While I firmly believe in individualization and program design built around injury history, movement limitations, and experience level, there are certain things I feel the entire population (athlete or adult) can benefit from doing (and doing so safely). This week’s installment will look at one of the major exercises/lifts that I contribute to my full recovery from ACL reconstructive surgery, ranks high on the badassery scale, and will do wonders to improve your lower body strength without sacrificing joint-health.
Installment #2: Why Everyone Should Perform Reverse Sled Drags
#Squats – over 7.5 million Instagram hashtags (as of June 10, 2016)
#legday – over 5.5 million Instagram hashtags (as of June 10, 2016)
Leg Day memes like these being posted for the umpteenth time everywhere you look:
It’s no secret that people are no longer skipping leg day. With the rise in popularity of fitness, and specifically lifting in recent years, people are no longer living the sedentary lives of yesteryear. And while that’s exciting for the long-term potential of the fitness industry, one thing that like won’t change is the arthritis that will surely ensue from all of the horrendous squats I’ve seen (and will continue to see) in my lifetime. A quick fix; insert reverse sled drags into your leg-day programming in order to give your knee, hips and spine a break from the axial loading.
Anytime you have the opportunity to improve joint health while still maintaining workout intensity and loads needed for your goals, it’s a win-win.
- Throw some weight on a sled and drag it as you backpedal for a set distance or time.
- No sled? Find some rope and tie something heavy to it to drag.
- Hold on to the sled poles/handles
- Attach chains with any variety of accessory bar attachments
- Attach TRX to sled
The Advanced Notes:
Maximal Loads: Every once in a while it’s nice to load up the sled and see how much weight you can drag for a 20-40m distance. The full-body workout and mental grind of the lift ranks it high on the badass scale. On the downside, maximal loads are also exhausting and depleting. Meaning, don’t expect anything significant to happen in your training session after attempting a max weight 20m sled drag.
Sub-maximal Loads: You can utilize these loads for short or longer distances and still get a significant training effect. Focus on the following benefits when you perform your submaximal drags.
Benefit #1:Single Leg Stability
Sleds are an excellent option for developing single leg strength and stability. The quad dominant nature of the sled drag allows us to strengthen the quads without having to utilizing the glutes and hamstrings like other single leg options. This is an excellent option if you had a posterior chain workout earlier in the week that you haven’t yet recovered from (and let’s face it, if you work hard enough you will experience DOMS regardless of your experience level). Reverse sled drags also provide an excellent opportunity to develop upper body tension through the handles, which carries over to optimizing performance on other lifts such as deadlifts and bench press.
Benefit #2: Knee Health Component
If you’ve ever had a knee injury that required physiotherapy, chances are you performed some variation of the terminal knee extension exercise in order to re-develop your VMO and knee extensor strength. The reverse sled drag essentially mimics this movement, but at a greater load and intensity. I have yet to see one of my clients with knee problems unable to perform a reverse sled drag. Remember to keep your hips square and knees out.
Benefit #3: No Eccentric Stress
When you first put sleds into an individuals program, they are almost always guaranteed to whine. They think that because sleds suck that it means their legs are going to be crushed. The beauty of it however is that sleds have no eccentric stress (think lengthening of a muscle while still under tension, as in the down phase of a squat, or returning the bar to the floor after a deadlift). Because reverse sled drags (and all other sled-associated movements) are concentric, you will not suffer muscular pain or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) in the days following. You’re welcome.
Benefit #4: Fat Loss
Just as seen with the Farmer Walks (Installment #1), the high loads that can be associated with reverse sled drags (upwards of 700lbs for a lot of the male Adult Performance Program members) means their intensity is high. Higher intensity = increased metabolic effect. The greater the metabolic effect, the greater the opportunity for EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which results in increased caloric burns for hours after you leave the gym.
Benefit #5: Less Joint Stress
As mentioned earlier, exercises like squats, lunges, and any other axial loading exercises (where the weight is straight down in addition to gravity) can take a toll on the spine, hips, knees and ankles over time. Exponentially so if the lifts aren’t programmed properly or if you are performing these exercises with poor technique. With sleds, all of that worry is taken away. Not only are reverse sled drags relatively hard to butcher, but they allow our joints to recover from what we’ve thrown at them throughout our hectic work weeks and exercise programs. Anytime you have the opportunity to improve joint health while still maintaining workout intensity and loads needed for your goals, it’s a win-win.
Train Smart and Hard.