Updated: Aug 12
It's no secret that knee health is crucial to maintaining an active lifestyle. Heck, knee health is essential for achieving a normal, everyday lifestyle, whether you are active or not. While many exercises target knee strength, with my experience recovering from four ACL tears in eight years, one underrated exercise stands out: Backwards Sled Drags. In this blog post, I aim to dive into the surprising benefits of this simple yet highly effective exercise for enhancing knee health, improving stability, and unlocking your true potential to get back on your feet.
Backward Sled Drags - A Brief Overview
It took me three ACL tears before I discovered that Backward Sled Drags was a massive piece of the injury prevention and recovery puzzle I was missing. I first learned about Backward Sled Drags on Instagram thanks to Ben Patrick, otherwise known as the Knees Over Toes Guy. That's right, knees OVER toes. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? The crazy thing is Ben practices what he preaches, and what he preaches WORKS. His leading theory is that when we are playing sports, running, or even just walking up or down stairs, our knees naturally go over our toes, especially when it comes to sports that involve jumping. When our knees go over our toes, we're ultimately putting them in a vulnerable state, so to combat this, we need to perform exercises that deliberately and safely put our knees over our toes. This allows us to pinpoint and strengthen all of the muscles and joints - big and small- surrounding our knees. This is where Backward Sled Drags come into play.
Fun fact, did you know that 'Backwalking' has been part of Japanese culture for centuries? Backwalking, otherwise known as the act of backward walking, is believed to have various health benefits, including promoting knee health, improving balance, and enhancing overall well-being. Seems like the Japanese we're really onto something here.
If you stand up right now and take 5 steps backward, you'll immediately notice that your knee is over your toes every time you step. Mindblowing stuff, right? So now that you can quickly get into a position that safely puts your knees over your toes imagine what might happen if you add some resistance to that movement. Here are two main reasons you should incorporate backward sled drags into your exercise routine.
Reduced Impact on the Knees
Unlike many high-impact exercises that stress the knee considerably, backward sled drags are gentle on your joints. The movement involves walking backward while pulling a sled, significantly reducing the knee compressive forces. This makes it an excellent option for individuals with knee sensitivity or those recovering from knee injuries.
One of the most significant advantages of backward sled drags is that the resistance can be easily adjusted to suit individual fitness levels. Whether a beginner or an experienced athlete, you can tailor the sled's weight to match your strength and gradually increase it as you progress. This versatility ensures you can continually challenge yourself and your knees without risking overexertion.
I imagine this is the most essential point for many of you. Backward sled drags can be a valuable rehabilitation exercise for anyone recovering from knee injuries. As mentioned above, its low-impact nature lets you gently strengthen your knee muscles without aggravating the injury. If you're recovering from an ACL tear or other knee injury, ask your doctor or PT about backward sled drags. If you're not in the clear to start pulling any weight, start with simply walking backward for 10 minutes per day. It will still work wonders for your rehab, and you can build up to adding resistance from there.
Benefits of Backward Sled Drags
So, those are two reasons you should incorporate backward sled drags into your exercise program, but you're probably wondering how the sled drags can build your strength and help all the muscles and joints surrounding your knees. Here are three primary benefits that you can expect from backward sled drags:
Strengthening the Posterior Chain
Backward sled drags are a fantastic way to engage the posterior chain, which includes the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. Strengthening these muscle groups is crucial for providing support and stability to the knees. Pulling the sled, you activate these muscles, reinforcing the structures around the knees and promoting a more balanced lower body.
Improving Knee Stabilization
One of the critical benefits of backward sled drags is the improvement in knee stabilization. The exercise requires proper alignment and balance as you walk backward. This constant engagement of stabilizing muscles around the knees helps build strength and resilience, reducing the risk of injury during various physical activities.
Enhanced Proprioception and Balance
Proprioception - Yeah, a big word I know - It's the body's sense of its position in space, and it plays a vital role in injury prevention and overall athleticism. Backward sled drags challenge your proprioceptive abilities by requiring you to move against resistance while maintaining control and coordination. As a result, your knee joint becomes more adept at handling various terrains and movements while the surrounding muscles gain strength thanks to the weight you are pulling.
Incorporating backward sled drags into your fitness routine can be a game-changer for your knee health. From reducing knee strain and enhancing stability to building strength and promoting balance, this underrated exercise offers many benefits, and I highly recommend giving it a try. Remember to start with a manageable weight and gradually progress, always listening to your body and seeking guidance from a fitness professional if needed. With more robust, healthier knees, you'll be well-equipped to conquer new challenges and embark on thrilling adventures with confidence!
Resources and Gear
@KneesOverToesGuy on Instagram is a great resource to follow for all things Knee Health
Ben Patrick, AKA Knees Over Toes Guy, also runs a paid online coaching program, ATG Online Coaching. It's $50 per month, and I learned everything included in this article, plus more, from his coaching program. It's a resource that has been insanely helpful in my knee-strengthening and ACL recovery journey. If you sign up for ATG Online Coaching using the links I've provided, you'll get $20 off your first month. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the program.
Some Fitness Sleds are wildly expensive; here's what I use as a cheaper alternative:
Rage Fitness R2 Weight Training Pull Sled - It works great if you have grass to pull it on. Not recommended to pull it along any pavement.
I own 20 and 35-lb kettlebells, so I typically put those on my sled to total 55 lbs. I'm 6 feet tall, 170 lbs, and this weight usually gives me a good burn after 10 minutes. So you could grab a 53lb Kettlebell (or lighter / heavier, depending on your needs), or if you want to look more official, you can grab a few plates to put on your sled. I only go for the Kettlebell since you can do more workouts with it outside of Sled Drags; since I don't own a barbell, I don't get a ton of use out of the plates outside of the sled drags.
With the Rage Fitness Sled and a 53lb Kettlebell, you're looking at about $180. Much more affordable than some of the premium brands, like Rogue.
I hope you found this post about Backward Sled Drags helpful! As of the last year, they have become a staple in my weekly fitness program, as I try to do them for at least 10 minutes three times weekly. I 100% think my knees have become stronger and healthier because of them, and I trust you'll experience the same benefits!