We all know how important the hips are for athletic movement. Aside from doing deadlift and other hip dominant movements like the hip thrust (and even the glute-ham raise, which in all honesty goes more towards hamstring development), heavy sled training is a powerful tool for building dominant hips.
When I was first introduced to the sled, it was a conditioning tool. Priority shipped from hell, the sled was used to torture us to complete exhaustion. It’s been a fundamental conditioning tool, especially for the mixed martial arts athletes at Warrior Sciences, but its use in increasing athletic performance goes beyond sheer conditioning.
A recent study (which was brought to my attention by Elite Fitness) tested the difference in using a shoulder attachment versus a hip attachment when it came to pulling the sled behind you. To be honest, I never gave much thought to the different effects this might have; I just knew that I loved to hate all of it equally.
Since Elite Fitness broke down the study (you can view their article here), I thought I could take this further for athletes looking to increase hip strength and agility. In that regard, the study concluded that attaching a sled to a hip harness causes more muscular activation in the glutes and hamstrings.
Sprinters and other athletes concerned with speed have been using light sleds for a long time, attaching them at the hip to add resistance and decrease improve their sprint times. What I have never seen done anywhere except Warrior Sciences (or by anyone except James Bullock) is heavy sled training with a prowler type sled. We call ours The Punisher for good reason, and our homemade sled is 140 lbs. of steel.
Don’t get me wrong…I’ve seen heavy sled drags being done by others, but I once saw James go to a maximum weight of around 1,000 lbs. This practice isn’t actually recommended for "average" people, but it certainly gave me a new perspective on heavy sled pulls.
While I’m not advocating that heavy sled pulls are a replacement for the deadlift or squat, they are great at assisting both movements. They also offer a great alternative as an eccentric-only movement. This means that more hip- dominant lower body work can be done with less risk of overtraining. With that said, heavy sled training can be a great finisher to a lower body day, whether it was primarily hip dominant or knee dominant (quadriceps) work.
Heavy sled pulls aren’t the only movement you can perform. Although doing reverse sled drags (walking backward) would emphasize more of the quadriceps, lateral sled drags would put more emphasis on the gluteals. This variation would actually put more emphasis on the smaller gluteal muscles which often get less attention. Obviously, given the smaller muscle group, the “heavy” lateral sled pull wouldn’t be as heavy as strictly pulling it behind you.
Working this lateral movement with weight could increase explosiveness and overall muscle endurance. This is especially important for athletes who need to move laterally very quickly, such as football and soccer players.
Where heavy sled pulls would add a nice finisher to lower body strength days, lateral sled pulls would be a great addition to agility work, even throwing it in with some of the agility movements I mentioned in a previous article. I stress that technique trumps weight when it comes to lateral sled pulls. So, set your ego aside, and only go as heavy as proper technique allows.
I would suggest sticking with a side shuffle technique without the speed. This technique requires you to get into an athletic posture; feet slightly less than shoulder width apart, hips and knees bent to a slight hinge, and proper back posture. Keep this posture as rigid as possible as you move left or right, making sure not to lead with your hips or any other part of your body.
Adding weight to the sled can take your training to a new level. While the sled has primarily been used by most coaches and athletes as a conditioning tool, heavy sled training can really develop strength and power around the hips, giving you or your athletes increased explosiveness that is applicable to most sports.
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