Article written by Big Andrew Palmer
A few weeks ago Brandon posted a video of himself dragging a sled and I had some “constructive” criticism of his technique. I was a little terse (hey, it was Twitter), but the intention was good. The topic came up in person shortly after and since I tend to do very well in sled drag events Brandon asked me to write an article about sled dragging for LBEB.
First I think it’s worth addressing an important question. Why drag sleds at all? Other than the obvious “because it is an event in an upcoming competition” there are a lot of reasons. Among those reasons are cardiovascular health, and my favorite, improving your pain tolerance. Cardiovascular health is pretty obvious, sled drags take an enormous amount of energy, and if heavy, will tax your whole body. Doing five or ten 80 foot drags with a moderate weight in a period of ten or fifteen minutes will definitely get your heart pumping nice and hard but leave time for recovery and won’t throw your training off for the next few days. Improving your pain tolerance is another thing sleds are good for, pick a weight that will be challenging for 80 feet and then drag it 200, or 300. Laugh at this all you want but if you can gut out some nasty drags you will get better and better at long medleys, and nothing hurts quite like the quad pump from a horrible sled drag.
What does a sled drag look like? Well, it looks like a person pulling any object that has a bunch of weight and friction with the ground. The person faces the object and pulls the object backwards. It’s meant to test your quad, back and torso strength so don’t get any goofy ides like facing away from the sled. I’ve even had judges start threatening me for looking to my side so face toward the sled, and pull away from the sled. You should look roughly like the pic of me pulling the motorcycle sled below, leaned backward and pulling away from the object as hard as possible.
OK, so how do you do a great sled drag? Light weight and moderate weight drags are going to come naturally, so let’s focus on dragging a really heavy sled. I recently dragged a 1000+ pound sled up a grade at the Sin City Strongman 4. I took 3rd in the event by a few tenths of a second but I believe only 5 of the 15 of us finished.
As you noticed in my tweet, I think there are two major rules to a successful sled drag but there are several other less important rules as well.
Rule #1: Don’t ever let a moving sled stop: This rule is number one for a reason and applies to any form of pull (truck pull, harness pull, arm over arm, sled …). It comes from basic physics. It always takes more energy to get an object moving than to keep it moving. Once the object is moving it will have momentum, however slight, and that will reduce the amount of force required to keep it moving. This is why world-class draggers and pullers actually accelerate through the entire event.
Rule #2: Once it is moving chop your feet, with short, explosive steps, don’t stop. The reason this is important are long strides actually give the sled a chance to slow down closer to resting speed. It takes more time for you to move your foot 15 inches than it does to move it 6. If you take tiny little baby steps as fast as you can the sled will stay closer to maximum speed and be easier to keep moving. Also you can exert more force after a short step as your leg is closer to full extension. This is true for the same reason that you can pick up a much heavier yoke than you can squat below parallel, the range of motion is reduced.
Rule #3: USE YOUR WEIGHT! I don’t care if you weigh 120# or 400#, you need to be leaning backward away from the sled the entire time. Don’t row the sled, keep your arms and back straight with your core initialized while leaving backward. Your arms are the weakest part of your body; let your legs do the work while your arms and body pull the sled using gravity alone.
Rule #4, #5, and #6: Don’t think, don’t give up, and don’t listen to your body asking you to stop. As long as the sled isn’t totally beyond your capabilities you will almost certainly be able to finish any sled that you can start. The problem is that it will hurt, and your body will be begging to stop. If you want to finish, don’t listen. I look at the sky, let my eyes go blank and count every step I take that way all I need to know is the higher number I can count to, the better I do . Being able to fight that instinct to stop will be what separates you from someone who finishes a drag, and someone who doesn’t. Find some method of ignoring the pain, and drag the big metal bastard until the whistle blows.
I hope this helps anyone struggling with the sled. It really is something that once you get used to it, you will do it correctly every time. You just need to train it like everything else, follow the rules above and kick that badass “ignores the pain” mentality into overdrive for a bit.