Over the years I’ve tried and tested dozens of different training methodologies and sports. I climb, I run, I lift, I wrestle, I box, I surf. I’ve done Crossfit for years, and love following Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 protocol. Yet, the single best exercise I’ve ever done that has carried over extremely well in any sport I engage in has been, without question, the sled drag.
If you’ve never done a sled drag before it’s simple. Put a bunch of weight on a sled and drag/pull it somewhere. You don’t even need a professionally made sled. You can take an old tire, place a board across the inside of it and tie a rope around it. Now you can place weight inside it and drag it down the street while your neighbors look at you as if you’re the crazy one.
The great thing about doing sled drags is there are a million different variations you can use. You can go really heavy, or go light and long, forwards, backwards, walking sideways, sprints, walks, slow runs, anything you want. The other great thing is that this type of training isn’t going to make you very sore. It’s great to use as a finisher or as a recovery tool after a hard day of squats.
Now you may be asking, why is this such a great exercise? I’ve found it to be so amazing for two reasons. The first, is time under tension. Just like with anything you do in life the more time you spend doing it the better (hopefully) you’ll become at it. The more time you spend on the climbing wall or the more time you spend on the wrestling mat, they better your body is going to adapt to the challenges faced. The more time you spend coding or writing the better you’ll become at putting your thoughts down.
The reason the sled drag is so great is that it taxes your entire body for x amount of time. This translates very well to carrying a heavy pack up a mountain or for fighting for position during a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu match. Your body must adapt to dealing with this heavy load. Not only must your muscles adapt but your cardio systems are put to work.
This leads to the second reason the sled drag is so great. It is by far one of the best cardio exercises I’ve ever done. Many would argue the Prowler is even better, but I’ve personally had amazing results with the sled drag. An example is one of the years that I climbed Mt. Rainier. I had done approximately zero ‘cardio’ training that year. No running. No hiking. However, I spent a lot of time bouldering and doing sled drags.
That year I climbed the Emmons route on Mt. Rainier. It’s considered the longest route on the mountain, with almost 10,000 feet of vertical gain. As my climbing partner Ted said, I practically ran up it. This was my easiest ascent of the mountain and yet I had spent 0 time specifically training for it.
I later repeated this when I decided to solo Mt. Olympus in a day. This is a 44 mile round trip journey that most people take 4 days to complete. I ended up doing it car to car in about 16 hours with next to 0 traditional training beforehand. Look at my friend Leor’s writeup of his blazingly fast ascent of Mt Olympus to see what it entails. This is his photo below.
One last note. Sled drags can be done by almost everybody. Are you able to walk without assistance? Then you can drag a sled. I’ve seen 70 year old women drag a sled no problem. I also remember Louie Simmons (founder of the famous Westside Barbell gym) talking about how after injuring his back he couldn’t squat for months. So he dragged the sled constantly. When he finally came back he easily set a new PR in the squat! All due to his time under tension using the sled drag.