I find it rather amusing when I see an Instagram video, YouTube clip, or a Facebook Live segment on the “benefits” of pushing or pulling a heavy sled. What I find equally hilarious is when it is championed as a “finisher” to a lower-body workout – you can’t fix stupid.
Now, before my inbox gets swarmed with hateful emails from athletes and coaches in the area, let me say there are no bad exercises. However, there is most definitely bad application. Prepare yourself, you are about to get effed up with some truth as I dive into the so called “benefits” of sleds.
Reason #1: The worst posture I have ever seen.
“Posture dictates performance.” I believe an individual much smarter than I named Bill Hartman said that. The first point on my speed checklist (and many others) is posture. Tell me, is it easier to sprint standing upright or by exhibiting the horrendous position shown in the picture above? I’ll let you be the judge.
Reason #2: Lactic environment.
Places I used to work at in the area and so many other facilities in this industry love to have their athletes push or pull these damn things for distances that will serve little-to-no transfer for their sport. For example, the sport of American football is an alactic-aerobic sport, meaning players are either moving at or near top speed, or below 50% max velocity. My point – why the hell are you neglectfully putting their body into a zone and energy system they simply will not encounter during a game? (less than 2% of the time).
Reason #3: Increased ground contact time.
When I visited Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell last March, he told me something that was so simple yet so profound, (funny how the best coaches in the world possess this ability) “The only difference between flying and sprinting is ground contact.” Athletes who are on the ground for long periods of time are typically slow individuals. Why would you promote the athlete to push the ground away from him? My friend Derek Hansen says even the word puuuuuuushhhhhhhh is a slow word in itself. Furthermore, the longer time the athlete spends on the ground, the lower his hips are, which not only destroys his posture, but it also negatively effects his leg recovery by literally “leaving his leg behind” him.
Reason #4: Umm what role do the arms play?
Arms drive the legs, and more importantly, the height of the hips. Having said that, I would deem it rather important to have them contribute in some way. The second point on my speed checklist is front side arm action, to rid them is detrimental to sprinting. With this exercise, the legs are driving everything: arms, hip height (or lack thereof), and ground contact time. Strikes one, two, and three when “developing” a fast athlete.
Reason #5: This is not Crossfit.
Just because you can make your athlete tired does not mean you are making her better. This mentality has plagued team sport athletes and training facilities for as long as I can remember, this idea of everyone “dying” and celebrating when someone pukes is simply asinine. If the place you are sending your child to subjects them to this type of “training” you need to get your money back. That is not a coach, that is someone who simply does not have a plan, is taking your money, and punting your child’s development.
Again, there is a time and place for everything – including sleds. I believe they serve tremendous value when utilized during an anatomical adaptation phase with light-moderate weight to build tissue resiliency in the ankles, knees and hips for the more demanding aspects of the program to come i.e. sprinting. I also find them useful for youth athletes as getting them stronger and able to apply more force into the ground will make them faster – I have done it hundreds of times. Having said that, the more the athlete matures physically, the less need for sleds.
If you want your athletes to run fast, there is an easy way to accomplish this – have them run fast. Nothing can substitute for sprinting, if sleds truly made athletes faster, we would witness astounding 10 and 20m dash times. Speed is an embodied belief before it is an action. Cut your athletes loose, ditch the sleds, let them run.