Dropping My Favourite Exercises to Sled
Moving away from heavy barbell back squats and deadlifts is doing wonders for my body and recovery. But I miss feeling like I’ve been pushed to my limits.
With my new functional focused training, I’m now able to hit the gym three times a week. I’ve been enjoying it, but the aforementioned intensity was missing. This is why I’ve just re-introduced barbell bench and overhead presses with a 5 x 5 sets/reps strategy. Allowing me to work on heavy upper body strength training, whilst prioritising sled pulls and pushes
But I will continue prioritising my sledding because nothing else I’ve discovered gives me the burn on my legs that sledding does. And nothing gives me the cardio heart rate increase sledding does.
It has everything to do with Knees Over Toes Guy, AKA Ben Patrick. I discovered him through Joe Rogan who had mentioned and recommended his work highly for best functional strength. On 19th January 2022 Ben was on the JRE podcast where he spoke in detail about the value of these exercises.
He explains in detail:
- Why walking backwards is the best exercise for rehabilitating knees.
- Why sledding is safer than squatting and deadlifting.
- Why sledding is a great entry point for somebody with no lifting experience.
I will not write about the details here. Ben and Joe and many others you will find on YouTube just by searching “sledding with Ben Patrick” will explain in a detailed way why this is true. However after 4 weeks of practising this, I can report on my own experience.
Anybody who has reached a certain age may well have experienced, or is experiencing knee pain. It seems to be one of those things which just happens as we get older.
Ironically I felt no knee pain until I started kicking a ball again back in 2019. It’s almost as if my body had fixed movement patterns in place to protect my knees. But as soon as I began kicking a ball, they said “whoah there, you’re not ready for that yet”.
Ever since then, I have battled with strengthening my legs to get rid of the knee pain. All somehow to no avail.
But since I’ve been sledding, I have noticed my knee pain is disappearing. I do not feel them at all during the sled pulls or pushes.
Which brings me onto the next thing which seems to be happening. Finally, my leg muscles are growing. I’m not entirely sure if they’re growing, or just unravelling the tightness. Nevertheless, they are getting bigger, which means they are getting stronger.
Lactic Acid Burn
There is no other exercise I have tried which gives me the lactic acid burn sled pulling does. My quads are on fire after a pull. And I absolutely love it. There is nothing quite like knowing you’ve pushed yourself to the limit, and there’s nothing like a sled pull to bring that burn.
Resistance training is the best for building muscle. But it’s not the best for heart rate and cardiovascular exercise. Sure your heart rate gets up while heavy squatting or deadlift. But not to the point where you are breathless.
My heart rate certainly rises on the sled pulls. But on the pushes, especially the return leg, my heart is pumping like nothing else.
I tend to follow Ben’s advice, which is a slower push/pull in one direction, then an explosive fast push/pull when coming back. Nothing beats it. Nothing can describe the burn and the cardio until you’ve pushed a sled 40 metres or so at full excursion. You HAVE to try it.
And here comes the kicker. The number one reason why I am believing this could be the exercise I’ve been looking for.
Almost every time I squatted or deadlifted with a barbell, I would feel stiff and sore the next day. And not a nice stiff/soreness. This is the pain of a recurring lower back which obviously is not working properly. Even though I just continue to push through the pain.
Maybe this is the reason why my legs weren’t growing. Maybe I was putting too much pressure on my body and it was never able to fully recover.
But now, with sledding, those injuries, or that injury, is no longer recurring. As long as I set myself properly using the valsalva technique, and check my back is straight in the mirror, I am not getting injured. Not at all. In fact, I am able to train 48 hours later at another high intensity, which I was never able to do while squatting / deadlifting.
Just as a caveat. I have nothing against barbell squatting and deadlifting. They are still and will always be the best exercise for the lower body and back. But, if you don’t have the range of motion or flexibility to do the moves correctly, you could continue to injure yourself and repeat those injuries over and over again. Which ultimately will halt your progress.
I am fascinated to see what happens to me when I get back to those exercises in the future. But for now, I will carry on prioritising sledding for at least another two months.
Sledding as a Warm-up
It’s a fact, that one thing we don’t like doing in the gym, is warming up. It feels a little like wasted time. Although let’s be clear it most definitely is not wasted time.
But sledding helps move into the warm stage a little faster. I still warm up with dynamic stretching and movement. But it doesn’t take too long before I am pulling my first sled, which you obviously begin a little lighter than your working set.
And then, after the sledding session, your body is fully primed for whatever exercise you have planned next. I like to move from sledding straight to overhead or bench press working sets. Because if you think about pushing a sled, it is automatically engaging those chest and shoulder muscles. So you can go straight into your working sets.
The proof is always in the pudding. But so far I have been able to pull and push sleds up to six sets each at a time, and then return 48 hours later and do the same thing.
This is remarkable for somebody who was always having to rest my lower body due to recurring injuries.
Although I know I am on a calorie deficit since I’ve been sledding, my weight has not changed. However, I can tactilely feel the muscles in my legs are finally growing, and I am beginning to see my abs for the first time.
This goes to show that the scales are never the numbers you should focus on. They are a guide and must always be a guide. You cannot and must not ever be concerned that you didn’t lose a kg this month, or you’ve gained half a kilo this week. Those types of numbers are meaningless and have no reflection of you as a person.
How do you feel? How is your sleep? How do you look? If those things are improving, they are the only measures you should be concerned about.
Get sledding everybody, and let me know if you have the same feedback as I have.