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Sled pushes and pulls test your full-body strength and conditioning, so it’s no surprise that sleds are staples in serious gyms and sports training facilities. But there’s more than one type of sled—and as of late, people are ditching the classic ski-mounted sleds for wheeled versions.
The metal skis on the bottom of a sled and prowler can be problematic for a host of reasons, according to Mark Rippetoe, a former competitive powerlifter who runs Starting Strength and the Wichita Falls Athletic Club. For starters, “a traditional ski sled is hard on the surface you’re pushing it on,” he says. “It’s also very sensitive to the surface on which it’s sliding,” he adds.
The skis don’t slide easily on a surface like rubber, and they’re annoyingly loud when dragged across concrete. Another downside is that external factors like the temperature, humidity, and use over time can affect the surface you’re pushing the sled on. “That’s why prowler competitions don’t exist,” Rippetoe quips. “Conditions change every time you use a sled on them.”
The best surface to push a traditional sled on is turf, which is slick and protects the ground. But if your gym doesn’t have a turf surface, a better option could be trying a sled with wheels if your gym has one. A wheeled sled creates significantly less friction with the ground, making it more efficient to push than a non-wheeled sled. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
“It recruits the same muscles and engages the same areas—you’re just changing the means of resistance,” says M&F Senior Fitness and Wellness Adviser Don Saladino, a New York trainer who’s gotten clients like Sebastian Stan and Ryan Reynolds into superhero shape. He equates it to pushing or pulling a truck like you see in Strongman competitions. “It doesn’t matter that it has wheels, because you’re still creating tension,” he explains. “It’s about getting into a specific position and doing a full-body compound movement that recruits your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders.”
With non-wheeled sleds, you load the weight and rely on the gravity to create tension. The wheeled variety works differently, as some use small motors or magnetic resistance to simulate pushing a heavy load. The XPO Trainer from Armored Fitness, for example, features an “exponential resistance curve,” which is a fancy way of saying that it increases resistance the harder you push. Such sleds protect surfaces from wear and tear, remove the need for adding weight plates—though you still can for extra resistance—and transcend skill levels. Serious athletes can push until they puke, while beginners and even rehab patients can work on functional movements with an easy-to-control sled that adapts as they get stronger.
“Look, you don’t always have the luxury of pushing a traditional sled on the perfect surface,” says Saladino. At the end of the day, he urges, you just need to create tension—whether that’s pushing a fancy wheeled sled, a ski sled, or even loading up a wheelbarrow with rocks and taking that for a ride.