Sled Pushing Technique for Acceleration
Research indicates that two of the most important factors when training to improve acceleration are 1) the angle the body is in when force is applied to the ground and 2) the amount of force applied to the ground. While there are several drills to improve body angle and numerous resistance training and plyometric exercises to improve ground reaction force, one of the simplest and most effective drills to improve both at the same time is the resisted sled push.
The advantages of using sled pushes over other forms of training are numerous and include the following: 1) They utilize the perfect acceleration position for running, i.e., teach the proper direction of force application; 2) emphasize back side mechanics, i.e., the pushing or driving phase of acceleration; 3) develop the single-leg strength and power needed to increase the amount of force that can be put into the ground; 4) teach athletes how to initiate and produce more force in less time; 5) force the legs to develop maximum strength in as little time as possible; 6) increase first step drive; 7) improve quickness; 8) increase acceleration; 9) increase upper body strength and shoulder stability; 10) increase core stability; and 11) enhance the transfer of force from the lower body to the upper body.
When training for acceleration, start with a relatively light load (10-20% of body weight), keep the distance short (10-25 yards) and recovery long (90 seconds between reps and 3 minutes between sets). Avoid pushing heavy loads over long distances as this can significantly alter sprint mechanics in a negative way. Keep the recovery between sets and reps relatively long to ensure that you give 100% effort on each rep.
Set up. Start the drill from standing position, with your feet parallel, arms extended, hands on the sled poles at chest level and body at a 450 angle with the ground. Using a 450 forward body lean moves your center of mass forward, positions the ground reaction force vector behind your center of mass and produces a straight line from your back foot, through the hips, shoulder and head to create an optimal angle from which to apply force from the ground up. Proper set up is essential. If you don’t start the drill from a good position, you typically won’t find it in the middle of the drill.
Punch: Set your core and punch the thigh of the lead leg (flex the hip) forward without pulling the heel toward the buttocks (flexing the knee). This action creates a positive shin angle (lead foot is dorsiflexed and the shin is parallel the rear leg and torso), puts the glutes on stretch, initiates the stretch-shortening cycle and creates an ideal posture from which to produce force.
Drive: When the lead thigh is flexed to the desired height, drive the leg back behind the hips with maximum force while simultaneously punching the opposite thigh to the flexed and loaded position without changing body lean. Continue the “punch and drive” cycle in a piston-like manner landing on the ball of the foot with each step and push the sled as fast as possible for 10 yards or for 5 to 7 seconds. Rest 90 seconds and repeat the drill. Start with 1 set of six 10-yard pushes (1x6x10). Add one set per week for three weeks. Increase the distance to 15 yards in week 4 and perform 3x6x15 yards with 90 seconds rest between reps and 3 minutes rest between sets. Do 3x6x20 in week 5 and 3x6x25 in week 6. Perform sled pushes twice per week with at least one day of recovery between training sessions. Keep your core tight and don’t round your back or allow your head to fall forward throughout the drill. There should have a positive shin angle on the recovery leg and a straight line from your ears down to your hips and ankles on the drive leg.
When you can complete 3x6x25 workouts at a fast speed with perfect form, gradually increase the load on the sled. How heavy is too heavy? Your goal is to add resistance without altering sprint mechanics, not to see how much weight you can push. The load is adequate if you can hold an acceleration position and run without altering sprint mechanics. If however, the resistance is so heavy that it causes a change in running mechanics, there is a limited chance that the drill will provide a significant positive effect on performance in game situations.
*See on-site video, Landow and Scaife – Sled Push
Loren Landow is Director of Sports Performance, Steadman Hawkins Clinic – Denver.
Gene Coleman was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.