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Increase lower body power and speed with sled training
Sleds are a common feature of gyms. But how many members truly understand why their trainers insist that they push a sled up and down endlessly? And what is the true purpose behind this, other than for the amusement of the trainer?
There are various excellent reasons to use a sled in a training programme. In this article we will look at how the sled can increase speed, power and anaerobic capacity, and help reduce injury rates during intense exercise. There will also be specific focus on the crossovers to Rugby and American football, demonstrating that sled training can catapult a player’s performance.
Why sled workouts are good for sportspeople
The sled is a simple device that allows users to adopt varying body positions to perform push, pull or dragging based drills. Athletes can use either the horizontal bar or upright bars to set their torso angle in the appropriate position for their sport. Specifically, different set-up positions means that ankle, knee and hip angles can be controlled for specific transfer to the sport.
To get the most from your sled training, suitable flooring that reduces friction is a must. Fast, explosive drills can only be done if you can accelerate the sled rapidly and then maintain its momentum. The flooring should however provide enough grip for athletes’ feet, so that they can drive off and apply maximal force into the ground. Turf track and astro turf type materials tend to be the best choice, and Escape’s specialist solutions are the Speed Track and Portable Speed Track.
Sled power training
Power is best developed by training an athlete across the complete load/speed spectrum. It is the load vs speed relationship that provides an athlete with the best possible chance of developing power. In simple terms this means you have two ways to train:
- Move high loads where the sequencing (relative timing profile) of joints will be slower, but the force output will still be high.
- Move low loads at maximal joint speed where force output will be high.
Using a sled is the perfect training tool for lower body power production. This is because you can easily adjust the load that affects the relative timing profile of the joints - but still maintain maximum force output across the spectrum. (As long as the floor surface is appropriate.)
Increasing speed with a sled
Having the ability to move quickly across the ground is essential for many sports, including Rugby and American Football. Transferring brute power into explosive speed requires training to develop coordination and efficiency. Developing big powerful muscles is not enough.
By varying the load of the sled, both power and speed can be developed. But to improve speed specifically it is important to keep the load very low. This enables the athlete to accelerate rapidly and keep the speed high.
Research carried out on joint specific training and crossover to sprinting speed has shown that quarter squats (55-65 degrees of knee flexion) had the best crossover for athletes performing a 40 yard sprint. These findings correlate to sled-based training where joint angles are similar to quarter squats. This training has been shown to increase sprinting speed by twice as much as non-weighted sprint training alone.
Reduced injury rates during intense exercise
Whether the athlete is performing a maximal power drill or HIIT-based interval session for anaerobic capacity, the sled is a controlled environment where the loading through the body is minimal in the vertical position. The skill level of the movement is very low and the amount of eccentric forces placed on the body is minimal.
For all of these reasons injury risk is reduced dramatically. This makes it a preferred tool for a lot of professional sports teams as they can develop the areas of fitness they want, without the risk of their players not making it to game day.
One area coaches should watch out for though is the athlete’s ability to stabilise the spine and torso in the horizontal position. If the athlete is pushing the sled at maximal force/speed while their spine has an excessive lordotic curve, this could cause injury.
Increase in anaerobic capacity
This is one of the most popular areas for sled training, because the speed and power output produced means that heart rates can increase quickly. Also, because of the controlled, low injury risk environment the sled creates, athletes can push their limits without risk.
With the correct programming and interval selection, coaches can work their athletes specifically to prepare their energy systems for competition. The faster and more explosive the drill is, the more anaerobic it will be. So Sled based exercises are fantastic for developing the anaerobic energy systems.
On top of this, the joint angles, lever actions and muscles used cross over superbly to Rugby and American Football players. Local muscular fatigue can be achieved quickly in the lower body, mimicking driving, tackling and multiple short burst sprints.
Work out with a sled
So there’s a quick look at what gains you can get from sled training. To help you learn a few new moves, check out one of our latest Workout of the Week videos incorporating the sled, where a sled push, box jump and back squat combine for a strength and power blast.
Get to know the Escape Quad Sled and Speed Track
Stylish and compact, our Quad Sled features moveable drive posts for upright use, and a low drive bar for horizontal work. We have the right flooring for sled work too: the Speed Track and Portable Speed Track provide perfect surfaces for sled push/pull exercises, as well as sprints, bear crawls, lunges and much more. You can also get in touch with us direct to talk about what sled training can bring to your club:
E-Mail: [email protected]
UK: +44 (0)1733 313 535
USA: +1 (614)-706-4462
Germany: +49 (0)2921 590 10 70
Effects of Resisted Sprint Training on Acceleration in Professional Rugby Union Players. Daniel West, et. al. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Apr 2013. Vol. 27. Issue 4. p1014-1018. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182606cff
Joint-Angle Specific Strength Adaptations Influence Improvements in Power in Highly Trained Athletes. Rhea, Kenn, Peterson, Massey, Simão, Marin & Krein. Human Movement (2016).