In the space of two years, I went from never having seen a sled outside of a professional sports training center to seeing them in virtually every commercial gym I’ve visited.
Not only are commercial gyms adding sleds to their array of training equipment, but home gym owners are buying them at rates we’ve never seen before!
One of the more common questions I get here at GymCrafter is how to add turf to a home gym so that a sled can be used. I haven’t written that article for two reasons…
- I don’t know the answer.
- You don’t need turf if you use a sled specifically designed to be used on any surface!
I’ve been using a sled (you can see the exact model I’m using here) every day for the last eight months. While I knew it would be good for me when I started, I had no idea at all just how much I’d end up loving it.
So why are they so popular? Why would someone go to the time and expense of installing turf in their home just to use one exercise tool? I’ve got sixteen great answers to that question!
*As a quick note, please see our disclaimers page and always consult a doctor before trying any new type of training. Especially if you are injured or are experiencing pain.
Anyone Can Use A Sled Regardless of Strength or Skill Level
Unlike a lot of strength training equipment, pushing or dragging a sled has almost no learning curve. There are a couple of basic form issues to watch (keeping a neutral back is the most important one), but otherwise, you simply push or pull the sled, and away you go!
In addition to being easy to use, sleds offer an almost unlimited variety of resistance. You can start without resistance or add weight until the sled is unmoveable.
That means anyone can use it. Kids, significant others, and older adults are just a few groups that can easily benefit from sled work.
Sleds Are Easier on Your Joints
When squatting or deadlifting, there are two parts to the movement, concentric and eccentric. Eccentric movement is when you lower the weight. Concentric movement is when you raise the weight. (source)
For squats, it’s eccentric on the way down and concentric on the way up. Those are not only two different movements, but the stresses they place on your body are very different.
Your body handles concentric movement very well, especially when the movement is loaded with weight. Eccentric movement is tough on your body when weighted.
In fact, the eccentric portion of the movement most often causes joint pain and injuries, ligament pain and injuries, and excessive muscle damage beyond what is appropriate for many people.
Using an implement like the sled, where every loaded movement is concentric only, eliminates a majority of injury and pain potential. (source)
Sleds Can Reduce Muscle Soreness
If you were to squat every day, your legs would get really sore. The delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) you feel if you push yourself would be almost unbearable.
That soreness is caused almost entirely by the eccentric portion of the squat movement pattern (source). With a sled, since there is no eccentric, there is also little to no pain the next day.
I’ve pushed and pulled a sled every day for six months now, and the only thing I’ve experienced is an almost complete elimination of knee, hip, and lower back pain while never, ever being sore from that training.
It’s been a welcome change in my training regimen not to deal with significant leg pain for two to three days after each “leg day”!
Sleds Aid in Recovery
Not only does sled work not cause joint or muscle pain in the same way or amount that traditional lower body training does, but it can actually speed recovery from other resistance training or injury. (source)
By getting blood flow to your entire body yet not causing the damage that eccentric movements can cause, you are setting yourself up for an excellent recovery day if you start with sled work.
If I wake up sore from the previous day, whether it was training or other work that caused the soreness, I’ll hit the sled first thing in the morning. After just a few pushes and pulls, the soreness is gone, and I’m ready for my day!
Sleds Can Heal Knee Pain
Dragging the sled backward forces massive blood flow into your knees, hips, and ankles. More specifically, it aids in blood flow to the connective tissues in those areas that are very hard to get blood to in any other way.
By forcing blood flow through ligaments, tendons, and cartilage, sled drags create the perfect environment for healing these hard-to-heal tissues.
Not only are there a number of studies backing this up, but I’ve personally experienced this too. It’s allowed me to do things I thought I couldn’t do anymore! (source)
If you suffer from knee pain, I can’t recommend daily sled work enough! If you want to see the exact knee pain protocol I used, check out this book. It’s been so life-changing that I give copies to anyone who says they have knee pain!
Sleds Strengthen Your Lower Back
At 52, it would be easier to tell you which of my body parts don’t hurt than to review the myriad of pain and injuries I deal with regularly. I’ve already touched on knee pain, so let’s look at lower back pain.
The single best thing most people can do for lower back pain is to strengthen their core, legs, and posterior chain (a standing desk does wonders, too!).
Pushing and pulling a sled requires a tightened core throughout the training. It also requires a neutral spine and good posture. If you concentrate on keeping your back neutral and bracing your core while you use the sled, you can significantly reduce or even eliminate back pain. (source)
The remarkable thing about a sled is that it does all this without putting any load on your spine! This is huge! Most exercises that train your legs and posterior chain load your spine and supporting muscles. That load can often do more damage than good.
After doing sled work every day for six months, my knees and back feel great!
Sleds Can Improve Hip and Ankle Mobility
Pushing and pulling a sled puts you into positions you aren’t placed with most other training movements. This is especially true if your sled has a low handle option.
You force your ankles and hips into positions they don’t usually see by getting down low to push the sled. Doing this with a loaded sled forces you to push these joints’ end ranges of motion. But in a very joint-friendly way.
Adding lateral sled work (walking sideways while pulling the sled) can quickly address ankle and hip mobility and stability. There is no other way to do this than with a sled!!! (source)
Sleds Strengthen Your Core
A sled requires a tight core throughout its use. The lower you get to the ground when pushing or pulling, the more you will rely on your core.
I’ve eliminated ALL direct core work by using my sled daily. There are an almost unlimited amount of movements you can perform with a sled. Through them, you can train every aspect of your core, including rotation and anti-rotation.
There isn’t a sled workout that I do where I don’t feel a massive effect on my core.
Sleds Can Be A Full Body Workout
If you include a rope and some pull handles, there isn’t a muscle group in your body you can’t train with a sled. As I’ve pushed and pulled my sled around each morning, I’ve strongly considered trying a sled-only training plan for a while.
You wouldn’t even have to get that creative. All sled movements are compound movements that train multiple muscles, if not your entire body, each time you use one.
If you are looking for an entertaining change to your workout regimen, try this out. You’ll be surprised to see just how effective it can be!
A Complete Lower Body Workout With Just A Sled
While you would have to incorporate a bunch of different movements to make sled training a full-body affair, not so if you are solely focusing on your lower body.
Simply pushing and pulling the sled with a good amount of resistance is a complete lower-body workout in one easy (but quite challenging) session!
I was shocked at how every muscle in my legs, from my calves to my glutes, got a massive pump from just one session with a sled.
Sleds Can Replace Most Other Lower Body Exercises
If you are a professional bodybuilder, this won’t be true for you. But it is valid for just about everyone else!
Most people’s routines include squats, calf raises, deadlifts, and maybe hip thrusts when it comes to lower body training. A sled can replace all of these! And it does it with a significantly lower risk of injury and a much faster learning curve!
Now, I can hear some trainers out there yelling at their screens that nothing can replace squats or deadlifts! Those are the kings of all exercises, after all!
Well, most of us aren’t trainers! Most of us aren’t bodybuilders or competing in a fitness competition. Most of us just want to be healthy, strong, and ready for life. And a sled does that in spades!!!
I promise that if you doubt this, you haven’t tried a sled. I would be shocked if you didn’t see this in just one session!
Sleds Can Build Speed and Explosiveness
As most of you know, your muscles are made of two types of fibers: slow and fast twitch. For simplicity, they do what their name implies (yes, there’s much more to this, but all that doesn’t matter for this example).
Too much heavy weight training can reduce both speed and explosiveness when training for sports. (source).
Sled work does the opposite with just a few tweaks. In fact, there is no better tool out there to improve lower body speed, power, and explosiveness (source).
Sleds Are A Highly Effective Conditioning Workout
So far, I’ve covered sled work’s strength-building and regenerative benefits. But that’s not all a sled can bring to your garage gym!
Load your sled slightly lighter than you would for a strength workout and push/pull it for speed. You won’t get going very fast, but your intention of speed will create one heck of a conditioning workout.
If you aren’t already in great cardiovascular shape, just fifty feet of max effort sled work will have you gassed. You’ll be shocked at how quickly your heart rate goes up. It’s one of the most challenging conditioning exercises I’ve tried, and I’ve tried them all!
If you want to get the benefits of something like an air bike (a truly medieval torture device if I’ve ever seen one!) but without the agony, get a sled!
Sled Work Burns More Calories In Less Time Than ANY Other Cardio Machine
We just posted an article detailing which cardio machine burns the most calories. High-intensity sled work puts all of them to shame!
Max-effort sled work can burn as much as 250 calories in just three minutes! (source) That’s twice what running on a treadmill for 30 minutes can do!
Since I started using my sled six months ago, I’ve eliminated all other HIIT and calorie-focused training!
The beauty of this is that cardio machines prompt your body to eliminate muscle. A sled encourages your body to build muscle. Sled work makes this holy grail combo of building muscle and burning calories easy!
Sleds Can Be Used Indoors Or Outdoors
Training outside is a ton of fun. The problem is that it’s tough to move your squat rack outside when it’s nice and back inside when it’s not. Not all of us live in southern California, after all!
All types of sleds can be used indoors or out. Magnetic resistance sleds operate on all-terrain wheels like the one I use daily. Those can not only be used outside but they can be taken virtually anywhere to train. They are, by far, the most versatile type of sled.
Using a magnetic resistance sled is beneficial for many reasons (check out my complete guide to magnetic resistance sleds here!). Still, one of the most significant benefits to garage gym owners is that they can be used outside the garage.
Very few garages have the space or the budget to install 20+ yards of turf to allow a traditional sled to be used. The alternative is dragging one up and down your sidewalk.
From experience, I can tell you that’s a fast way to make your neighbors hate you. To many people, the sound of a metal sled being dragged across concrete is literally worse than nails on a chalkboard.
Sleds Can Be Used To Train Multi-Planar Movements
That’s a fancy way of saying you can push or pull a sled in any direction. You can go forwards, backward, sideways, and any combination you can think of!
This lower body training type is ideal for athletes and real life. Squats and deadlifts operate only in the sagittal plane. Life doesn’t work that way!
At some point, we all stop training for looks and start training for longevity, function, mobility, stability, and the ability to do the things we love better and for longer.
And that, above the other 15 reasons I just listed, is why I’ve switched from squats, deadlifts, and almost every other lower-body training movement to sled pushes and drags instead. (In the interest of transparency, I still do Bulgarian split squats once a week, but that’s it. I’m a glutton for some occasional agony!)
Can you tell I’m a huge fan? Look, I spent almost $1500 on my sled. That’s crazy to me. I went back and forth with myself for months before spending that much. My only regret is not buying one sooner. In fact, if I was to build my gym all over again, the sled is one of the first things I’d buy. It could even eliminate my need for a rack altogether!
When it comes to training for life, I don’t own another implement that comes even close to the sled. Get yourself one today, and you can send me a thank you email later!
Are the magnetic sleds really that much better than the much cheaper traditional plate-loaded units?
Yes! If you have the budget, there’s no comparison. That said, there is a HUGE price difference. If you have a place to use a standard sled that won’t bother your neighbors, it’s a great option and will save you a ton of money.
Do you really use your sled every day?
6 days a week, sometimes 7. But to be honest, I really love a lazy Sunday, so don’t usually do anything in the gym that day. That said, if I decide to go light on a day or am short on time, the sled is the ONLY thing I do that day.
The first week was tough. I’m not gonna lie. But once I got accustomed to the movements, it hasn’t ever been a problem to work with the sled every day!