The forgotten exercise that’s improving the lives of people living with a disability
If you, or someone who love is living with autism, cerebral palsy, spinal cord or brain injury, intellectual disability, down syndrome, hypermobility or low muscle tone, there may be an important exercise tool you haven’t tried.
It’s called a weighted sled (sometimes called a prowler). And it’s a tool the Exercise Physiologists at Range of Motion use with great success with many of our NDIS clients.
A weighted sled is a simple device that can be dragged or pushed along the ground. You can easily add weight to it to make it more difficult. Some of our favourite exercises with a weighted sled include pushes, dragging while walking forwards, and dragging while walking backwards.
Here are the top nine reasons that a weighted sled is a great tool for individuals with a disability.
As we know, this is the most important reason! If something is fun, we’re more likely to keep doing it. More fun equals more consistency. At Range of Motion our staff are often seen standing on the sled while our clients pull and push them around (and vice-versa)!
It’s REALLY easy to learn and teach.
It’’s almost impossible to do this movement incorrectly. There’s no complex instruction or tricky choreography required. Because it’s a low skill movement, you can start benefitting from it right away. It is however, important to understand that while it’s good to have exercises that are easy to perform, some complexity is good. By learning more complex exercises, the body and brain are forces to adapt. The challenge of learning a new skill is valuable.
It’s easy to work hard (or not).
Pushing or pulling a weighted sled is as hard as you want to make it. If you’re just starting out in your exercise journey, you can walk slowly with a light weight and get a tremendous benefit. As you get fitter or stronger, you can move faster and add weight. The sled adapts to your changing ability.
The intensity is self determined.
One thing we need to be aware of when prescribing exercise for individuals with a disability is not to over train. Exercise is vitally important, but there can be too much of a good thing. With a weighted sled, the device ensures the exerciser is never doing more than they are capable of.
It improves a lot of different things.
This one very simple tool can benefit so many different elements of fitness. It can improve strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance and power – all important for individuals with a disability.
It doesn’t create too much muscle damage.
Our muscles can complete different types of contractions – some of which cause more soreness than others. One type of contraction (called an ‘eccentric contraction’) doesn’t occur with a weighted sled. And this is the type of contraction that causes muscle soreness. While it is important to include this contraction type in your exercise, it’s great to have a training option that allows people to work hard, without being sore the next day.
It does the job of multiple other exercises.
Exercises for the lower body can be broadly categorised into ‘anterior chain’ and ‘posterior chain’. The anterior chain is often trained using movements like a squat, and the posterior chain using movements like a deadlift (lifting a weight off the floor). By either pulling or pushing a weighted sled, we can get some of the benefits of both these movement. This doesn’t mean we don’t still teach our clients to squat and deadlift however (where appropriate). Squats and deadlifts are also an important part of our toolkit.
It has a very low injury rate and is low impact on your joints.
It’s very difficult to injure muscles or joints using the prowler. Because the intensity on the prowler is self determined, it’s very difficult to overdo it. This makes there is a very low injury risk. And because the is no heavy impact on the body it’s a great way to get strong for people who have joint issues.
It will improve your life.
We believe exercise shouldn’t just make you better at exercise, it should make you better at life. Ultimately, using this tool will help to improve functionality, and the ability to complete activities of daily living. By pushing and pulling a weighted sled, you will directly improve your ability to do the things that make up a happy and healthy life.
Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.