Is Sled Training for Combat Sports, MMA, and BJJ??

How one new training technique can offer you massive improvement on the mats

Location: Orlando, FL

Conditioning can be a complex topic for any sport, but especially for combat sports (BJJ?). With the need for explosive power, raw strength, and extremely high work capacity, you have multiple energy systems all needing to operate at a high level to perform at your best. 

Tons of different training systems, methodologies, and training tools have been created in an attempt to meet this demand, some with more success than others. But there is one training tool slowly growing in both popularity and scientific backing that may just be worth looking into: sled training. 

Photo by: Duncan Graham

Sleds are a tool that have been used successfully for decades by many of the greatest coaches in strength and conditioning, including Charles Poliquin, Louie Simmons, and Joe DeFranco, to name a few. Now, slowly, sled training is beginning to gain mainstream popularity and validation in scientific literature. 

While there are applications for pushing sleds in many settings, from fat loss and body composition to rehab and injury prevention, we are going to focus on the performance aspect of sled training and how it can be utilized to improve strength, power, and especially conditioning. 

First and foremost, dragging sleds is extremely demanding. In one study, researchers found a 600% increase in blood lactate levels (commonly referred to as lactic acid) in participants’ legs after a backwards sled dragging workout1. They also observed a 38% increase in testosterone immediately following the training session. This combination creates a powerful stimulus for both work capacity (increasing resistance to lactic acid buildup) and body composition (improving strength and muscle mass and burning fat)2

Photo by: Duncan Graham

It should be noted, however, that building up a 6-fold increase in lactic acid in the legs in a matter of minutes requires an intense amount of drive and determination. The resilience and work capacity this builds, not just physically but mentally as well, to keep pushing when you’re at your limit is, in my opinion, second to none. Because of that intensity, I have found the sled to be a great tool to show me not just who my best athletes are, but who has the heart and the drive to get better. 

The challenge with training at that kind of intensity is it can be very taxing on the body. At one time or another, most of us have experienced the extreme soreness that can persist for days after a tough training or gym session. If your priority is training on the mat and getting better, this kind of discomfort can get in the way of that. 

Photo by: Duncan Graham

Training with sleds, however, does not create that same kind of soreness. The participants in that sled study cleared all the lactic acid from their legs and returned to baseline in just 3 hours1! This means we can get a powerful (and natural) anabolic hormone response and improve conditioning and cardiovascular fitness, all without creating extreme muscle soreness and fatigue4. That translates into more time on the mat improving technique. 

At the risk of sounding utterly biased towards dragging sleds, there are a few other advantages that I think make it ideal for combat athletes. 

1. The first is that, compared to swimming, cycling, or running, you are pushing and pulling against a heavy external object, just like in an actual competition. 

2. Secondly, it strengthens the foot and ankle as you dig and drive through the toes and balls of the feet instead of most weight training that is flat-footed and pushing through the heels. 

3. And lastly, it is low impact, so it does not add to the beating training can put on your body. In fact, there’s actually evidence dragging sleds backward can be very beneficial for the joints, particularly the knees3

Photo by: Duncan Graham

Sleds are proving to be a very powerful tool in both research and in practical application. They can serve a wide range of goals from low-impact body composition training to strength and athletic performance to recovery and rehabilitation. However, it is important to remember that, as with any new and exciting advancement in training, this is just a tool and is only as effective as the person using it. So, use it appropriately, and it can help you improve your strength and conditioning and give you an edge while rolling at your GYM as well as in competition.


  1. 1. West, D., et al. The Metabolic, Hormonal, Biomechanical, and
    1. Neuromuscular Function Responses to a Backward Sled Drag Training Session. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013. Published Ahead of Print.
  1. 2. Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Hormonal responses and adaptations to
    1. resistance exercise and training. Sports Med. 2005;35(4):339-61. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200535040-00004. PMID: 15831061.
  1. 3. Sheehan, F. T., Borotikar, B. S., Behnam, A. J., & Alter, K. E.
    1. (2012). Alterations in in vivo knee joint kinematics following a femoral nerve branch block of the vastus medialis: Implications for patellofemoral pain syndrome. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon)27(6), 525–531. 
  1. 4. Hackney, Kyle J; Engels, Hermann-J; Gretebeck, Randall J Resting
    1. Energy Expenditure and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness After Full-Body Resistance Training With an Eccentric Concentration, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: September 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 5 – p 1602-1609 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818222c5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *