based system for all forward drags/pulls and a TRX or similar for all backwards/lateral drags/pulls. 

How Heavy Should My Sled Be? 

There is no set rule on this and the research is still evolving, so it really depends on your programming goals. Generally, the lighter the sled, the more you will focus on acceleration/speed based benefits, whilst heavier sleds will focus on maximum strength/strength-endurance benefits. As a rule of thumb, aim for 10-15% sled weight for acceleration work and up to 40-45% sled weight for more strength-based outcomes.  I Don’t Have A Sled/I Can’t Afford A Sled? 

If you don’t have a sled, you can easily create a Do It Yourself (DIY) tyre sled. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A handle (simple straight gym bar handle or some 2-3 inch poly pipe with hole in it)
  • A length of solid rope or nylon webbing (2-3 metres is plenty)
  • A car or tractor trailer tire (the bigger, the better IMO)
  • An eye hook/ carriage bolt
  • Some washers
  • 1 nut
  • 1/2″ drill (preferably corded)
  • Drill bit

In a nutshell, you drill a hole in the tyre, put in the eye hook, attach the rope/nylon webbing to the hook, then tie it off on the handle. Simple huh! If you have no handy skills whatsoever, ‘Google’ ‘How to make a tyre sled’.

The ‘KW Everyman Sled Protocol 

Here’s my go-to sled workout to get you started. It starts with some strength/power alactic-based protocols, that gradually morph into focussing on lactate tolerance as the session progresses and finishes. It also incorporates multi-planar movement for strengthening running gait in all directions.  

‘KW’s Everyman Sled Protocol’ – Load sled to 40-45% of bodyweight 

* Repeat A1-A4 for three rounds in total 

A1. Forward drag 15-seconds maximum effort | 2mins Rest 

A2. Backward drag 15-seconds maximum effort | 2mins Rest 

A3. Lateral Left Drag 15-seconds maximum effort | 2mins Rest 

A4. Lateral Right Drag 15-seconds maximum effort | 2mins Rest 

* Unload Sled for B + C  

** Repeat B1-B2 for three rounds in total 

B1. Forward Drag 60 seconds maximum effort with Unloaded Sled | 1mins Rest 

B2. Backward Drag 60 seconds maximum effort with Unloaded Sled | 1mins Rest 

B1. Forward Drag 60 seconds maximum effort with Unloaded Sled | 1mins Rest

B2. Backward Drag 60 seconds maximum effort with Unloaded Sled | 1mins Rest 

*All images supplied by Kyle Williams.

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