How to Do a Backward Sled Pull for Major Cardio and Strength Gains

Plus, get to know the weighted sled — an unexpected piece of equipment with a whole lot of potential.

When you think of a sled, exercise probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind (more like reindeer or your childhood favorite snow-day activity). But a weighted sled is actually a super effective fitness tool — and it can give you one hell of a workout. Proof: Super fit celebrities such as Tracee Ellis Ross, Lizzo, Brie Larson, and Kate Hudson are known fans.

But what even is a weighted sled, and how do you use one? In short, it's a metal contraption that sits close to the ground with cylindrical poles around which you can attach weights. You then can either push the sled or use the chain attached to the front to pull the sled. A favorite exercise to do with the piece of equipment is the backward sled pull, also called the reverse sled pull.

How to Do a Backward Sled Pull

While it certainly helps to have a sled for the backward sled pull (or any weighted sled pull, for that matter), you may not find one at every gym. Luckily, you can easily create a makeshift sled by rigging a rope or chain to weight plates or a similarly heavy object, says Alyssa Ages, a trainer and Strongman athlete.

Here's how to do the holy grail of weighted sled moves:

an exerciser at the gym doing a weighted sled pull exercise

A. Pull the sled's chain or rope taut and lean body backward. To increase stability, place feet in a wide stance. Put bodyweight in heels, engage core and upper back, and keep arms straight and in front of body.

B. Take short, quick steps backward. The idea is to move as fast as possible to build momentum. Accelerate over the course of the entire distance. Repeat.

The Key Backward Sled Pull Benefits

Why should you switch up your routine to add in backward sled pulls? There are tons of benefits of this exercise, but here are a few that stand out:

Helps Boost Athletic Performance

If you're not a fan of running, consider sled pulls as a conditioning alternative. Workouts using sleds "are great to build speed, power, and endurance," and "many athletes use this exercise to boost their performance," Alex Higa, a certified personal trainer at Tempo Fitness, previously told Shape.

Working on endurance has the added benefit of increasing your VO2 max, which is an indicator of your level of cardiovascular conditioning. Since sled pulls place a high demand on your cardiovascular system, you'll find your workouts will feel easier over time, even if they're on the longer side. Goodbye, burnout!

May Lessen Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Try a backward sled pull and you'll realize that your heart rate will increase — fast. Cardio workouts are known to get your heart pumping, which is one of the modality's main draws as it can lead to better cardiovascular health. Research shows that regular aerobic workouts are associated with lower chances of cardiovascular mortality as well as a lessened risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Independently Works Each Side of the Body

Not only do sled pulls (and pushes!) "work everything," but "it's also just great for separating the legs and hips — your legs have to independently work," Brian Nguyen, C.P.T., C.S.C.S., Kate Hudson's trainer, previously told Shape. And while it may not sound all that important, this style of exercise is incredibly beneficial.

Working one side of the body at a time (called unilateral training) is important to incorporate into your fitness routine, as it can help correct muscular imbalances that could eventually lead to injury, as Shape previously reported. Everyone has a dominant side of the body, and loading each side with unilateral exercises works to make your strength more symmetrical.

Backward Sled Pull Muscles Worked

"The sled pull is a great strength-based cardio move — you'll get your heart rate up while working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and calf muscles in one movement," says Ages. "It also helps develop power and strength in the glutes and hamstrings and, because pulling the sled backwards takes the focus off of your quads, works the oft-neglected lower back to boot," she adds.

If you're doing them right, "sled pull and pushes pretty much target your entire body, making it an excellent choice for strength, power, and conditioning," Sloane Davis, certified personal trainer and founder of Pancakes and Pushups, previously told Shape, adding more areas worked: the core, chest, triceps, shoulders, and hip flexors.

Backward Sled Pull Variations

The reverse sled pull is a beginner-friendly exercise to try because you control the amount of weight that's loaded onto the machine. Depending on your level of fitness, all you need to do to modify the move is add or take off weight to meet your individual needs. This offers the added bonus of making it simple to track your progress, plus the move can be endlessly challenging as you get stronger.

Common Backward Sled Pull Mistakes

To make sure you're reaping the benefits of this hardcore workout, check that your form is on point — keeping the feet in a wide stance and your bodyweight properly distributed is key. Try not to stop in the middle of the distance, as that will wreck your momentum. Also, make sure that you can handle the amount of weight you add to the sled, as you don't want to overwork yourself or cause an injury. If you're not sure about your form or the amount of weight you should add, it never hurts to tap a personal trainer to help you get started with the exercise.

How to Add Backward Sled Pulls to Your Routine

The backward sled pull is easily tweaked and turned into exactly the kind of workout you want. If your goal is to get a fast-and-loose cardio workout in, simply put less weight on the sled, move faster, and cover more ground (with as little rest as possible, or no rest). Looking for some full-body strength training work? Weigh it down a bit more and take your time. You can also push the weighted sled forward instead of pulling it backward and still get a full-body workout.

As with any new form of exercise, it's always a good idea to talk with a personal trainer and/or your doctor before adding the backward sled pull to your rotation. Once you get the all-clear, try incorporating it into your routine two days a week.

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