When you imagine a sled, exercise perhaps isn’t the first thing that comes to mind (more like reindeer or your beloved snow-day activity from childhood). However, a weighted sled is genuinely a highly effective fitness tool — and it can provide you with an incredibly intense workout. Evidence: Super fit celebrities like Tracee Ellis Ross, Lizzo, Brie Larson, and Kate Hudson are renowned aficionados.
But what exactly is a weighted sled and how do you utilize it? In brief, it’s a metallic apparatus that sits close to the ground with cylindrical poles around which you can affix weights. You can then either push the sled or employ the chain connected to the front to pull the sled. A preferred exercise to perform with this equipment is the backward sled pull, also known as the reverse sled pull.
How to Execute a Backward Sled Pull
While it undoubtedly helps to possess a sled for the backward sled pull (or any weighted sled pull, for that matter), you might not find one at every gym. Fortunately, you can effortlessly fashion a makeshift sled by rigging a rope or chain to weight plates or a similarly hefty object, asserts Alyssa Ages, a trainer and Strongman athlete.
Here’s how to accomplish the pinnacle of weighted sled maneuvers:
A. Stretch the sled’s chain or rope and recline your body backward. To enhance stability, position your feet in a broad stance. Shift your body weight onto your heels, engage your core and upper back, and keep your arms extended and in front of your body.
B. Take short, brisk strides backward. The intention is to move as swiftly as possible to generate momentum. Accelerate throughout the entire distance. Repeat.
The Key Advantages of the Backward Sled Pull
Why should you alter your routine to incorporate backward sled pulls? There are countless benefits to this exercise, but here are a few that particularly stand out:
Helps Enhance Athletic Performance
If you’re not fond of running, contemplate sled pulls as a conditioning substitute. Workouts employing sleds “are fantastic for developing speed, power, and endurance,” and “numerous athletes utilize this exercise to heighten their performance,” Alex Higa, a certified personal trainer at Tempo Fitness, previously imparted to Shape.
Focusing on endurance also has the additional advantage of augmenting your VO2 max, which is a gauge of your cardiovascular conditioning level.
Since sled hauls put a significant strain on your cardiovascular system, you’ll notice that your exercise sessions will seem less challenging as time goes by, even if they are of extended duration. Farewell, exhaustion!
May Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Give a retrograde sled pull a try and you’ll realize that your heart rate will increase — quickly. Cardio workouts are renowned for increasing your heart rate, which is one of the main reasons people are drawn to this type of exercise as it can lead to improved cardiovascular health. Studies indicate that regular aerobic workouts are linked to lower chances of cardiovascular mortality as well as a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Independently Engages Each Side of the Body
Not only do sled pulls (and pushes!) “engage the entire body,” but “it’s also fantastic for isolating the legs and hips — your legs have to independently operate,” Brian Nguyen, C.P.T., C.S.C.S., Kate Hudson’s trainer, previously expressed to Shape. And while it may not sound particularly significant, this form of exercise is extremely advantageous.
Incorporating unilateral exercises (known as unilateral training) into your fitness routine is crucial as it can help correct muscle imbalances that may eventually result in injury, as previously reported by Shape. Everyone has a dominant side of the body, and engaging each side with unilateral exercises works to create more symmetry in your strength.
Muscles Targeted by the Backward Sled Pull
“The sled pull is an excellent cardio exercise that focuses on strength — it raises your heart rate while engaging your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and calf muscles all at once,” says Ages. “It also helps build power and strength in the glutes and hamstrings, and because pulling the sled in reverse shifts the focus away from your quadriceps, it also activates the often-neglected lower back,” she adds.
If done correctly, “sled pulls and pushes essentially work your entire body, making them an exceptional choice for strength, power, and conditioning,” Sloane Davis, certified personal trainer and founder of Pancakes and Pushups, previously explained to Shape, adding additional areas affected: the core, chest, triceps, shoulders, and hip flexors.
Variations of the Backward Sled Pull
The reverse sled pull is a suitable exercise for beginners to try because you can control the amount of weight you load onto the machine. Depending on your fitness level, all you need to do to modify the movement is increase or decrease the weight to meet your specific needs. This also makes it easy to monitor your progress, and the exercise can continue to be challenging as you become stronger.
Common Errors in Backward Sled Pull Technique
To ensure that you are reaping the advantages of this intense workout, verify that your form is accurate — maintaining a wide position with the feet and ensuring proper distribution of bodyweight is crucial. Attempt to avoid halting in the middle of the distance, as that will disrupt your momentum. Additionally, ensure that you can manage the amount of weight you add to the sled, as you do not want to strain yourself excessively or provoke an injury. If you are uncertain about your form or the appropriate weight to add, it is advantageous to seek the assistance of a personal trainer to assist you in beginning this exercise.
How to Incorporate Backward Sled Pulls into Your Routine
The backward sled pull can easily be modified to suit your specific workout requirements. If your objective is to engage in a fast-paced cardiovascular workout, simply decrease the weight on the sled, increase your speed, and cover a larger distance (with minimal or no rest). Are you seeking a comprehensive strength training routine? Add more weight to the sled and take your time. Alternatively, you can also push the loaded sled forward instead of pulling it backward and still achieve a full-body workout.
As is the case with any newfound exercise, it is always wise to consult a personal trainer and/or your physician before incorporating the backward sled pull into your regimen. Once you receive approval, consider integrating it into your routine twice a week.
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