A few posts ago I wrote a post about my love of sandbags and some ways they can be used in order to help you get fitter. This week I’m going to talk about the other tool I use during the bulk of my training that, like the sandbag, I feel is underused in most Crossfit gyms, the sled.
So…why do I love it?
Teaching someone even a simple movement, such as the deadlift, requires time and patience. The time it takes to be proficient enough in the movement to the point where you can perform at a high intensity takes even longer. However, it only takes a few seconds to teach someone how to push a sled. Which makes it a great tool for people who are total fitness beginners.
It’s safe and won’t lead to pain
Injuries are a part of all sports and training regimens, including CrossFit. If you think about the types of injuries we’ve seen in our gym most of them include jumping (i.e. box jumps) or falls (i.e. off the pull up bar or rope). Furthermore, many of the nagging injuries we see around the gym involve load-bearing movements. Think of sore backs after deadlifts or shoulders after pressing or snatching. However, the sled is grounded and bears the entirety of the weight, making it very hard to hurt yourself while using it. Sure, you might slip and skin your knee while doing a push, but you likely won’t have to miss a training day because of it. An added bonus of the sled is that due to the concentric nature of most of the movements you won’t be sore the next day.
You can absolutely kill yourself on them
When was the last time you pushed yourself to the point during a workout when you started cramping so hard that that you felt like you were going to die? You can push yourself hard during a lot of the normal CrossFit WODs we do at the gym. But the difficulty of movements (snatch, clean, HSPU, etc.) or the length of the workouts usually forces us to pace ourselves. Considering the sled is a safe and easy to use tool, it means that it’s possible for us to push even relatively inexperienced athletes to their absolute limits without worrying about them losing technique or getting hurt.
It might seem like you’re pushing hard during Jackie or Helen. But that’s nothing compared to the pain involved during 60-second max effort sled push or a sled drag EMOM. In order to improve your fitness it’s necessary to push your body beyond its limits from time to time and the sled provides that outlet.
What can I do with the sled?
Head down, straight arms, pecs engaged and stay low, that’s it. Throw some weight on and aim for 30-60 meter distances or keep it super light and go for 100+ meters. Just make sure you move fast. Walking behind the sled is not sprinting. Even if you’re barely moving towards the end keep your feet moving in that sprinting motion.
In my opinion these hurt the most, by far. Start by hooking a gymnastics ring to the sled. Make sure it’s long enough for you to lean back while holding it without the front of the sled lifting off the ground. From there it’s quite easy. Keep your chest engaged, lean back and create a straight line from your shoulders to your heels and try to keep your toes from flailing outwards while you pull it backwards. Take short fast steps and try to keep the sled moving as fast as possible.
Harnessed bear crawls
If you’re going to use the harness we have at the gym I would first suggest putting on a loose-fitting weight belt to keep the metal fitting from digging into your back. For this movement stay low and keep your hands on the ground. Take small steps. Don’t stand up, you’re supposed to crawl, not run.
This movement is my favorite because it targets the often under-utilized lats. The main things to think about here are getting a wider base (I usually go slightly wider than my squat), keeping your head down and chest to the floor (seriously, don’t look up ever), pulling with your palms facing up and moving your hands as fast as possible keeping your elbows inside your knees. The best two cues I’ve heard for this movement both came from the strongfit seminar. They said to pull almost in the motion of an arm-wrestler and told us guys to pull as if we were trying to elbow ourselves in a sensitive area. Try not to stand up (you’ll use too much biceps) and also try not to swing back and forth with your hips too much.
Quick workouts you can do
- Two or three rope pulls of 30m to absolute exhaustion using maximum effort. The ropes at the gym are 15m long. So pull the sled in as fast as possible, then run backwards with the end of the rope and do it again. Find a weight that forces you to really start to break in the last 5 meters or so. Rest as long as you need between efforts.
- Sled drag plus sled sprint. Put some light weight on the sled (I use about half body weight). Then drag it backwards 20m and sprint forwards 20m. Do this at a maximum effort from the beginning until you can no longer keep a running motion while pushing the sled forwards. If you do this right, you’ll only need to do it once. I guess I should say, you’ll only BE ABLE to do it once.
- An EMOM with any of the above movements. Go as hard as possible for 20-30 seconds every minute on the minute until you physically can’t move the sled or answer the bell to begin the next minute.
- 200m sled sprint. This is a staple of the StongFit programming I follow. Take and empty sled and go as hard as possible for 200 meters. I don’t mean finish the 200 meters by pacing and finishing as fast as you could. Go as hard as you possibly can, if you die before 200m fine that’s great. In fact, it means you pushed as hard are you’re supposed to.