Treadmill Sled Pulls

The Banded Treadmill Sled Pull.

I’m currently training for a pretty brutal 80 mile winter ultra. The weather conditions can vary significantly from year to year, but it’s always snowy and miserably cold. Last year it was negative 12F at the start and dropped even colder over night. Given the extreme conditions, everyone has to carry 20-30 pounds worth of emergency supplies just in case things don’t go as planned.

The tough part about training for this kind of race is that it’s not all that convenient to routinely drag 30 pounds of stuff behind you on training runs. This year in Minneapolis, it’s been an unseasonably warm start to Winter, so even at just 5 weeks out from the event, we haven’t had enough snow to get in a practice run with my sled. I don’t have a tire either and have no desire to add a giant tire to my already overflowing apartment, so my outdoor options for sled pulling are non-existent. So, I had to figure out a way to train for an 80 mile sled pulling race while indoors.

Here’s what I came up with:

It’s a pretty simple set-up. Simply anchor an elastic band to the floor behind the treadmill and attach it to your waist. There’s a few considerations to keep in mind if you want to give this a shot.

Here are my tips:

Use a thin band. The standard red bands you’ll see at many powerlifting gyms are about right for a heavier and/or faster runner, but the standard orange bands (or a pair of orange bands) would work better for lighter and/or slower runners, or those simply needing less resistance. You can adjust the exact amount of resistance by changing the length of the band / distance of the anchor from the treadmill. You even have a little bit of wiggle room on the treadmill, adding some resistance if you run towards the front of the belt or reducing resistance if you back off a couple of inches. Note that not all bands are created equal - the standard orange and red bands I refer to are fairly common, but different lengths and resistances do come in all colors.

The harness. If you don’t have a harness, you can use a second band to create a sort of belt. Simply double up a thicker band and wrap it around your waist. However, this option does tend to pinch the skin a little bit and may get uncomfortable for pulls lasting longer than a few minutes. The nice thing about this set up is that it’s easy to take on and off, so if you’re doing a lot of shorter pulls mixed with other exercises, this might actually be a good option. However, my favorite option is to use a standard lifting belt - the cheap nylon ones work best ($10-$20), but if you have a fancy leather belt, those can be used as well. Wear the belt backwards to provide maximum cushioning in the front. You can also use a standard sled harness, but these attach higher up on the torso; this option will allow for more core engagement but not target the glutes as much. I find that it’s easiest to focus on glute engagement and proper mechanics when pulling with a sled/band that attaches at the waist.

The anchor. To be safe, just use the heaviest weight you have available. Before starting, pull extra hard on the band/anchor set up to be absolutely sure it won’t budge or slide during the workout. If it came loose and the band rubbed up against the treadmill belt, the results could be bad. Make sure the anchor and band is precisely centered behind the treadmill. If you throw it together quickly, your anchor might be off center, pulling you a little to the side for the entire workout. We definitely want to avoid creating an imbalances, so double check that you have a nice and clean set up.

The technique. The main purpose of pulling with the band is to target the posterior chain, learning to pull down and back with the hamstrings and glutes. Focus on a tight core, upright posture, and pulling your heel down and back with your butt muscles. Avoid a quad dominant stride - too much forward lean or hinging forwards at the hips are both bad ideas. If you do it right, you should notice your glutes getting warm, or even burning a bit if you’re going heavy.

Added benefits. On a treadmill, you can use this set up on flat ground or on incline. If you’re someone who struggles with utilizing the posterior chain on incline (i.e. your quads burn going up steep hills), then adding the band on incline walks will force you to switch to your posterior chain. Plus, if you’re like most people and are limited to 15% incline on standard treadmills, the band allows you to get a similar feel/challenge to 40% incline that some premium treadmills offer. If you’re training for steep mountain races or OCRs but don’t have an incline trainer, adding the band to 10-15% incline climbs can allow you many of the same benefits. The ease and convenience of this set up also allows for easy integration of other strength movements into the workout since you aren’t confined to an open outdoor space away from other equipment.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Alec BlenisComment