For an athlete who plays field and court sports, having the highest top speed is not nearly as important as having an impressive acceleration. Even the fastest athletes don’t reach top speed until they’ve run about 60 yards or more. Successful in many team sports is often determined by how quickly an athlete can accelerate from zero to full speed. So if your sport requires lots of short sprints of less than 60 yards, you may want to focus on acceleration, not just speed.
Whether you need to go from a full stop to max speed, or you need to change directions, pivot, or just go from a jog to top speed in a few seconds, training with a weighted sled can help you improve your acceleration.
The weighted sled trains both speed plus strength by focusing the athlete to sprint under resistance. The goal of this sort of training is to add resistance without altering proper sprint mechanics. For this reason, it’s important to add resistance slowly and adapt to the increased force over time. While there is no perfect amount of resistance to add, some experts recommend following the ten percent rule. That is, add no more weight than that which allows an athlete to stay within ten percent of their time without added resistance. They argue that if you start slowing more than 10 percent, you may have more weight than you can pull while still maintaining proper sprint mechanics. As always, it's important to pay attention to any injury warning signs and reduce or stop training if you feel an injury developing.
Other coaches say this rule is less important than simply watching the athlete's body mechanics while they sprint with the sled. Some athletes can handle a lot more weight, have much slower times, and yet still maintain perfect sprint mechanics. Ultimately, the most important factor in proper weighted sled training is to maintain the same muscle recruitment patterns as sprinting without the sled.
Finally, it's also important to acknowledge that training with a weight sled may not improve an athlete's top speed. However, most evidence does support that sprint training under resistance can improve acceleration, which should be the overall goal of this type of training.
How to Perform Weight Sled Training
- The most important safety tip to remember with sled training is to have a proper harness, and a smooth surface for pulling the sled. Work with a coach if you are new to weighted sled training.
- Once properly attached to the sled, begin your sprint and maintain constant force as you move forward.
- If your mechanics deteriorate within a few yards, you may be pulling too much weight and need to back off and build up more slowly.
- Begin with short sprints of 20-50 yards, and perform 3-5 repetitions.
- Between sprints, allow a full recovery.
- Over the weeks, build to 5-10 repetitions and add 5 percent more weight.
If performed while maintaining proper sprint mechanics, weighted sled training is an excellent way to increase an athlete's acceleration. It’s a great compliment to strength work in the weight room, and speed drills on the field because it helps athletes combine explosive power with sprinting.
As always, this form of exercise can lead to injuries if done improperly or too aggressively. Work with a coach to learn how to do it right if you are new to weighted sled training.
Mike Boyle, Using a Weighted Sled for Acceleration Improvement [http://www.performbetter.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/PBOnePieceView?storeId=10151&catalogId=10751&languageId=-1&pagename=161]
National Strength and Conditioning Association. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. ISBN-10: 0736058036