By Monte Egherman
Published Monday, July 23, 2012
| From the September 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Strength sleds are a popular workout tool for almost every sport these days, and the fire service is no exception. Strength sleds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and the exercises you can perform with them are limited only by your imagination. In fact, firefighters can perform a full-body workout with sleds because their simple design and versatility allow you to use them in so many different ways.
How They Work
Sleds may be pushed or pulled by a harness, or pulled by a rope, hoseline or chain, but there are some designs that feature detachable pipes, which allow the participant to push and pull the sled on its own, without the use of the other attachments, to facilitate a wider variety of exercises.
Strength sleds resemble snow sleds because they travel on rudders; however, unlike a snow sled, the rudders on a strength sled are made of round pipe so they can travel across grass and dirt.
Strength sleds come in various shapes and sizes, but all feature a weight stack area, rudders for dragging and points to attach the pulling devices. The weight of the sleds will vary depending on their size and the material that was used to make them. I have sleds that vary in weight from 20 to 75 lbs.
The sleds can be loaded with as many or as few free weights as you want; adding or removing the weights is as easy as putting them on the sled or taking them off.
The sleds may be used while in multiple body positions, such as crawling forward and backward, lunging or moving in any direction while in a standing position, or just using the arms to move the sled while in a stationary position.
And if all that weren’t enough, they’re also rather inexpensive to purchase, but they’re even cheaper to make yourself (usually there are a few people around the fire station who can weld).
Strength sleds may be incorporated into your workout in a variety of ways. You can use them as a stand-alone workout tool or incorporate them into any series or type of training you want.
As a segment of a multi-station fitness routine, the sleds fit in great because of their versatility. As a stand-alone device, strength sleds are awesome because they enable you to use every muscle group in the body. If you have one sled, it’ll take a little manipulation of the tool during each exercise to get a full-body routine, but it’s nothing a single company can’t handle, or even an individual for that matter.
Simple Sample Exercise
One simple example of a strength sled routine is the drag/pull exercise (DPX), which can be done anywhere. To perform, the individual drags the sled a predetermined distance, completes an exercise of their choice, such as sit-ups or leg lunges, and then they pull the sled back to their original starting point.
To track your progress, record the length of your pulls and drags in a log book, as well as the weight that you’ve placed on the sled and the number of sets you complete.
Upper Body Work
For the upper body, sleds can provide a great back, shoulder, biceps and forearm routine when a long rope is attached and the user drags the sled in by using the hand-over-hand method. This rope-pull exercise will isolate the same muscle groups that are used by the upper body during hoseline manipulation or when raising ladders, just to mention a few fireground applications.
The rope-pull exercise also helps build grip strength, which is needed anytime you’re operating hand tools. Another way to manipulate this exercise beyond the weight of the sled and the length of the rope is by varying the diameter of the rope you’re using. You can also change up the pulls by doing single-arm pulls, such as five right-arm pulls followed by five left-arm pulls.
Chest, Triceps & Back
For a unique chest, triceps and back sled pull, the participant can use two ropes of equal length with handles attached or loops and do a press-out with the arms, followed by a step so that the cadence goes press, step, press, step. Do this for about 25 yards to start. Then on the return, take a step backward and then pull the sled back toward you in a rowing style so that the routine goes step, back-row, step, back-row. As with other sled routines, you may change this up as you wish, such as doing five steps and a press, or press the entire length of the exercise.
Points to Remember
When utilizing strength sleds, remember the same rules of adaptation apply. If we load them up with lots of weight and go a short distance, we’re working in more of a strength- training mode. If we lighten up the weight and go for longer distances, we’re building more endurance. Firefighters need to find a middle ground between these two modes because we need optimal levels of both.
Sleds are an excellent, highly versatile training tool that firefighters can use to improve performance on the fireground and other emergency scenes. Although they’re excellent on their own, sled work may be enhanced if firefighters wear PPE while performing the exercises. But if you choose this option, be careful in these summer months to stay hydrated, and remember to take off the PPE as soon as your workout is complete, or when it’s someone else’s turn so that you can stay as cool as possible between sets.
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