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For an effective lower-body workout with a serious dose of conditioning, it’s hard to beat the classic sled. Unless, of course, you’ve got a prowler at your gym. This very particular piece of equipment is similar to the sled—in fact, it’s a type of sled—that’s distinguished by having three points of contact with the ground rather than two long skis. It can be pushed or pulled (by clipping a suspension trainer or rope to the end) and offers multiple grips, including long upright handles and a low T-bar.
“The prowler is used mainly to train the legs in a pushing and pulling fashion,” says Brandon Smitely, a former competitive powerlifter and the co-owner of THIRST gym in Terre Haute, IN. “You’ll see it used a lot for developing conditioning and power with athletics, but it has its uses for the average gym goer as well.” Another benefit of the sled is that you can load it with heavy weight, and use this as a way to overload your entire body with less risk of injury compared to deadlifts and squats. In other words: your body will work very hard to move heavy iron, but in a position that won’t strain your joints or back as much.
Part of its appeal is its versatility. With the high and low handles, you’ve got multiple angles of attack. And the three-ski construction allows for more efficient turns, especially when grasping the T-bar.
“This is the ultimate conditioning tool. There’s a reason the term ‘prowler flu’ exists,” Smitely says, referring to the term for overexertion on the prowler leading to nausea, vomiting, and fainting. “A couple of heavy 50-yard sprints or max effort 15-yard pulls will have you on the floor. The nice thing, though, is that the contractions are concentric only, meaning you’re only exerting force forward and there’s no lowering phase. This means you’ll have minimal soreness, as a vast majority of soreness comes from the eccentric muscle action of contractions,” he adds.
If you don’t have a prowler in your gym, you can still simulate a typical prowler workout. To approximate pushing the low bar, Smitely suggests pushing a 45-pound plate on the floor. (If you’re on a hardwood floor, place the plate on a towel.) Get low, keep your back flat, and drive through your legs. To simulate pushing the high bars, grab a plyo box, ideally on turf, and give it a shove. To make it harder, stack a couple weights on top.
If you’re really at a loss, Smitely notes that other tools like the Concept 2 Rower, Ski Erg, and Air Bike are also great options for hardcore conditioning. “But when you use a prowler, it’s just its own breed of hell.”