A popular training tool, weight sleds help fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes stay in shape. Weight sleds are used to improve a variety of fitness components and to target various muscle groups. Generally used out of doors, weight sleds can be used on just about any surface, although dragging a weight sled over concrete or similar surfaces can be very noisy.
What Is a Weight Sled?
Weight sleds are normally made of metal and come in two main types. Some designs use a sturdy metal plate with an upturned leading edge while others use twin parallel runners. Both types of sled will have one or more vertical posts onto which weights can be loaded and a loop through which towing straps can be attached. The tow straps, normally made of very strong nylon or similar material, can be held in your hands or fixed around your waist with a belt, leaving your hands free.
Weight Sled Benefits
Pulling heavy weights develops strength, whereas pulling light weights for long distances improves aerobic fitness. Sprinters use weight sleds to help develop speed, and football and rugby players use weight sleds to improve tackling and blocking power. The benefits of weight sled training are dependent on the loads pulled and the type of exercise performed.
All sled exercises use the legs but some exercises are specifically designed to target lower-body function. Walking or running forward develops your calves, hamstrings and butt muscles, whereas walking or running backward develops your quadriceps and hip flexors. Walking sideways works your inner and outer thighs. Lower-body exercises can be performed by holding the tow straps in your hands or by attaching them to a waist belt. Holding the straps in your hands increases the involvement of your core muscles and arms.
Many free-weight and resistance machine exercises can be performed using a weight sled. Chest presses, pec flies, rear deltoid flies, rows, biceps curls and triceps extensions are just some of the exercises that can be performed using a weight sled. In addition to working the upper body, all of these exercises also involve the core and legs simultaneously.
Alternatives to Weight Sleds
Although they are versatile and effective, not everyone has access to a weight sled. You can, however, make your own by tying a loop of strong rope around an old SUV tire. Alternatively, you can recruit a training partner to act as a sled for many weight sled exercises. For example, a training partner can gently hold you back by looping a tow strap around your waist as you perform forward, backward and sideways running drills.
When working out with a weight sled, be careful when performing high-speed running, as the sled may gain momentum and continue moving once you have stopped -- which can cause injury. Also, if you are a sprinter, avoid too much heavy sled dragging as, although you will increase your running power, your actual speed may decrease as your running technique alters, resulting in a shorter stride length.