Sled Pushes Vs Pulls – All You Need To Know

Sled pushes and pulls used to be purely for strongmen, but they’re becoming increasingly popular for general population training, and for sports performance.  Here’s what you need to know about sled pushes and pulls, how they differ, plus some extra FAQ’s.

Is the sled a good workout?

The sled push and sled pull are solid tools for full-body strength, power and conditioning.  They’ll hit your quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings and core, plus your chest, shoulders and back depending on which sled exercises and variations you perform.

Sled Pushes Vs sled pulls

When people ask “is it better to pull or push a sled?” My answer is to do both.  As a coach I like to program both movements, and use them fairly interchangeably within a session.

It also really depends on which specific movement variation you’re using with the sled.  For example, if I really want to hit the back, I’ll use sled pulls and add in some explosive rowing type movements, whereas if I want to really build contact strength and drive for a rugby player I’ll use sled pushes and have the athlete use an aggressive start against heavy load.

Here’s a video showing strength coach Joey Szatmary performing 6 different sled exercise variations.

Joints worked and ranges of motion

This is quite a hard table to make, mainly because there are so many variations of sled pushes and pulls.  For simplicity, these ranges refer specifically to the classic sled pull and classic sled push. 

JointClassic Sled PullClassic Sled Push
HipSmallSmall to Moderate
KneeSmallSmall to Moderate
AnkleSmallSmall to Moderate

Muscles worked during sled pull

Sled pulls are a full-body exercise, working multiple muscle groups at once such as:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves
  • Core

With certain variations, such as a sled pull and row combination, you can also work your back musculature and even your biceps to some degree.

Muscles worked during sled push

Sled pushes are also a full body exercise, working multiple muscle groups at once such as:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves
  • Core

The biggest difference muscle wise is that sled pushes also rely on your chest, shoulders and triceps to maintain your arm position and allow for force to transfer efficiently.

Is it better to push or pull a sled?

Both pulling a sled and pushing a sled can be effective workouts for strength, power and conditioning.  Neither is inherently better than the other, and it mainly comes down to personal preference.

Are sled pushes good for hypertrophy?

Whilst some popular sources online say that sled workouts are good for hypertrophy, this isn’t really the case.  In fact, when I asked Dr Mike Israetel, arguably one of the world’s current leading experts on the topic, he said that they were suboptimal at best.  Here’s why:

  1. They don’t have any eccentric (lengthening) of the muscle, which is a key part of the hypertrophy stimulus
  2. They don’t have a big range of motion, and don’t allow muscles to stretch under load, which is another important stimulus
  3. Your targeted muscles will often not be the limiting factor.  For example, if you want to grow your legs, your lungs will likely give out far before your leg muscles

So, does sled training build muscle?

Based on the above issues, it’s fair to conclude that beyond beginners, sled pushes and pulls are likely poor choices for hypertrophy, and don’t build very much muscle. Common sense also tells us that if little to no high-level bodybuilders use sleds, then there’s very likely a reason for that.

Are sleds considered cardio?

Sled pushes and pulls can be great (read ‘killer’) cardio workouts.  If you perform a 30 to 60 second set of sled pushes or pulls with maximal intent your heart rate will shoot right up.  Perform 5 or 6 sets of those and you’ll be absolutely gassed.

Do sled pushes burn fat?

Popular online sources say that sled pushes are great for burning fat.  That is misleading.  Here’s the reality.  No exercise burns fat, period.  Body fat is removed through achieving a calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time.  Exercise can help to burn more calories per day, but the majority of your fat loss comes through alterations to eating habits.

How many calories does pushing a weighted sled burn?

Realistically there’s no way to answer this as there are way too many variables.  It depends on your personal characteristics such as height, weight and age, the sled exercise you choose, the sets and reps you use and the load you use on the sled.

Hypothetically you could use a wearable technology device to estimate your calorie burn based on heart rate, but to be honest I’ve often found these to be less than accurate for lifting and resistance training type activities.

Does sled push build glutes?

Yes, but suboptimally.  You’d build far more glute muscle performing exercises like glute bridges, hip thrusts or walking lunges.

Are sled pushes better than squats?

Sled pushes offer more calf activation, and a more direct transfer to sprinting.  They also have no eccentric, so allow for less soreness and faster recovery.  However, for overall leg strength development as well as leg muscle hypertrophy, squats win hands down.  So it really depends on your specific goals.

How heavy is a gym sled?

Sleds range from 45 to 75lb (20-35kg) depending on model and make.

How many sled pushes should you do?

You can do as many or as few sled pushes or pulls as you want in a workout.  I like to have athletes perform between 3 and 6 sets with increasing loads, allowing for 1-2 minutes rest in between sets.  But you can structure your sled pushes in many different ways depending on your goals.

Generally speaking you’ll be able to perform more total pushes with lighter weights, and less total pushes with heavier weights.

Can you do sled pushes everyday?

It’s likely not the best idea to do sled pushes or pulls every single day.  This would create a lot of fatigue, and increase your chance of injury.

How often should you do sled pushes?

I recommend that beginners start with 1-2 times per week, and build up over a few weeks or months towards doing 3-4 sessions per week.  The more sessions you do, the more important it becomes to introduce variation, which means using different sled push and sled pull exercise types, as well as different loads, sets and reps. For example:

  • Monday: sled push sprints: power: 5 sets of 20-30m max effort, light to moderate load
  • Wednesday: sled pull rows: strength (with some hypertrophy): 4 sets of 10-20 rows, moderate load
  • Friday: sled push: conditioning/cardio: 6 sets of 30-60s, light load

What are the benefits of sled pushes?

Depending on the way you structure your session, benefits can include:

  • Power
  • Strength
  • Improved sprint acceleration (More on this here)
  • Hypertrophy (To a small degree)
  • Cardio

What can I use instead of sled push?

Options to use instead of sled pushes include:

  • Isometric wall sprints (driving/sprinting against a wall with straight arms)
  • Partner banded sprints
  • Cable resisted sprints using specific devices (e.g. ‘Run Rocket’)
  • Parachute resisted sprints 

Summary

  • Sled pushes and pulls are both solid exercise choices that work your whole body.  
  • They can be used interchangeably to develop strength, power and conditioning.
  • Neither is ideal for hypertrophy, but beginners may still see some muscle growth from using them.
  • There are a wide variety of exercise variations to use, as well as load, set and rep variations that can be used to suit different goals.

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Alex Parry
British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator at Character Strength & Conditioning | Website | + posts

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.