How to Push the Prowler
By Chris Carlsen
The prowler, or sled, is one of my favorite exercise tools. It’s great for teaching running technique, building strong legs, metabolic conditioning, de-load weeks (as it requires no deceleration) and low impact strength training for the elderly. It’s rightfully called the “functional leg press” by Strength Coach pioneer Michael Boyle. What makes the sled more “functional,” unlike the traditional leg press, is that it mimics perfect running mechanics. This makes it a preferable choice over other equipment like the leg press or treadmill. On the treadmill, you are forced to keep up with the force of the conveyor belt, and if you cannot produce that speed on your own, your joints and ligaments will absorb the impact. In addition, you will never achieve full hip extension on the treadmill, as the fear of falling keeps you from completing a full leg cycle. By using the sled, the force required to move it is produced by and equal to how much energy you exert upon it, which explains why pushing it is so exhausting. This facet alone helps build stronger legs and keeps your body healthy.
*In the leg press, one leg is stuck in hip flexion, rendering the glutes useless. It also puts a great deal of pressure on the lumbar disc. The sled does not load the spine, rendering it a great exercise for the elderly.
The prowler’s only foreseeable problem is that good form is required to push it. Failure to set up correctly, maintain a strong core and exert a proper foot strike on the floor will leave you with tight hips, tight calves and poor running mechanics.
A common adage in the strength and conditioning world is that you must be fit to run. You must also be strong before you run, or even attempt to push the prowler. My clients must first develop strong hip hinging (dead-lifting, swinging) squatting, and push-up patterns as well as a stable core. They must also exhibit proficiency in the spilt squat, backwards lunge and single-leg dead-lift before they embark on running drills. The execution of these exercises demonstrates the ability to stabilize the hip and knee and keep a centered joint on one leg, and ensures a strong glute medius, which steers the knee. To better contextualize that last statement, imagine the knee collapsing inwards while performing a lower body lift. If the knee cannot stabilize during a lunge or squat, imagine what would occur if you were to run? Since we run with one leg at a time, the cues utilized for single-leg exercises will indeed carry over to the playing field or track, creating a smooth transition for various speed and running drills. Making this connection will not only help create consistency to your overall movement, but will help keep your form in check when fatigued.
There are three positions you can take when pushing the prowler. The first is the high position, where everyone should start. It mimics the angle in the acceleration phase of running, which is most the used phase in sports. You set up as if you’re going to do a push-up and then complete the eccentric portion of the position (you should look like a plank). The center of your body’s mass is now over the sled, making you one with it. This stance allows you to march with the sled, and as you move it will simply follow your lead. To imagine this in terms of pushing, you are essentially pushing backwards so that the sled can be propelled forward. This allows you to keep a stable spine and achieve proper hip extension.This set-up creates efficient running economy and will allow better use of your body’s energy, augmenting its ability to last longer.
The second position you can utilize when pushing the prowler is the low position. Again the center of the body’s mass is over the sled. This set-up is more metabolically taxing and quadriceps dominant than the higher position (meaning your thighs will burn more as you push it).This is a great way to build your quads without putting a lot of stress on the knees.
The third position is similar to the first, except that the arms are extended. This setup challenges the stabilizers more than the others and is good for challenging alignment during push. You won't be able to use as much force but it will make the aforementioned positions easier.
Progressing to Sled
Smart Mountain Climbers – This is a great anti-rotation exercise, which means your oblique muscles will be working. This exercise, like the high position of the prowler, also mimics perfect running form, and will carry over to running and sled pushing. As you can see in the video, the starting position is the plank (the plank is kind of a big a deal). Focus on keeping the knee, hip and foot aligned. Try for 8 repetitions on each side.