How to Do a Sled Push to Strengthen Your Lower Body

Here's exactly why the challenging move deserves a spot in your workout routine, and how do to a sled push perfectly.

Sled Push

The sled push is an inherently 'grammable exercise. After all, celebs such as Brie Larson and Kate Upton have shared videos of themselves pushing sleds loaded with weight plates and husbands, respectively.

But while pushing a heavy sled looks badass, the lower-body exercise also boasts tons of physical benefits and builds stamina. Here's exactly what a sled push is, what muscles it works, and how to do a sled push with perfect (Instagram-worthy) form.

How to Do a Sled Push

First, know that the eponymous sled in a sled push is significantly different from what you dragged out from the garage on snow days as a kid. Both feature a low platform with skis or flat "feet" underneath to make it easy for the sled to slide on a turf or smooth surface (although some fitness models feature wheels instead). However, an exercise sled (also known as a prowler) comes with at least one set of attached poles that the user grips in order to push the sled forward. The prowler sled's platform will also include another set of poles, around which you place weight plates for an added challenge. (FYI, prowler sleds vary in weight, generally from about 65 pounds to 90 pounds without any extra weight added, depending on the model.)

A weighted sled push involves hinging at the hips, bracing the core and back, and driving the legs forward to move the sled. You can put less weight on the sled and push for speed in order to get a cardio challenge, or you can load the sled with weight plates in order to build more strength. Either way, the sled push is sure to be a major challenge. Here's an in-depth breakdown of the sled push, demonstrated by Molly Pfeiffer, C.S.C.S., a strength and conditioning coach at Ethos Training Systems in Chicago.

A. Stand behind the end of the sled with the high poles closest to you, feet facing forward. Hinge forward at hips and grab near the top of the high poles. Step backward as needed to ensure hands are at shoulder height when arms are fully extended. This is the starting position.

B. Keeping back flat and core engaged, begin to push the sled by pushing through the balls of feet and walking forward (heels should not touch the ground). Drive knees up toward chest and engage quads and glutes to move the sled.

C. Continue pushing the sled forward for time or distance.

The Key Sled Push Exercise Benefits

The sled push is a little more unconventional than your standard deadlifts or biceps curls, but it's still worthy of a place in your regular fitness routine. Here's a closer look at the benefits of sled pushes.

Improves Tendon Health

News flash: Your tendons (aka the fibrous connective tissues that connect muscle to bone) need strengthening too. Strong, healthy tendons are essential because tendons absorb the impact of your activities (think: box jumps, burpees, and other plyometrics) and protect your muscles from injury by acting as levers that move your bones in response to tightening or stretching your muscles.

Sled pushes, specifically, can help strengthen tendons that are prone to injury, says Pfeiffer. "Sled pushes have the potential to put a large strain on Achilles tendons and hip flexors," she explains. "When safely progressed into, that external load can make participants much stronger and less susceptible to ruptures." Safely progressing is key here: Overloading your sled with too much weight, too quickly can lead to injury, so proceed with caution.

Strengthens Lower Body Muscles

Although your arms and shoulders do take on some of the challenge of the sled push, the biggest benefit of a sled push workout is that the move strengthens your lower body (read: your hips, glutes, and quads). "Just like a squat or a deadlift, you're loading the body with more weight than it's used to," says Pfeiffer. "This extra weight will create strength adaptations similar to your more well-known strength movements." So if squats, lunges, and deadlifts have started to feel stale, a sled push can add variety to your lower-body workouts while giving you similar benefits.

Plus, the sled push helps isolate your lower-body muscle groups, forcing them to work independently and correct any muscle imbalances. "It's also just great for separating the legs and hips — your legs have to independently work," Brian Nguyen, celebrity trainer to stars such as Kate Hudson, previously told Shape. Remember, correcting muscle imbalances is crucial because imbalanced muscles put you at greater risk of injury — so unilateral exercises help make your strength more symmetrical and prevent overcompensation (aka when your stronger side takes over for your weaker side, further widening that gap in strength).

Improves Sprinting Ability

If one of your fitness goals is to become faster and more agile overall, adding sled pushes into your fitness routine is one way to drop that pace — without actually running. That's because the sled push (an anaerobic exercise, meaning your body doesn't use oxygen for fuel when doing the move) helps build that explosive power used in sprinting, says Pfeiffer. "Sled pushes are a very safe means of loading ballistic, dynamic movements, [such as] jumping and sprinting," she explains. "Participants will also gain sprint speed based off of the subsequent lower body strength gains."

Reminder, anaerobic exercises are performed at a high effort level for a shorter duration of time than aerobic exercises, so you won't be doing sled pushes for more than 90 seconds or so in your workouts. However, since sled pushes are performed at or close to your max effort, you can add "improves stamina" to your list of sled push benefits.

Challenges Cardiovascular System

Looking for a HIIT workout that doesn't involve the treadmill or the rower? The sled push has all the same cardiovascular health benefits as these two classic gym machines — with all the aforementioned benefits to boot. "When you're training, the brain doesn’t know what it’s doing, only the intensity that it’s working at," says Pfeiffer. A quick set of sled push drop sets can get that heart rate up, which leads to physical benefits such as lower risks of developing cardiovascular disease.

Sled Push Muscles Worked

The sled push is primarily known for working your lower-body muscles (think: your leg muscles and your butt muscles), says Pfeiffer. "Primarily, a typical sled push works both your anterior (quadriceps and hip flexors) and posterior (glutes, hamstrings and calves) lower body chain," she explains.

However, the sled push also requires core engagement in order to produce the most force possible with good form. A sled push [also] requires postural strength through the upper back and core musculature," adds Pfeiffer.

Sled Push Variations

The traditional sled push is already an accessible exercise for various fitness levels since you control the amount of weight you do (or don't) put on the sled, depending on your fitness goals and how your body is feeling that day. However, if you're looking for sled push variations, here's what Pfeiffer recommends.

Modification: Bent Elbows Sled Push

One of the easiest ways to modify your sled push is by switching up the position of your hands on the poles, says Pfeiffer. Holding the handles up high, for example, engages the torso in a more upright position than holding the handles down low — and this upright position is similar to a sprinting position, making it more conducive to light, fast loads. Holding the handles down low, meanwhile, makes the movement more dominant in the lower-body muscles as you recruit your glutes and quads to drive forward.

You can also adjust your arm position to be either fully extended or with bent elbows. "Having bent elbows is a variation that also favors a more strength-based approach rather than speed," notes Pfeiffer. "In this position, the entire body can be used to drive the sled forward." Extended arms, on the other hand, are associated with lower ground contact times or faster steps to emphasize speed training. Depending on what your goals are — and what feels best for your body — you can feel empowered to play around with your hand positioning on the prowler sled to see what fits your needs best.

Progression: Lateral Sled Pulls

Once you're feeling confident with the sled push, you can challenge yourself by moving the sled in different planes of motion. For example, you can attach handles to the sled and reverse the sled push for a backward sled pull, which can recruit more upper-body muscles (especially if your sled pull involves pulling the sled toward you with your arms while standing in a fixed position). Or, you can use those same handles and stand to the side of the sled for a lateral sled drag, which will challenge your hips and glutes while developing abductor and adductor strength.

Common Sled Push Mistakes

When attempting the sled push for the first time, there are a few form cues you'd do well to remember. "Open your chest and keep a flat back," advises Pfeiffer. "This will help with engaging the upper back, keeping a long and strong torso, and avoiding any unnatural spine curvatures," all of which will help prevent low back pain, too.

Pfeiffer also recommends that clients new to the sled push focus on driving their knees and pressing through the balls of their feet, "The knee drive engages hip flexors and creates space for power with each stride," she explains. "And we never want to see your heel touch the ground in a sled push." On that note, avoid the sled push if you're experiencing an acute ankle or calf injury since it can further injure your tendons, advises Pfeiffer.

How to Add the Sled Push to Your Routine

The sled push is inherently accessible for most people, so don't be shy about adding it to your fitness routine, says Pfeiffer. "This movement can be performed at heavy or light weights and slow or fast speeds, so it allows for nearly universal use," she explains. Since the sled push exercise is anaerobic, add it to your workouts by focusing on short, intense bursts of effort, lasting from 10 to 90 seconds. Try doing a drop set, as Tracee Ellis Ross did in her lower-body finisher.

Since the sled push works similar muscles to the squat, you can sub in the sled push on days when you're itching to switch it up from more conventional strength-training exercises. Prioritize building strength by going with a heavier load, placing your hands lower on the poles, and moving slowly and with control. Or, for more of a cardio burst, ditch the weight plates and go for short intervals as fast as possible to build your sprinting ability. Whatever your goals are, the sled push and its many variations can help you build strength and stamina while adding diversity to your workouts.

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