When a spring snowstorm hit New York City on Wednesday, Karlie Kloss pushed her way through it—literally. In an Instagram video that she captioned “sNOw days off,” the supermodel and marathon runner took to the slushy streets outside of celeb-favorite gym Dogpound to push an exercise sled loaded with Dogpound founder Kirk Myers.
You can check out the video via Kloss’s Instagram here:
This snow plow–esque movement, known as weighted sled pushes, looks extremely badass—and that’s because it is.
The sled push, which is meant to be an all-out, high-intensity exercise, requires simultaneous engagement from your back, glutes, hips, core, hamstrings, calves, triceps, and shoulders, NYC-based certified strength and conditioning specialist Mike Clancy tells SELF. "Aside from your biceps and chest muscles, every other muscle group is in full engagement.” Basically, it's an incredible total-body exercise.
To do the move, you have to brace your core, flex your glutes, and extend your spine to drive your legs through the ground as hard as you can, explains Clancy. From there, the goal is to transfer the force through your legs upward to your midbody, out to the shoulders, triceps, and hands, and into the weighted sled.
While your lower half pumps as hard as possible during this movement, your upper body should stay tight—and still. “You are contracting your entire upper body to be a stable base through which your lower body and core can transfer strength,” Mark DiSalvo, NYC-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, tells SELF. The forceful, fast movements required by your lower body combined with the prolonged contraction of your upper body make weighted sled pushes a great total-body movement.
And because weighted sled pushes are meant to be performed in short bursts and at 100 percent effort, they’re great form of high-intensity training, says DiSalvo.
If you use the correct equipment, sled pushes are “one of the safest hard things you can do,” says DiSalvo.
Unlike more traditional strength training moves, like bench presses or deadlifts, “you don’t run the risk of dropping anything on yourself, and if you get tired, you just stop,” DiSalvo says.
Sled pushes are also pretty foolproof to execute. “You don’t have to worry as much about form failure because either the sled will move or it won’t move,” says Clancy. “It’s an auto-correcting exercise in the sense that your form has to be at a satisfactory level in order for the sled to move.”
The surface on which you perform weighted sled pushes can impact the difficulty of the move.
“As a rule of thumb, the less friction on the surface, the easier it will be,” says DiSalvo. Pushing on grass, astroturf fields, or in Kloss’s case, snowy streets, will be easier than pavement, for example.
“It’s not a huge factor,” DiSalvo adds, “but you might get a little performance increase.”
There are a few things you should keep in mind before attempting a weighted sled push.
If you’re brand new to sled pushes, it’s a good idea to have a certified trainer or other fitness professional supervise your efforts and begin. You'll also want to begin with much less weight than Kloss. About a third or half of your body weight is a solid place to start, says DiSalvo. “That should be a very manageable starting point and you can increase it from there,” he adds.
And for safety’s sake, you should only attempt this move with proper, professional-grade gym equipment, says DiSalvo. Don’t try subbing an exercise sled for a heavy piece of furniture, for example, as that could increase your risk of injury. Some gyms and (even public parks) will have exercise sleds. You can also find them online.
Here’s how to do a weighted sled push:
- Wrap both hands around the sled and stack your elbows and wrists in line with your shoulders.
- Lock your elbows and scapula [shoulder blades] in place. “You want to be very firm through your back and chest,” says DiSalvo.
- Position your upper body in one straight line from the base of your neck to your hips.
- Standing on your toes, begin pushing forward as hard as you can, pumping your legs as high and fast as you can.
- As you move, your lower body positioning should be very similar to how you would perform an all-out sprint. This means having flexed hips, with your thighs high and close to your torso; flexed, high knees; and flexed feet. This triple flexion helps your body wind itself up like a spring and then release against the ground with enough energy and power to propel yourself—and the sled—forward.
- Push as hard as you can for 15 seconds, followed by two minutes of rest. Repeat one or two times.
As you get stronger, decrease the amount of rest between reps until you achieve a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio (e.g. pushing for 15 seconds with 30 seconds of rest). Once you can do 4 to 5 reps with a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio, bump up the time of your output in 10- to 15-second increments, and from there, increase the weight in 15- to 20-pound increments.
It’s important to keep your feet flexed and stay on your toes/the balls of your feet as you push forward as this will maximize your force. If you’re not getting a good connection with the ground, “you will feel like the Road Runner,” says DiSalvo. “Your feet will be moving fast but you won’t be going anywhere.” If you feel any tension or strain in your hips and/or lower back as you perform a sled push, it’s likely a sign that you need to bring your hips forward and your legs further back behind you.
If you don’t have access to a sled, here are two other moves you can do to reap similar benefits.Treadmill Pushes
- Hop on a treadmill and resist the urge to press any buttons. The machine should remain off during the entirety of this move.
- Place your hands close together on the handles and grip your thumbs on the same side of the handles as your other fingers (an overhand grip).
- Stack your shoulders on top of your hands to put your body at an inclined, angled position. Your upper body should be in one straight line from the base of your neck to your hips.
- Begin moving the belt by pumping your legs upwards and forwards in the triple flexion motion described above. You should be landing on your toes.
- Push as hard and as fast as you can for 10 to 20 seconds. This is 1 rep.
- Rest for one to two minutes, and then repeat one to two more times.
As you get stronger, decrease the amount of rest in between each rep. Once you achieve a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio, increase the number of sets. Once you can do 4 to 5 sets with a 1:2 work to rest ratio, you can increase the time of your push.
Treadmill pushes are “a good entry point to weighted sled pushes,” says Clancy. “Your job is to make the belt spin as fast as you can.”
- Grab a set of heavier weights—dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells. As with the sled pushes, it’s a good idea to start with a total weight that’s a third to a half of your body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, for example, start with 25- to 35-pound dumbbells in each hand.
- Place the weights on the ground, with one weight on either side of you.
- When you’re ready, bend your knees to lower yourself down to reach the weights. Grab the weights firmly with each hand and squeeze your core and glutes and drive through your heels to push yourself—and the weights—up.
- Straighten your back and look straight ahead.
- Keeping good posture, take small, quick steps forward for 30 seconds.
- Stop, and bend your knees to place the weights back down on the ground in a controlled manner. This is 1 rep.
- Rest for 2 minutes and repeat for another rep.
This move won’t provide the same exact muscular benefits as the sled pushes, but it is a great high-intensity exercise that targets your core, shoulders, upper back, glutes, and quads, says DiSalvo. Just know: Because you are carrying weight (rather than pushing it), it’s not as foolproof to execute and the risk of injury is slightly higher. That’s why it’s important to start light with both weight and reps, really focus on maintaining good posture, and raise and lower the weights with control.