A Six-Week Sled Training Program

Yunus Barisik

CSCS, Coach, Author

Helsinki, Finland

Ice Hockey

Youtube

While barbells and dumbbells get all the love (rightfully so) from strength enthusiasts, it's hard to beat the sled for conditioning.

 

Why sled training?

 

 

  • The learning curve is minimal, making sled training suitable for anyone from stud college athlete to Medicare recipient.
  • Thanks to low joint and nervous system stress, you'll bounce right back from a brutal session.
  • Besides, you only need a few minutes to launch your heart rate through the roof and feel those nasty leg pumps kick in. Talk about an effective and time-efficient training tool.

 

While the why behind sled training makes sense, the how-to still eludes many lifters.

 

  • How often?
  • How many reps?
  • Distance?
  • Rest?

 

Most athletes tack on sled exercises once or twice a week at the end of a workout. You pick a distance based on what you feel like doing today and get to pushing like a modern-day Sisyphus.

 

You stop when the skin-tearing burn in your quads overpowers you. Or when the two chicken breasts and heap of steamed vegetables you gulped down at lunch crawl their way back up your food pipe, sending some hapless staff member on a quest for a mop and bucket.

 

But when the goal is to boost work capacity in a hurry, a more structured approach beats pushing or pulling a sled at random.

 

For this boost, a higher frequency approach based on a heavy/light system works well. I use it with my hockey players in the early off-season to bring up their legs and lungs while giving the joints a break after a battering hockey season.

 

For any driven athlete or lifter, it's an effective way to drive up your general fitness and burn extra calories without zapping your strength, which can happen with high-volume traditional cardio.

 

All you need is a couple exercises and six weeks to see significant gains in work capacity.

 

The Exercises: Sled Push

 

As idiot-proof as the sled push is, some people still butcher it, resulting in poor form and wasted energy.

 

Pay attention to these technique pointers:

 

  1. Grab the uprights near the top.
  2. Lean forward at about 45 degrees as if you were accelerating over the first five yards of a 40-yard sprint.
  3. Brace the core and maintain a neutral spine.
  4. You're not Shakira shaking her butt on stage. Hips stay level.
  5. Push down and back with the ball of your foot. Heel stays off the ground.
  6. Finish each step by extending the hip.

 

The Exercises: Sled Drag

 

  1. If your sled doesn't have any uprights to grab, attach a chin-up belt around your waist and drag it.
  2. The same technique cues apply here as with sled pushes: lean forward, stay tight, extend on each stride. Since the arms remain free, move them in sync with your legs.

 

The Exercises: Backward Sled Walk

 

  1. Attach a chin-up belt around your waist.
  2. With slightly bent hips, lean back to get the sled moving.
  3. Leading with the ball of your foot, step back and push your heel into the ground.
  4. Finish each step by extending the knee.

 

This variation doesn't look hard, but it will torch your quads when you go heavy or long enough.

 

The Program

This six-week program is split into two, three-week phases, following a long-to-short approach.

 

  • You begin with lighter loads, longer distances, and incomplete recovery in Phase 1.
  • Then, in Phase 2, you add weight, shorten the distance, and rest longer.
  • Both phases include four workouts per week. Two of them involve pushing or dragging a sled forward while you walk backward in the other two.

 

Here are the specifics.

 

Phase 1 - Day 1

30 m* Sled Push or Drag

 

  • Week 1: 6 Reps
  • Week 2: 6 Reps
  • Week 3: 6 Reps

 

Rest: 90 Seconds

 

Phase 1 - Day 2

60 m** Backward Sled Walk

 

  • Week 1: 6 Reps
  • Week 2: 7 Reps
  • Week 3: 8 Reps

 

 

Rest: 60 Seconds

 

Phase 1 - Day 3

30 m Backward Sled Walk

 

  • Week 1: 6 Reps
  • Week 2: 6 Reps
  • Week 3: 6 Reps

 

Rest: 90 Seconds

 

Phase 1  - Day 4

60 m Sled Push or Drag

 

  • Week 1: 6 Reps
  • Week 2: 7 Reps
  • Week 3: 8 Reps

 

Rest: 60 Seconds

 

* Note #1: Imperial system users can replace meters with yards for convenience, so instead of 30 meters, you go with 30 yards.

 

For exact conversions, multiply a given distance by 1.1—30 meters equals 33 yards.

 

** Note #2: Few gyms have enough space to complete a 60-meter sled drill in one go. If yours has a 20-meter turf area, then cover its full length and change directions once you reach the end. Do so three times, and you’ll have racked up 60 meters.

 

Some of my athletes train in gyms with only 10 or 15 meters of turf space. Is it optimal? No. But don’t use the limited room as an excuse. Make it work.

 

Phase 1 - Instructions

  • Do each sled drill either at the end of your strength workout or in a separate session.
  • The resistance you use depends on the weight of your sled and how much friction the surface you're pushing it on produces.
  • Whereas 350 pounds works for me, you might get the same training effect with 225 or 500.
  • So it would be impractical to give specific loading parameters because, unlike a barbell squat or deadlift, we have no way to standardize resistance across every situation and every athlete.

 

The best I can do is give you some guidelines as a starting point. The rest is up to you to figure out.

 

60-Meter Sled Push/Drag & Backward Sled Walk (Light Day)

 

 

This is easy conditioning. I can’t stress this enough.

 

The goal is to raise your heart rate without going lactic.

 

  • If you have ever done brisk walks while wearing a weight vest, the effect is the same.
  • Maintain a steady rhythm and cover ground.
  • You'll sweat and get a bit out of breath, but not so much you have trouble finishing.
  • Use the same weight throughout the workout. It will probably be a lot lighter than you think.

 

My athletes typically start with a single 45 or 55-pound plate on the sled. So the first week would include:

 

  • Rep 1: 45 lb
  • Rep 2: 45 lb
  • Rep 3: 45 lb
  • Rep 4: 45 lb
  • Rep 5: 45 lb
  • Rep 6: 45 lb

 

Remember, don't kill yourself here. This is all about strengthening your heart and lungs at lower intensities, which helps you recover faster between efforts when things get more challenging in Phase 2.

 

We achieve overload by adding one rep per week, starting at six and finishing eight over a three-week cycle.

 

30-Meter Sled Push/Drag & Backward Sled Walk (Heavy Day)

No need to make things complicated. Pile on the plates and bust your ass.

Work up to a top set for the day. If you have any more sets left after reaching your max, back off to a lighter but still challenging load. It might look like this:

 

  • Rep 1: 225 lb
  • Rep 2: 235 lb
  • Rep 3: 245 lb
  • Rep 4: 250 lb (max for the day)
  • Rep 5: 240 lb
  • Rep 6: 235 lb

 

Reps stay at six throughout the cycle. We achieve overload by increasing resistance each session.

 

 

Next time, your goal is to beat this week's best (250 pounds). So you load the sled with 255 or 260 for your first set in Week 2 and again work up to a top set. Repeat in Week 3.

 

Phase 2 - Day 1

15 m Sled Push or Drag

 

  • Week 1: 6 Reps
  • Week 2: 6 Reps
  • Week 3: 6 Reps

 

Rest: 120 Seconds

 

Phase 2 - Day 2

45 m Backward Sled Walk

 

  • Week 1: 6 Reps
  • Week 2: 7 Reps
  • Week 3: 8 Reps

 

Rest: 75 Seconds

 

Phase 2 - Day 3

15 m Backward Sled Walk

 

  • Week 1: 6 Reps
  • Week 2: 6 Reps
  • Week 3: 6 Reps

 

Rest: 120 Seconds

 

Phase 2 - Day 4

45 m Sled Push or Drag

 

  • Week 1: 6 Reps
  • Week 2: 7 Reps
  • Week 3: 8 Reps

 

Rest: 75 Seconds

 

Phase 2 - Instructions

45-Meter Sled Push/Drag & Backward Sled Walk (Semi-Light Day)

 

The effort level falls somewhere between what you experienced in Phase 1 – certainly harder than 60 meters but not as exhausting as 30.

 

Pick a fixed resistance that reflects this. Example:

 

  • Rep 1: 90 lb
  • Rep 2: 90 lb
  • Rep 3: 90 lb
  • Rep 4: 90 lb
  • Rep 5: 90 lb
  • Rep 6: 90 lb

 

Again, the point is not to commit sled suicide.

 

Although your legs will burn, this is still submaximal work designed to build a foundation. You're doing it right when, despite gasping for air after your last rep, you feel you could have done another 1-2 reps without wiping out.

 

Like in Phase 1, add one rep per week, starting at six and finishing with eight.

 

15-Meter Sled Push/Drag & Backward Sled Walk (Very Heavy Day)

 

Now we get to the part for which you've been waiting—time to move some heavy-ass weight.

 

Fifteen meters is short enough to load that sucker to the brim as you go balls to the wall. It's also long enough to make you wonder why you didn't just opt for the elliptical today like everyone else when your heart leaps into your throat and legs scream in agony by the third rep.

 

That's fine. Ignore the discomfort, fight through the muscle burn, and finish strong.

 

 

Work up to a top set and if you have any more sets left, back off by taking weight off the sled.

 

It could look like this:

 

  • Rep 1: 315 lb
  • Rep 2: 335 lb
  • Rep 3: 350 lb
  • Rep 4: 360 lb
  • Rep 5: 370 lb (max for the day)
  • Rep 6: 350 lb

 

Next time, your goal is to beat this week's best at 370.

 

So you go with 375-380 pounds in your first set in Week 2 and take it from there. Repeat in Week 3.

 

Don't let the simplicity of this program fool you. While the workouts don't look hardcore as hell on paper, they produce results.

 

Six weeks from now, you can expect your work capacity to have jumped up a notch or two while gaining serious unilateral leg strength.

 

Where Do You Go From Here?

You could start over and repeat the entire plan several times in a row with heavier loads. So that 45-pound plate you used over 60 meters would turn into 55-65 pounds in your second go-round, all the way up to 75-85 pounds in your third.

 

Strive to add more weight in each subsequent cycle, and you'll soon hit major sled PRs that seem way out of reach today.

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