MY FAVOURITE TRAINING TOOLS #10: The Sled

So many exercises to choose from for the final entry in my blog-series: My Favourite Training Tools. There are hundreds (thousands?) of tools out there for fitness. Some are ridiculous fly-by-night items (remember the Thigh Master or the Shake Weight?), others like free weights have been mainstays for hundreds of years, and now and then there is a clever new kid on the block, like the TRX, that has longevity. Through this blog-series, I’ll share with you the tools that I think are worth including in your home or commercial gym.

The number ten spot on my list goes to the sled. No, not the kind of sled that contributes to every northerner’s happy childhood (and adulthood for some of us).

I’m talking about the less-fun kind of sled – the kind of sled people push and pull around in the gym. Or at least the people who are lucky enough to workout at a gym with a sled to push and pull.

Never seen this kind of sled? My preference is the Rogue dog sled variety because you can push or pull it from a variety of heights using the handles, or you can attach a harness to it for a body push or drag. The Sled dog from Perform Better and similar is the other main type. They cost a bit less and are more portable, which may make up for the lack of handles.

Here is a video from Michael Boyle Strength and Conditioning that shows one of the two sled exercises that we use most often. In fact based on the layout of our gym, we usually program the two together such that you would do sled pulls in one direction and then sled marches in the other direction.

Sled marches:

Sleds are traditionally used as a tool for training athletes, either as a way to develop strength by pushing heavier weights, to develop stamina by pushing weights further, and to develop lateral strength or stamina by doing the above by pulling weights using side steps. We think all of these reasons for using the sled are great and we employ them all regularly.

But that’s not why I love the sled so much. I love the sled because it’s a great option to strengthen the legs for people who have knee issues. Squats and lunges and split squats and step-ups are all great exercises for strengthening the legs, but in the presence of a knee issue, sometimes there is pain associated with those exercises. I’m not 100% sure why the sled tends to be pain-free in this population when the others aren’t. Maybe it’s that pushing the sled spreads the work over the full body, leaving less load on the knees? Or maybe the angular position of the body is supportive of the knees? Or that the nature of the movement requires the stabilizers in the body to fire up, which helps align the knees well? I suspect it’s a bit of each.

The other cool thing is that once we get people a bit stronger with the sled, often those other exercises that had previously been painful become pain-free.

So if you happen to see a sled at your gym, give it a try. You may even like it!

Wondering what my 9 other favourite training tools are? Here’s the list (Click on any of the links to go to the article to find out why):

  1. Free weights
  2. Functional trainer (sometimes called a cable column)
  3. Bands
  4. Functional Movement Screen
  5. Suspension trainer
  6. Chin up bar
  7. Kettlebells
  8. Agility ladder
  9. Foam roll
  10. Sled

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada who likes to write about exercise, although aparently doesn’t like it that much as this top ten list took 8 years to finish.

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