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December 12, 2021 8 min read

Functional exercises are a great way to build strength that you can use practically. One of the most effective workouts that you can do in that regard is something known as a sled pull.

This brutal yet simple exercise is something that almost anyone can do. This is only one of the many benefits that are part of an effective sled training workout. In this article, we’ll show you more all of the excellent benefits of this exercise, as well as the proper form for it.

Strong sportsman during his cross training workout. Sled drag exercise.

What Are the Benefits of the Sled Pull?

The sled pull is perfect for building power, strength, and overall muscle mass. The reason behind this is that the sled pull causes your muscles to contract over long durations.

This workout also works your back, shoulders, biceps, and grip muscles.

Specifically, this exercise will make your muscles contract for at least 30 seconds. Longer durations of contraction, depending on how hard you’re working, can lead to increased hypertrophy or strength gains. You can maximize your gains by using WHEY- ISO Protein.

As intense as this workout is, it can actually be great for recovery. This might sound crazy, but that’s because there’s quite a bit of science behind it. To put it simply, a sled pull causes the lengthening portion of your muscle contraction to be very short, unlike working with barbells and dumbbells.

This means more oxygen-filled blood is going to get pumped into your muscles. 

If you’re a lifter who worries about getting injured, then this exercise will put you at ease. Sled pulls actually have a pretty low risk factor when it comes to injury. This is because the exercise allows lifters to more or less set how much stress they put on their bodies. Additionally, the simplistic nature of this exercise makes it intrinsically safe, especially compared to other heavy lifts like a deadlift or squat. 

For our cardiovascular or running enthusiasts out there, you’ll be happy to find out that this exercise can actually help to improve your acceleration. By reducing the load of the sled and using special harnesses, runners will have to increase the amount of force they use to take off. The amount of force a runner uses will remain after training, allowing them to accelerate faster under normal conditions. 

How to Do Sled Pulls 

Now that you’ve seen all of the benefits that you can experience by doing sled work, let’s go over the step-by-step process of how to perform them. 

 

  1. Before you start doing this exercise, it’s very crucial to warm up with some light cardio work. Stair climbing, jogging, or even some simple sets of jumping jacks will get your heart pumping and ready for sled pulls. Also, if your gym has a Jacob’s Ladder, this is an extremely great way to warm up. Whatever you end up using for your warm-up, we recommend doing it for about ten minutes and then stretching afterward. 
  2. With your warm-up done, it’s time to grab the weight sled and some weights. Make sure that you have enough room around you to drag the sled a decent distance. Place the number of weights that work for you on the sled, then position yourself so that you’re facing the handles or rope of the sled.
  3. Now it’s time to assume your proper stance. While doing a conventional sled pull when you’re standing, you’ll assume a stance similar to a squat with your knees bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  4. Tighten up your core, straighten your back. This should keep you in line with the sled.
  5. Now, firmly grasp the handles of the sled, and be sure to check over your stance one more time to make sure it’s correct. 
  6. Now, shift your hips back, don’t be afraid to lean back a little bit.
  7. Now it’s time to start pulling that sled in. To do this, pull with one arm at a time. You’ll want to get into a rhythm of going hand over hand. Keep doing this until you are able to pull the sled close to you. 
  8. Once you’ve brought the sled to you, simply push it back to where it was at the starting position. Or, you can just turn it around and then start pulling all over again for another rep! 

How to Get the Most Out of Your Sled Pulls 

Here are some extra tips to help you make your sled pulls the best they can be. Or, if you’re a more experienced lifter, maybe you’ll see some tips you’ve never seen before. 

  • With any exercise, it’s important to really nail the form before you go loading a ton of weight on and start smashing PR’s. The sled pull is no different, you’ll want to start off the light first until you’re comfortable enough with the proper form. Then, you can start adding on weight plates. 
  • Even though the sled pull is an exercise that has a low chance of causing injuries, some lifters may want to take precautions. This can be especially true if you have previous injuries and are afraid of making them flair up. Wrist wraps or straps, knee sleeves, and a back brace are all excellent options for preventing injuries. Some people might wear a weightlifting belt, but it’s not necessary for a sled pull. 
  • One of the biggest pieces of advice we can offer when doing sled pulls is to keep moving. You’ll be surprised to find out how much harder this exercise can be if you’re constantly starting and stopping. For whatever reason, constant movement definitely seems to make pulling the weight easier to drag across the floor. 
  • Sometimes, it can be a lot easier to use small movements or pulls as opposed to one long one where you really exert yourself. Small movements can help keep the momentum going and also make sure your body is aligned during the entire exercise. 
  • Speaking of body alignment, it’s very crucial to make sure that your body is aligned during sled pulls. This is something that’s a given with any exercise. Keeping your body aligned ensures that your core muscles will work as intended and that the right muscles will activate. 

Sled Pull Variations 

If the sled pull by itself isn’t enough for you, here are some different adaptations of the exercise that you can build a sled workout program with if you’d like to. 

  • Reverse Sled Drag: This variation is one of the closest things to the standard sled pull exercise. The big difference here is that, instead of pulling the sled with your arms, you’ll be dragging it with you as you walk. A lot of people love this exercise because it really works your quads. It’s also a good back workout since it holds tension in those muscle groups as you do it. It’s also a surprisingly good exercise for those who’ve sustained knee injuries in the past. 
  • Forward Sled Drag: This variation is an excellent choice if you’re someone who is training for running or wants an extra kick in their cardio. Instead of simply pulling the weight while your body stands still, you’ll be dragging the weight behind you, walking to a certain point. You’ll definitely feel this one more in your legs, than in your upper body. You’ll still get muscle activation in your upper body though, as you’ve got to pull a little bit with your arms. This exercise can also be done with a specialized vest to make it easier. 
  • Sled Crawls: This might seem strange, but there is indeed a variation of the sled pull where you’ll be on all fours, pulling the weight sled behind you with a harness on. While it’s a great full-body exercise, this is one of those variations that especially works your core muscles. With this variation, it’s really crucial to keep moving. You’ll only make it harder on yourself if you avoid stopping and then starting up again. 
  • Lateral Sled Drags: This variation of the sled pull will seriously challenge your core. If you’re looking to really build up your abs and make them pop, start including this exercise on days that you work them. It’s important to keep your shoulders locked, in order to properly engage your core, rather than your shoulders. 
  • Overhead Sled Drags: This variation of the sled pull is similar to the normal sled drag. However, the difference here is that you’ll be holding the handles or rope of the sled high over your head, hence the name. If you’re looking for a killer tricep workout, then this variation has your name written all over it. With your arms over your head, fully extended, you’ll feel most of the tension in your triceps and shoulders as they need to be stable while you drag the sled. 
  • T-Y Drags: Much like the overhead sled drag, this variation is really meant to work your upper body, specifically your shoulders and back. This variation gets its name from the fact that you’ll be holding your arms up in a Y or T shape. The T shape is more for your back, while the Y shape will work your shoulders. An added benefit of using this variation in your conditioning is that it will help your posture.
  • Sled Walking Lunge: If you're looking to really make your legs burn, then you should definitely be doing this variation. It's similar to a sled drag, but instead of just walking with the sled, you'll be doing lunges. It's great for putting the focus on your legs

Sled Pull FAQ’s 

1. Is pushing the sled an effective workout as well?

Pushing a weight sled can be an  effective workout, however, you can run into the problem of hyperextending your back. Younger athletes tend to be seen doing sled pushes to build overall strength, but a sled pull is usually seen as the better option

2. How much weight should I be pulling?

The amount of weight that you put on your sled all depends on your goals. For instance, if you’re planning on trying to increase your acceleration speed, you should try to pull 75 percent of your body weight. However, you might find that you can’t do that yet and you’ll have to build up to it. Also, if you’re training for strength, you’ll likely get the weight on the sled much higher than 75 percent of your body weight. 

3. Do sled pulls burn fat? 

Because sled pulls are full-body conditioning exercises, they are great for cardio, fat-burning, and building functional muscle. This is an excellent exercise if you’re looking to lose some weight and get lean. 

4. Can I replace squats with sled pulls?

Even though the sled pull does work your lower body and keeps it under tension for a while, it’s not as efficient at muscle building as the classic squat. Additionally, you won’t be able to recover as fast from a squat as you would from a sled pull, so it’s not an efficient exercise for certain athletes.

5. What distance should I pull a sled over? 

Distance isn’t what you should be focusing on when it comes to this exercise. Instead, you should worry about how long it takes you to pull the sled right to you. Ideally, you want between 30-60 seconds of pulling. This amount is perfect for hypertrophy. This is ultimately where you’ll have to play around with how much weight is on the sled to find out the perfect wait for a 30-60 second sled pull. 

“Pulling” It All Together 

At the end of the day, the sled pull is one of the best conditioning exercises you can do if it’s available to you. Not only will it get your heart pounding, but you’ll be building a lot of functional strength and muscle throughout your entire body.

You can even use sled pulls as a way to help your muscles recover if they’re sore! This exercise also has a lot of different variations that you can try out that will target specific parts of your body.