Utilizing Sled Training to Improve Speed & Athletic Performance

November 13, 2022 3 min read

Utilizing Sled Training to Improve Speed & Athletic Performance

Utilizing Sled Training to Improve Speed & Athletic Performance

Sled training – also referred to as Prowler training - provides a plethora of training opportunities to develop numerous facets of fitness from general conditioning to athletic- specific programming.


Sled training minimizes eccentric contractions that cause muscle damage. Eccentric contractions involve the muscle lengthening while under tension due to the external resistance being greater than the force generated by the muscle. In contrast, sled training is primarily concentric in its movement, thus aiding in the prevention in muscle soreness. Establishing proper technique is critical in order to move the sled and largely determined by the muscles in the feet and lower legs, quads, hamstrings, glutes and core.

By engaging and strengthening these muscles, sled training ultimately has a beneficial carryover effect in improving overall running technique. As improving strength in the lower body helps to increase the rate of force development, sled training further serves as an effective warm-up for intense activity such as weightlifting programs.

For heavier athletes and those who have difficulty in executing bodyweight movements alone, sled training is technically easy to perform. Building strength in your lower body is important in preventing joint sprains that often result from lack of stability when performing athletic activity. Sled training accordingly aids in safeguarding against chronic injuries associated with weak feet and lower legs including Achilles tendinitis.

Sprint Speed

Scientific studies routinely demonstrate resisted sled sprint training may provide an effective tool for the improvement of sprint acceleration and maximal velocity. Sled training develops dynamic power and speed to improve ability to perform explosive and dynamic movements such as sprinting. The immediate resistance provided by the load of a sled makes it a highly effective training modality for improving starting strength and acceleration techniques.

Backward sled walking is particularly effective in this aspect as this exercise targets the VMO muscle of the quad. The VMO is an active and dynamic stabiliser of the kneecap. The specific role of the VMO is to assist with extending the knee in the top range of leg extension. Backward sled drags improve the elastic component of the VMO allowing athletes to spend less time on the ground with each stride, thus shortening the amortization – or
transition – phase of running. This phase is the duration it takes to transition between loading and unloading. Accordingly, a shorter amortization phase equates to enhanced performance of explosive movements.

Sled Training Guidelines

When designing sled training programs, it’s important to vary distances in line with your training goals and preferences. Initially, a general variation load between 30-50% of your bodyweight is suitable to allow users to become accustomed to the movement. Ensuring you maintain proper technique,
increase resistance as you progress with your program.

General Physical Preparation (GPP) refers to any training period devoted to the general development of conditioning, athletic ability, and rehabilitation. During the early phases of a GPP program, incorporating set working intervals or including longer distances as far as 50 to 100 yards continuous work increases work capacity to ultimately improve conditioning. Sled training has minimal impediment to recovery due to its low-impact nature. The concentric movement of sled training means there is no axial loading – no spinal compression
to stabilize the weight. 

Further, sled training is ideal for rehabilitation and those with orthopedic issues due to its low impact on the joints and increased blood flow to the working muscles. For knee rehabilitation, one of the most important muscles that should be trained is the VMO. An effective way of training this muscle is performing backward sled drags.
To increase sprint speed, shorten the distance to a maximum of 25 yards and choose an appropriate weight which allows you to accelerate with proper technique and minimal  fatigue. A 2016 study published in the ‘International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance’ found a correlation between incorporating heavier loads in resisted sled sprint training and an increase in maximal horizontal force production and mechanical effectiveness. 

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