Compound exercises are my favourite, they build strength, burn calories and work multiple muscles in the body at once. But one thing I love even more is a full-body compound exercise. They’re pretty special, because you’re not just targeting all the muscles in one particular region of the body, but the entire body. And, recently, there’s one exercise I’ve been doing that not only ticks this box (no it’s not a deadlift), but it’s also fun and anyone can do it, even beginners.
The exercise is a sled-pull, the sister movement to the sled-push (another exercise I’ve been thoroughly enjoying since swapping from weightlifting to HYROX training). “The sled pull allows great loading into the legs and trunk without direct spinal loading that can lead to lower back issues,” says Aimee Cringle, one of the UK’s top CrossFit athletes. Alongside this, your upper body muscles, including the forearms, biceps and back are also working hard too.
It may not come across as the most thrilling exercise out there, as you are quite literally pulling a sled across the floor via a long rope, but anyone can pick it up and that’s what I think makes it so good. Plus, you feel pretty cool doing it. There’s also a variety of different ways you can do it ( the most popular being pulling back on the rope or doing one hand over the other), so there’s scope to make the movement work for you.
When I first started using the sled three months ago, I was only able to pull around 75kg. Now, I can pull over 100kg, multiple times. Afterwards, it’s not just my shoulders that are left with a serious pump, but my core feels solid and my lower body (especially my quads) burn. I always have to think about my breathing too, because the sled isn’t just a strength workout, it’s also an aerobic one.
If you have one at your local gym, but are yet to try it, I highly recommend giving it a go. But, if you're still unsure here's a few more reasons to convince you otherwise, as well as how to do it.
Benefits of the sled pull
Great for building muscle and burning calories
As we mentioned earlier, the sled pull is an exercise that works your entire body, “from your calves to your lats you’ll feel this all over”, says Aimee. It’s also a compound exercise. Not only do compound exercises elevate your heart rate, resulting in a higher calorie burn, but they also encourage the release of growth hormones, like testosterone, which aids muscle growth and strength.
It helps with everyday activities
Whether it’s pulling a stiff door shut, a chair out from under the table, or a luggage trolley, the sled pull is a functional exercise, that can help your body manage everyday activities that use similar movements.
Anyone can do them
The sled pull is pretty straight-forward, beginner-friendly and doesn't require any skill as such, which makes it accessible to pretty much everyone. It’s also a safer compound exercise than something like a squat which, if goes wrong, can cause serious injuries.
Perfect for building power
“The sled pull is a concentric movement, this means it’s all muscle shortening because there is no ‘downward’ movement (eccentric loading),” says Aimee. “From an athletic point of view, this builds great stimulus for power development.” People who therefore do a sport that require you to exert maximum force in a short time frame (like weightlifting, spiriting and rugby) may find it useful.
How to do the sled pull
Going to give the sled pull a go for yourself? Follow Aimee's guidance below on how to perform the movement correctly and for the best full-body experience.
- Start with the sled 10m away from you, Imagine you are in a 2m x 2m box (you could also set this out so you can see) you can’t move out of that box in this movement - start at the ‘front’ of that box.
- Have the rope attached to the sled at the closest edge to you and the rope in a straight line running towards you.
- Grab the rope with both arms and pull the slack out so it’s not touching the floor.
- With your legs shoulder width apart, lean forward and grab the rope as far in front of you as you can.
- Sink your hips down and back into a quarter squat and from here drive backwards whilst stepping (you want your arms to stay straight at this point so all the force is being driven from your legs).
- As you walk the sled back, use small powerful steps.
- Once you reach the back of the box start to pull with your arms, try and use the momentum of the sled you’ve built up with your legs to let you make big pulls with your arms.
- Once you reach the back of the box and can’t pull any further drop the rope, walk back to the front of the box and repeat, until you finish with the sled at the start of the box.