If you’re a follower of the knees over toes/ATG training methodology, you’ll know just how important the reverse sled pull is.
Sled work is the entire foundation for Ben Patrick’s approach to training because of how profound its impact on the feet, ankles, Achilles, and knees is.
In this article we’re going to discuss the great long list of reasons why the sled pull is so effective, how to do it properly, and much more.
Why Sled Pulls Are So Good For Your Knees
There’s so many great benefits of the knees over toes sled pull.
It Stimulates The Knee In Reverse
When we jump, we’re constantly in the ‘knees over toes’ position which puts huge loads on our patella as well as quadricep tendons.
Ben Patrick uses the example that there hasn’t been a single 40″+ vertical jump in the NFL combine where the knees didn’t go over the toes.
Because of this repeated exposure to triple extension movements, our knee joint becomes very strong in the extension position, but weak during flexion.
By walking backwards, or better yet dragging a sled backwards, we’re still in that knees over toes position, but since we’re going backwards, we’re actually performing a lot more knee flexion.
This gives that knee joint a very foreign feeling stimulus which allows it to develop in a way it’s not used to.
We’re essentially training the knee inside out!
Ben’s favorite catchphrase is “the stronger you are backwards, the less chance you have of getting injured going forward”.
It Drives Nutrients Into The Knees To Repair Them
If you’ve ever done the reverse sled pull, you’ll undoubtedly describe it as one of the craziest pumps you’ve ever felt in your life.
This insane amount of blood flow drives tons of nutrients into the muscles, tendons, and connective tissue of the knee, which promotes healing and recovery.
It’s Extremely Safe & Anyone Can Do It
As Ben Patrick says, “the sled is the only movement I do where you’re moving it, and it’s never moving you.”
As athletes we often train with heavy loads when squatting and deadlifting, but the sled is different because it’s incapable of moving you and therefore is very unlikely to cause injury.
Really the worst thing that can happen when pulling a sled is that it doesn’t move.
This means athletes (and non-athletes) of all ages can pull the sled and it’s always going to be perfectly calibrated to their level of strength.
This makes it great even for the elderly who probably need the sled more than they know!
Walking backward was actually popularized in China as a remedy for arthritis.
It Increases Your Ability To Decelerate
Athletes are obsessed about optimizing for speed and explosiveness.
In other words, how quickly we can accelerate…
But we so often overlook the aspect of deceleration.
It’s far less glamorous and let’s face it, no one’s going to compliment your sick highlight play where you were able to “slow down really quickly”.
But as far as the knee joint goes, acceleration and deceleration are two sides of the same coin that must stay in equilibrium.
Bodybuilders understand that they need to train their back as often as they train their chest, so that they don’t develop a muscle imbalance… So why don’t athletes recognize deceleration as critical to acceleration?
This is a big part of the knees over toes guy’s training philosophy: as you do forward, do so in reverse.
When you pull the sled backwards, you’re developing your tibialis anterior which is your body’s first line of defense when landing from a vertical jump or rapidly slowing down to stop or change direction.
I think it was Kelly Baggett who would say that a human being’s vertical jump will always be a perfect reflection of their ability to absorb the landing forces incurred.
What that means is, your body won’t let you jump 40″ into the air if it doesn’t think you can land from that height without damaging yourself.
Landing is all about ankle and knee flexion, and so is the knees over toes sled pull!
How To: Knees Over Toes Sled Pull Properly
Pulling the sled backwards isn’t overly difficult, but it does take some finesse to get it right.
It’s all about rhythm and smoothness.
You want to emulate Michael Jackson’s moonwalk as much as possible when pulling the sled.
Your bodyweight shouldn’t be rocking from side to side, and each stride should be equally spaced out with a consistent tempo.
The most important part is to focus on driving through your VMO throughout the entire movement.
Think about using only your quads to generate force and nothing else.
The more focused you are on pulling through the quads and maintaining a nice, smooth pace, the more it’s going to burn.
If you’re doing it right, you barely need any weight on the sled to get an incredible workout.
Ben recommends using about half your bodyweight total, if just doing sled drags.
Reverse Sled Pull: Sets, Reps, & Frequency?
The great thing about the reverse sled pull is that you can incorporate it into your routine in a variety of ways.
Ben says he pulls the sled every single day and he’ll usually do a mixture of both sled pull as well as push.
A standard set/rep scheme for him is up and back 8 times – that’s push the sled up, and pull it back 8 times over consecutively. So it’s just 1 big brutal set.
Distance is going to vary depending on what space you have available in your gym but ideally somewhere around 30-60 feet would be a decent length.
If you’re just doing sled pulls (and not pushing), you can do considerably longer distances.
Sled Pull As Warm Up Or Finisher?
The knees over toes guy prefers doing the sled pull as a warm up.
It’s the first thing he does when he starts his workout, even if it’s an upper body day!
Having said that, he’s also said it’s perfectly fine to include these as a finisher at the end of your workouts.
Personally, I do a mixture of both.
I’ll do a couple minutes of sled work before squatting to ensure my legs are nice and warm, hit my leg workout, and then go and burn my legs out with 2-3 sets of 8 up+back lengths at the end of the session.
What Muscles Do Reverse Sled Pulls Work?
The primary muscle the sled pull should be working is the VMO (vastus medialis obliquus) which is the teardrop quad muscle on the inside of your thighs.
It’s responsible for knee extension, which is the name of the game when it comes to sled pulls.
The overwhelming majority of power is being generated with your VMO but you should also be activating the tibialis anterior (muscle on front of your shin) which is responsible for ankle flexion.
These two muscles alone should be doing the brunt of the work, but some hamstring activation is inevitable.
Is Pulling The Sled Better Than Pushing?
So far as knees over toes training is concerned, I think most people would agree that the sled pull is slightly more beneficial than the sled push.
But they’re both excellent and pushing the sled definitely has benefits that pulling it doesn’t.
You should be doing both as much as you can!
But if I had to pick one, I’d do the sled pull.
Ben Patrick says he does both but definitely pulls more than he pushes.
Personally, I just do 50/50. I will push whatever I pull because it’s the easiest way to get the sled back to the position I started in.
Knees Over Toes Sled Pull Alternatives
It’s pretty tough to achieve similar results to the sled pull without a sled, but there are a few things you can try to get the ball rolling.
Start By Walking Backwards
You can start simply by walking backwards.
Walking backwards is the easiest progression of the sled pull and will work the same muscles, but without the burn.
Ideally, you’ll have a hill you can walk up backwards which will enable gravity to act as a load.
Use The Deadmill
You can also use the ‘deadmill’ as an alternative.
A deadmill is simply a treadmill that’s turned off. The belt will move if you apply enough manual pressure on it.
This is one of the best ways to simulate the sled pull.
I’m not a huge fan of this method because it’s not particularly smooth and doesn’t drive as much blood flow into the quads as sledding does.
But you’re still able to expose yourself to that knees over toes position just by using a door anchor and a resistance band.
This means you can still get some decent knee work in from the comfort of your own home.
The reverse sled pull is the most important knees over toes exercise… period.
If you’re not getting some form of reverse sledding in each week, you’re doing a disservice to your knees!
If you’re not sledding already, I’d strongly recommend investing in a decent gym which has access to a sled, or purchasing your own.
You can get a knees over toes sled fairly cheap and they can be used virtually anywhere, so there’s really no excuse not to be doing this exercise!
As far as knees over toes equipment goes, access to a training sled is a must have.
Be sure to check out my full list of knees over toes exercises for more inspiration to add to your workouts.