In the words of my mentor Joe Defranco, I am a washed-up meathead! And he is also the man who first turned me on to Heavy-Ass Sled Work


Now, how do these two things connect?


Well. I have been training for 20 plus years. And my body is perhaps not at its peak. I have a laterally slipped lumbar disk to remind me that it’s never going to be perfect again, and a pelvis that loves a little one-sided anterior rotation. It took me up to last week at the age of 43 to realise that it’s time to hang up my ego!

As personal trainers, we are always active and engaging in all the most essential movement patterns day in and day out. And inflammation is a constant reminder that movements that I have always loved such as deadlifts and back squats, in their most literal sense, leave me in an inflamed mess. And, before you suggest it, it’s not for a lack of mobility and SMR, as I spend most of my week demonstrating these modalities to countless clients and do at least 20 minutes daily in addition to that.

Has age caught up? Or has a past of not knowing how choose the perfect variation of a big compound movement left me seeing better days?

I can see it now, in hindsight – it’s the latter. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’ve pushed hard for a long time and my body has rebelled. And perhaps that makes me the ideal person to try and stop you from doing the same things that I did and making the same mistakes.

So this week I took my ego (what’s left of it) and hung it up on the hat stand.

Enter the Sled.

Pushing and dragging the Sled is not only a reduction of negative load through my spine, but if performed properly it is very hard to get hurt while allowing me to use maximal loads in a safe form of weight training.

Benefits of Sled work

  • Extraordinary results in anaerobic conditioning and muscle gain (not to mention grit and toughness!)
  • Great training economy, biggest bang for the fewest bucks.
  • Great for ectomorphs like me, who want to add volume, muscle and get super conditioned.
  • Mimics the running pattern, and can be loaded forwards, backwards or even laterally.
  • Great for fat loss, and people who can’t run can use the Sled with a relatively high load. (Some of my most “banged up” clients have used it to great effect.)
  • There is no eccentric load. So less damage to the body, and it can be used regularly during the training week.
  • Great recovery tool. The lack of eccentric load makes this a great recovery method at lighter loads, on an active rest/recovery day!
  • What other tools can both help bodybuilders get leaner and add muscle while making world-class sprinters faster?
  • Extremely versatile. Push it, drag it, row it, press with it, crawl with it and shove it dynamically to name a few!
  • Challenging but fun!

How do we programme it?

In general, we will use it after the main lifts of a program or towards the end of the session as a form of conditioning. But I have found I can do a whole lower body strength session using it as the main movement.

Here I would focus on sled work after the appropriate warm-ups, mobility and activation drills. I may go as far as using 8 sets of 20 meters (10m dragging and 10m pushing, for example) with close to 100% of my (or my client’s) achievable load, resting 2+ minutes in between sets.

For speed and power development

It can be used as a stand-alone movement, used before compound lifts as a primer or even used afterwards to develop acceleration. You are looking at from around 6 x 10-15 meter sprints or drags with the handles behind the back or attached to the individual with a harness. The latter really emphasises the required stance for acceleration in a sprint position. The rest periods would certainly be between 2 and 4 minutes with full recovery needed. This has massive benefits to sprint tests such as the 40-yard dash and translates excellently to repeated sprint ability on the playing field for many sports.

For hypertrophy

We can add the Sled in at the end of any session and it will help add muscle mass to the whole body. Or you can be inventive, sometimes using it as a single leg variation in a programme to mix it up. Perhaps with older clients use it to pre-exhaust muscle groups before compound movement variations. Still building muscle and satisfying the inner meathead at the same time. When programming for hypertrophy, anywhere from 4-8 sets x 20 meters with about 90 seconds rest. This will help provide a massive spike in growth hormone.

The Sled can even be used for truly brutal conditioning. Heres one example that I love… To hate.

Coach Fletch’s Challenge

In our facility, we have a small 10-meter track so I am going to use that as the guide. Using the TRX handles, drag the Sled 10 meters then adopt the high handled position and push it back.

Now here’s the challenge – do a few warm-ups using the drag into push (especially if you are limited for space). Find your working weight, that for you is tough but doable (7/10, or 70% of your max). Then depending on your strength level, do 10 push-ups, go straight into dragging your Sled for 10 meters, then move straight into 1 press up at the other end. Push it back. Take a few deep breaths and then do 9 press ups. Drag it back.  2 press ups. Push it back to the start, and then do 8. Eventually, you will end the workout by doing 1 press up where you started (a downward pyramid) and 10 at the other end (an upward pyramid)… For a total of 110 push-ups, and 200m of Sled pushing and dragging.


This can be regressed and progressed. A regression would simply be less weight, easier exercise selection or lower numbers. A progression would be more advanced exercises or variations, more load and more reps.



For the Sled Drag

Take your handles or TRX attachment. Get a good grip; imagine your hands are hooks and your arms the ropes there to just pull or lock into position for the pull. Tuck your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Take the slack and lean back slightly, keeping the body stacked with the hips over your ankles and shoulders over your hips. Have the core braced, thinking ribs down and knees slightly soft. Keep the eyes dead ahead and don’t tuck your chin. Then with small steps and little knee extensions, drag it back.

For the Sled Push.

Take the handles in a higher position. Remember, this one is for the washed-up, broken guys and gals. The foot stance is a split stance (one foot in front of the other) as if you were about to break into a sprint. Come up onto the balls of your feet, as you will be driving the feet back and down to generate the force. Knees will be flexed. From your hips to your shoulders, you will need to create a neutral spine position. To start, take a deep breath and brace the core (think about keeping your ribs down as if I’m going to be punched/bracing for impact!). The bracing of the core is what helps stabilize the spine and transfer the power throughout the chain. Then drive the feet down but backwards to create horizontal force production. Your knees need to stay in line with your feet the whole time as you push that rock up the mountain.

Now you can get strong, jacked and conditioned without the same level of spinal load.

Stay strong.

Coach Fletch.

Author - Fletcher Dalrymple - Personal Trainer & Mentor

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