Sled training has become a staple training method in the fitness world. Bodybuilders use it for conditioning and muscle-building purposes, whereas sprinters use it to improve acceleration. Acceleration is the rate at which velocity changes with time, or the rate at which something speeds up or slows down.1 Acceleration is a very important component of field sports, and is often considered necessary for success. A recent study compared the effects of combined weighted sled training and sprint training against traditional sprint training on 10 and 30 meter speed in professional rugby union players.2
The study consisted of 20 professional rugby players and compared the effects of a combined sled-tow sprint training program with a traditional sprint training program. The participants were placed into either a sled training group, or a traditional sprint training group. The sled group consisted of three 20 meter tows with 12.6% body mass on the sled, as well as two series of three 20 meter sprints. Recent research shows that a load of 12.5-13% of body mass is optimal for sled training since it does not alter sprint kinematics. The traditional sprint program consisted of three 20 meter sprints as well as two series of three 20 meter sprints. Each group performed training sessions twice a week for six weeks. Times for the 10 meter and 30 meter sprints were conducted before and after the training.3
At the end of the study, both training protocols resulted in significantly lower 10 meter and 30 meter sprint times. The changes in the participants 10 meter and 30 meter speed times showed the sled training group had more improvement than the traditional sprint training group. However, when compared to baseline times, the sled group produced changes of -2.4% (10 meter) and -2.5% (30 meter), compared to respective changes of -1.1% and -1.2% in the traditional sprint group.4
In addition to the findings of this study, prior research revealed that sprint training utilizing towing a sled loaded with 5 kilograms for a duration of 8 weeks resulted in improved acceleration performance. When using resistance, the body is forced to fire harder on each step. Over time, the athlete’s nervous system may learn to fire harder all the time, not just directly after use of the weighted sled.5
Although the results of the study show that each training protocol is successful for speed development, it appears that the combination of sled-tows with sprint training produce better gains. There are many designs and models of sleds being produced today, and for good reason – they work.