I’m pretty sure no one enjoys the sled push, but in a sadistic way, that’s the reason I chose it for this fitness challenge. And although this exercise was clearly conjured up from the depths of hell, when push came to shove, I chose to face my exercise demons head-on. What better way than subjecting myself to the sled push daily for an entire week?
You don’t need a sled or equipment like the best adjustable dumbbells to replicate a sled push, just something heavy that you can push along a flat surface. The payoff includes building full-body strength, power, speed, and endurance, and crushing calories in the process. But be prepared to suffer for those sled push benefits, because it requires digging deep into those mental reserves to get it done.
The sled push helps build functional muscle and strength, meaning that rather than just developing aesthetic muscle (think bodybuilders and six-packs), the exercise works multiple muscle groups and joints using a natural movement. In this case, by pushing heavy weight. It transfers to help exercisers develop better overall strength and fitness in everyday daily life.
Read on to find out what happened when I did them every day for a week.
Sled push: muscles worked
Sled pushes are commonly thrown into leg-day strength programs as a finisher to send your legs soaring toward fatigue. But the exercise is also a full-body calorie burner that could improve power, endurance, strength — and as research (opens in new tab) indicates — sprinting speed.
Your legs do the lion's share to drive the weight forward, so expect your muscles to work hard, including the:
- Hip flexors
- Calf muscles
Your core muscles will also act to stabilize and drive movement safely. Unlike the sled pull, which focuses more on your posterior chain (the back of your body), the push also works your:
- Shoulder muscles
We know that pushing exercises primarily work the chest, shoulders, and triceps, yet sled pushes activate the lower body concentrically, making it lower impact for dodgy knees while strengthening the muscles that support them. The move also targets the upper body isometrically — without the arms bending or extending, instead responding to force.
How to do a sled push
Sled pushes are a technically simple move to learn but a whole world of pain to perform.
Start by loading your sled to the desired weight. Stack heavier weights for anaerobic and strength-based workouts and push for shorter distances or durations. Load lighter for aerobic endurance-based cardio workouts. Grip the handles in front of you with extended arms and engage your core while setting your shoulders down. Adopt a sprint-start position with a flat back and neutral spine. Contract your whole body, then push the sled forward. Some people prefer to rack their shoulders against the bars with bent elbows to move heavier loads. Use a longer stride and drive your feet into the floor or opt for a shorter, faster stride for speed.
I did a sled push every day for a week — here’s what happened to my body
Here’s what happened when I adopted a daily sled push.
My whole body was exhausted
I worked for time over distance on this challenge, pushing the sled for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of rest and repeating until 15 minutes as a workout finisher. I opted for heavier weight to work on explosive power, loading at one and a half times my body weight. When I competed at the Hyrox European Championships, I could just manage 335 lbs, so I dropped down to avoid early burnout.
My entire body was exhausted, but my legs — especially my quads — were on fire. And I mean shaky-leg-day-pain multiplied. Although I attacked the sled push with power, I was moving with longer, controlled strides rather than sprinting, and I was surprised by how gassed I felt after just a few rounds of work. It was going to be a long week.
I stuck to the same format and weight each day. It didn’t get easier, although my technique improved (more on that below). I have always struggled with mindset — I’m much stronger physically than mentally, but I was still struck by how much I battled with the sled push. The sled exercise takes a lot of mental toughness, so I decided to delve into research.
Dr. Carol Dweck’s work on the growth mindset (opens in new tab) describes how people’s beliefs about themselves and their abilities at a young age can shape their learning experience and future success. Athletes who adopt a growth mindset, especially from a young age, are more likely to embrace learning and self-reflection, believing they can influence their outcomes.
Interestingly, research (opens in new tab) on neural plasticity shows that neural networks can grow and strengthen as we get older based on our actions, meaning our decisions and current experiences can still build our neural networks. While I wasn’t quite ready to go down that rabbit hole, it was comforting to learn that you can still shift your mindset through your experiences as you age.
I had to work on my technique
Pushing a dead weight takes a bit of technique and momentum-building, especially across a turf track. As you stride, your hips and legs work unilaterally — one leg drives at a time — which is how you walk around (see, functional!) But under load, driving with one leg is tough, even if you know how to walk.
Whole-body contraction is a technique we discuss in this calisthenics workout. I learned to brace my entire body, take a few short, sharp, and fast steps forward to gain traction, then lean my weight forward into the sled to continue the driving phase, lengthening my stride as I found pace.
The movement is great for training athletes, sprinters, and powerlifters, making it one of the most versatile and joint-friendly full-body workouts I can think of. Am I glad I did it? It felt pretty great shifting a ton of weight, ramping up my heart rate, achieving a satisfying full-body burn, and collapsing to the ground with a sense of achievement afterward. Would I continue doing it every day? Absolutely not.
Next up: These are the 3 best dumbbell workouts for triceps, how to military press for strong shoulders, and these 5-minute workout finishers target every muscle group.