How to make a drag sled and workout with it

Categories: Indian clubs, strength training

How to make a drag sled for a great workout is easy, and in this blog post I am going to show you how to, step by step!

It’s cheap, simple and fast to make, and you can use it for a variety of exercises, for both the lower and upper body. You’ll not only increase your strength, but improve your cardiovascular fitness and recovery capacities at the same time.

I built my first sled in 2008 when I took my strength training diploma with DIF, the National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark.
Back then, push sleds (like the Prowler) weren’t all that common or affordable.
So using an old tire and dragging it became one of the conditioning methods of choice of powerlifters, athletes with a reputation for hating doing cardio.

Those guys knew and understood the healing power of doing lots of reps with lighter weight to increase blood flow and promote healing and recovery. As you can see, sled dragging and Indian clubs have at least one thing in common: high reps.

Making a sled was one of the first project all future coaches were put through. Over the last decade I have made several, using more or less the same construction.

Why add sled dragging to your routine?

The basic sled dragging exercises can develop some solid strength in the glutes, calves, hamstrings, quads, and midsection. And you also improve your aerobic and anaerobic conditioning at the same time. It’s not just for your legs! You can also use it for upper body exercises.

The sled is also great if you have some nagging injuries that prevent you from doing deep knee bends at the moment, or you can’t tolerate loading a barbell on your back because of spinal compression.
Instead of simply giving up on training your lower body, you can work around the issues, and as you become stronger you might find that you can once again perform those activities. Becoming stronger solves many issues by itself.

Sled dragging with a tire in a nutshell

  • It’s one hell of a conditioning workout.
  • It’s versatile and fun, and has a fast learning curve.
  • There is hardly any eccentric loading, which means there’s very little delayed onset soreness associated with it, and the risk of injury is relatively low.
  • There are no compressive forces on the spine.
  • It works your lower body as happens in may sports – to drive you forward
  • It complements Indian clubs perfectly.
  • You have to train outside, getting some fresh air and sun at the same time.
  • As good as the fancy looking and expensive prowler push sleds

Things you will need to build a homemade drag sled

how to make a drag sled at homeFirst step, go and visit a garage and collect on old car tire. They will gladly give it away for free as they usually have to pay to dispose of them. You could at the same time ask for an old punctured bus or tractor inner tube, and use that to make a sandbag while you’re at it.

Next, go to the hardware shop and buy an eye bolt with washer and nut, not the type you screw into a wall.
Buy some wooden boards while you’re at it, to create a base inside the tire. If you’re a DYO kind of guy or girl, break an old pallet, and use the free boards.

The last bit of supply, you need is some sort of rope that can fit through the eye bolt, or if you can splurge, get some flat nylon webbing. I prefer the webbing one uses to create rock climbing anchors.
I suggest about 6 meters in length, as you also have to make handles!! If the rope is too short, it create an acute angle when dragging, lifting a part of the sled off the ground, making for a bumpy ride.

If you have a suspension trainer, you can of course simply use that.

For the people planning to use weight plates only, buy a floor flange fitting and about 20 cm length of pipe to secure plates in place.

How to make a drag sled

Let’s go about it. Drill a hole through the tire. Push the eye bolt through, with a washer on either side of the tire, and lock the nut in place.

Next, cut the boards so that they can fit inside the tire, and screw them tight into place from the other side. This will create a base in which you can add loading in various forms.

Push the webbing or rope though the eye, and bind some knots to create 2 handles. If you’re fancy, you can saw the webbing instead. The sling will center itself as you move. That’s it you’re ready to go out and use your drag sled!

Keep things moving

I prefer to have a free moving rope through the eye bolt, instead of a fixed center. You’re free to experiment though.
With a free moving rope,  you’ll be forced to control the rotary forces by keeping the rope the same length on each side when holding on to the handles. Remember that we’re moving a less than perfectly stable sled, and we’re doing it on outdoor surfaces. It’s not going to be a perfectly smooth ride, but that’s where the fun is.

How to make a cheap harness for your sled

Holding on to the handles and dragging the sled is simple and fast, but having the sled connected to your waist can be a better option.

Using a waist harness lets you use the arms mechanics of normal gait, which is pretty advantageous if you’re going to do sprint repeats or want to crawl for example. Another advantage is that you can better maintain proper upper body posture.

You can argue that holding on to the straps will engage more muscles but, fixing the arms in place prevents the shoulders from rotating as they would during normal walking or running. This anchoring of the shoulders may force more rotation upon the  lumbar spine instead, which may be a problem for some people.

If you don’t have a rock climbing harness or weightlifting belt at home, do like me, buy a heavy duty webbing sling and 2 carabiners. It’s cheap and effective.

If you can’t secure the 1 meter sling around your waist, remember that as soon as there is tension on the lines, the harness will stay in place.

Whatever you use, do not go thinner than 60 mm, or it might cut into your body.

Ready to train?

An empty sled will provide some form of resistance, but hardly enough for an adult.
Use what you have around! Rocks, kettlebells, sandbag, weight plates or even your kid.
Basically anything you can put inside the tire will do. If it rattles a bit at first, after a few steps things should settle, as long as you maintain a constant tempo once in motion.

For explosive movements and sprinting, a sandbag might be the best option, or if only using weight plates, add a pipe and flange to your wooden base to keep things in place..

Loading and surface type

Asphalt provides more friction and resistance than grass or gravel.  It will also wear out the rubber. So keep that in mind when loading your sled.

When you’re starting out, about 15-25% of bodyweight will provide plenty of challenge, depending on whether you’re targeting lower or upper body.
If you remember what I mentioned above, more reps means more blood flow which will provide more recovery and healing, so the training effect falls more into the strength endurance side of strength.

For lower body exercises if you can’t take at least 60 steps without having to stop, you probably went too heavy. For upper body exercises, shoot for 15-30 reps per set.

If you’re planning to sprint with the sled, you need to drop the loading weight to about 5-10% of your bodyweight. This is to make sure that you can sprint with the correct mechanics, otherwise your gains won’t transfer well to be a faster runner.

If you’re after a sled to build strength and mass, you’ll be better served with a prowler, a type of sled with a metal base, so that you can load it real heavy for shorter distances.

7 Basic sled dragging exercises

Give a go to the 7 exercises are demonstrated in the video below.
Remove the slack off the lines, and get moving. I show variations with the harness and without.

  1. Forward drag
  2. Reverse drag
  3. Crawling
  4. Side drag
  5. Chop
  6. Row
  7. Press
With a bit of imagination, you’ll be able to come up with many more sled dragging exercises. Basically any exercise that you could do with a cable machine ca be done with a sled. Just pick the appropriate exercises for you, and keep in mind that you should always select the best tool to perform your chosen exercises!

The weighted drag sled workouts

To finish this article, here are 2 types of sled and Indian clubs workouts for inspiration.
Load the sled to about 20% of bodyweight, taking the club(s) weight into account.

These 2 simple workouts alternate between sled dragging and Indian club exercises. Rest as needed in between rounds.
For the sled work, I chose steps over meters so that you do not need to set up cones for distance.

You may add more rounds, exercises etc to these templates.

Sled and heavy club workout

In this workout we use a heavy club for upper body strength and core with multi-planar movements, and stick to basic leg work with the sled.

If you want to get more fancy and target your posterior chain on the same session,do a few sets of Romanian deadlifts or kettlebell swings, and hamstring curls.

Round 1

  • Backward drag x60 steps
  • Back circles x10 each direction
  • Backward drag x80 steps
  • Front circles x10 each direction
  • Backward drag x100 steps
  • Full swings x10 each direction

Round 2

  • Forward drag x60 steps
  • Back circles x10 each direction
  • Forward drag x80 steps
  • Front circles x10 each direction
  • Forward drag x100 steps
  • Full swings x10 each direction

Round 3

  • Side drag x60 steps (switch sides halfway)
  • Back circles x10 each direction
  • Side drag x80 steps
  • Front circles x10 each direction
  • Side drag x100 steps
  • Full swings x10 each direction

Sled and light Indian clubs workout

This workout is focused on upper body, and would work well as recovery following a hard session of say, overhead presses, dips and chin up.

And if you only ever train with Indian clubs, do something about it.
You will get more health benefits by adding a few basic strength training exercises into the mix.

All the club swinging exercises are explained in our Club swingin 102, with slow motion and different angles so that anyone can learn from home.

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Round 1

  • Sled row x20
  • Double outer heart shaped swings x40
  • repeat 4 times

Round 2

  • Sled press x20
  • Double inner heart shaped swings x40
  • repeat 4 times

Round 3

  • Sled chop x20 (alternate sides on each round)
  • Windmills x40 (alternate directions on each round)
  • repeat 4 times

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