When it comes to training for sports, one of the most versatile and useful pieces of equipment you could get is one of those high-altitude oxygen masks.
I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. The truth is, one of the most truly versatile pieces of equipment an athlete can utilize is the sled!
Sled work is essential for creating resilient athletes. Depending on how you program it, sled training can enhance strength, power, speed and even conditioning. Not all at the same time, of course, but the sled can be utilized to address all of these.
Another huge benefit is the amount of variables that come with sled programming. You can alter speed, load, position, angles, distance, duration–you name it. There are hundreds of ways to get what an athlete may need out of the sled.
But there is one common question that athletes often ask regarding sled training: “Where should my arms (or hands) be while I push this sled?”
Although other common exercises (Squats, Deadlifts, Rows, Push-Ups) have standards of best practices, I haven’t seen much talk about this particular question. So, below is how we typically set someone up with the sled based on what we want to get out of it. No, these aren’t the “rules” or “best practices,” but please use this as a guideline for how you may be able to get the most out of sled work.
Let’s begin with an extended-arm position. This setup allows the athlete to open up their stride, maximize acceleration angles and work at a much higher speed due to those factors.
Conversely, this setup limits the amount of load an athlete can handle. This is not the greatest mechanical advantage an athlete can achieve, so moving maximal weight in this position is not the best use.
We like to use an “arms straight” setup with any kind of programming that requires moderate to low weight on the sled. Things like speed work, plyos, power work and conditioning methods are going to be the best usage of an arms-extended Sled Push.
On the other hand, the arms-bent position is a superior leverage position for moving maximal weight on the sled, creates a much more compact lever system and may be used more often in strength-related programming.
This is not a great setup for moving at maximal speed. The crowding of the torso and load being so close to the hips does not allow most athletes to reach a stride length that would carry over well into speed.
Programming this setup in strength-focused activities is going to be super impactful due to increase loading and getting stronger and more stable in unilateral positions.
So the answer is….
Use both arm positions, just base it off what you’re trying to get out of the exercise. Below are some of my favorite ways to use the sled and what arm position would be a great option for each.
Heavy Sled Push: 4 sets of 8 steps per leg
Using an extremely heavy sled for 5-10 steps per leg is a great single-leg strength builder. We now work this in as a squat variation like a Lunge or a Split Squat after stealing the idea from Mike Boyle. This works wonders. It’s low-impact, delivers results fast, and is super fun because athletes love to hate the sled.
Sled Throws: 3 sets of 3
Arms: Bent to Extended
Want to ramp up your Medicine Ball throws? Just throw a sled instead. This is a great power variation that requires full-body explosiveness. Since power sits somewhere between max strength and max speed on the force-velocity curve, feel free to carry that over into your arm position here. Start with arms bent for max tension, then extend them at max speed.
Sled Sprint: 5 sets of 15 yards
The classic sled sprint allows athletes to lean, accelerate and burn some turf! Using a much lighter load, let your athletes get out and go with this variation. Focus on a forward lean, knee drive and triple extension on the back leg. The goal here is to move fast and smooth.
Sled Intervals: 15 yards, 50-sec rest, Repeat 10-20x
If anything will whip you into shape, it’s the sled. Our favorite interval setup for conditioning is a 15-yard working set followed by 50 seconds of rest, repeated 10-20 times based on the athletes. This is a great generation conditioning protocol, but there are many ways to be sports specific with conditioning methods on the sled. Think about what your athletes need and the demands of their sports, then build those energy systems however you see fit.
Again, these are simply guidelines that have worked for our athletes. Please try them out and let us know how it goes! The best part is that the sled is highly customizable for whatever population you work with. If you’re not incorporating it, start today!