Sled pulls are a simple and effective tool to improve speed, strength and power. But how do you use and programme them to improve your sprinting speed. This article is going to cover exactly that.
What do we mean by sled pulls?
First things first, ‘sled pulls’ can mean a whole bunch of different things. You could be walking backwards and pulling, or performing a rowing type pull, or pulling a sled behind you as you sprint. In this article we’re going to be mainly talking about this last version, sprint sled pulls.
What do sled pulls help with?
Sled pulls are typically thought of as useful for building power and strength. I’ve even heard them referred to as ‘strength-based cardio.’ Realistically it depends which version of the sled pull you perform, as well as how you structure your session in terms of sets, reps and loads.
In applied sport science and strength and conditioning contexts, sled pulls are used to improve the acceleration mechanics of your sprint, with theoretical and applied models showing that they allow you to generate more horizontal ground reaction force.
Is pulling a sled a good workout?
Yes, sled pulling is a great workout. Sled pulls can be used to build strength and power, and to build stability throughout the hips, glutes, calves, hamstrings, quads, and core. They’re also simple, effective and safe for more people to use.
Does pulling sled make you faster?
Sled pulling for sprints (resisted sprint training) can improve your acceleration for sprints, which will make your total sprint time faster. However, resisted sprints will not improve your maximal sprinting velocity.
The same meta-analysis also suggests that whilst sled pulls do create an improvement in acceleration and total sprint time, this improvement is often similar to unweighted control groups, so the total impact of resisted sprints may be somewhat overrated in coaching and training circles.
How heavy should sled pulls be?
The amount of weight you pull on the sled can be anything from 10 to 75% of your bodyweight (and even beyond in some cases)
Research shows that loads within this range can all be effective, but that they have different impacts on the body, and the degree to which specific loads effects the sprinting velocity and mechanics of each person can vary significantly. So you might have one athlete whose velocity falls by 25% when using 36% bodyweight resistance, whereas another athlete might have to use 53% bodyweight for that same 25% drop in velocity to occur. This means that there is some trial and error involved.
Personally, considering force-velocity profiles, I would ere on the side of giving my naturally strong athletes lighter weights, and my naturally quick athletes slightly heavier weights.
How heavy is an unloaded sled?
The average sled weights anything from 20 to 75lb (10-35kg) depending on the type of sled, model and make.
How long should sled pulls be?
Sled pulls are often performed for general conditioning, hypertrophy and strength for bouts of 20-60 seconds. However, for improving sprint mechanics and acceleration, it’s best to think more in terms of metres.
- For a pure focus on acceleration, 20-30m sprints are perfect.
- For a mixed acceleration and maximal sprint stimulus, 30-60m is great.
How many sled sprints should you do?
Resisted sled sprints should follow very similar guidelines to unweighted sprints. Alcaraz et al’s systematic review suggests at least 160m per session, so this could be divided into something like 6 sets of 30m sprints, or 4 sets of 50m sprints. Quality over quantity.
The review also suggests a training frequency of two to three times per week.
What rest should I have in between sled pulls?
Rest at least 2 minutes in between resisted sled sprints. If you have more time, rests of 3+ minutes are ideal. Since you’re training for maximal acceleration and want your sprinting mechanics to be as close to perfect as possible, you want to be as fresh as possible for each set.
- Sled pulls, specifically resisted sled sprints, are a useful tool that may improve your sprinting speed.
- This improvement is mainly likely to come through improving your acceleration mechanics, and teaching you to exert more force horizontally.
- There’s is no such thing as an ‘ideal’ load to use, and the effect that load has on each individual is different, so some trial and error is needed to find what suits each athlete best.
- Sled pull sprints should be performed for something in the region of 3 to 7 sets of 20-70m, with around 2-3 minutes rest between sets, or more if needed.
- Another way we can use sleds, is to push them – if you would like to learn more, check out our article sled pushes vs sled pulls.
References / Further Reading
Alcaraz et al (2018) – The Effectiveness of Resisted Sled Training (RST) for Sprint Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.
Cahill et al (2019) – Sled-Pull Load-Velocity Profiling and Implications for Sprint Training Prescription in Young Male Athletes. Sports.
Pantoja et al (2018) – Effect of weighted sled towing on sprinting effectiveness, power and force-velocity relationship.
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Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.
He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.