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Prowler Origins and Exercise Science
Pushing a weighted apparatus has been around for many years in sport specific applications like football. Linemen can be seen driving their bodies into a human-sized apparatus with the intent to push it as hard as possible over a very short time span. This sport specific training has been used in the overall strength and conditioning plan for football players while simultaneously developing sport technique.
In the early 2000s, powerlifting coaches like Dave Tate and Louie Simmons discovered that pushing a weighted sled was an excellent way to train “general physical preparedness”, or GPP, since it was excellent for training cardio, accumulating additional light volume in strength work for the quads, and it did all this without interfering with recovery from the heavy squat work from powerlifting training. Eventually, the portable, loadable, 3-ski sled was designed and was ultimately dubbed the “Prowler”. The Prowler has since found a home in nearly every sport’s strength and conditioning program, and you should be using one in yours, too.
The reasons why aren’t just anecdotal, either. Multiple studies have shown that sprint times greatly improve with weighted sled dragging.
Studies have also shown sled pushes and back squats provide similar EMG activity for the quadriceps, hamstrings, and abs, and that sled pushes have much higher activity in the calves.
Finally, it has been shown that pushing and pulling a weighted sled can have a different emphasis on hip or knee extension when the athlete’s body is at different angles (i.e. high handles vs low handles).
The Fringe Sport Econ Sled
The Econ Sled by Fringe Sport is clearly targeted at the “home gym” athlete. It is a fairly light model at 33lbs unloaded and has handles that can be removed literally in a second so that it is easy to store and transport. It claims a 400lb loading capacity, although Fringe Sport suggests capping your loading at 180lbs. If you read the studies above, the maximum benefit from weighted sled pushes and pulls is generally around the 30-50% of body weight range. So unless you weigh 400+lbs, the loading capacity really isn’t something you need to worry about.
The sled ships in a light cardboard box with little to keep the parts in place during transit. All the sled components are wrapped in bubble wrap, which does a sufficient job at keeping the powder coat in tact and the sled arriving at my door in good condition. The skis did poke through the box, but considering that they’re about to be dragged across pavement, I wasn’t terribly concerned with the ski’s cosmetics.
The sled is designed to be assembled in just a couple minutes from start to finish. The only tools necessary are a 16mm and 17mm socket wrench or ratchet.
The whole thing is held together with two bolts and one hitch pin. You line up the rear and center beams like a “T”, place the backer plate on the rear of the sled to keep from crushing the tubing, and tighten up the bolts. The front low-handles are held in place with the hitch pin while the rear handles just drop in place. The rear handles fit in their slot snugly and don’t wiggle or move at all when they’re in place. This very tight tolerance feels like the handles are bolted in place even though you can just pull them out of their slot any time to quickly disassemble the sled.
The way the rear handles work is an excellent design decision for a couple reasons. First is storage. When you pop the handles out, the sled is small enough to stash out of the way in a corner of your gym. Space is at a premium for most of us garage gym athletes, so any ability to cache equipment is welcome. Second, it makes the sled footprint such that it can fit in many vehicles’ trunk. This is a really excellent option if you want (or need) to take your sled somewhere to use it. I take mine to the park just down the road since it has long, flat, grassy areas that are perfect for running with the sled.
This sled also has dedicated posts for your plates. Some other sleds lack this feature and you have to put your plates on the rear handle. The dedicated short posts are far superior to the other design since you don’t have to lift the plates up very far to get them on and off the plate posts. The other design also weights the entire sled in the rear while this layout balances the weight evenly across all three skis, which is better for performance on grass surfaces. There are two rubber rings on the plate posts to keep your plate’s hub from bouncing around the center beam while you’re pushing the sled.
In addition to the high and low handles for pushing, the Fringe Sport Econ Prowler also has a front anchor point to attach a pulling harness to. This lets you drag the sled behind you with either a waist or a shoulder harness. Using a shoulder harness will actually see you lean into the drag more than the waist harness will, changing the emphasis some as mentioned in the study linked above, the same way that the high and low handles make the exercise feel a little different.
One other thing you can do with the front anchor is attach a rope to the sled to do upper body conditioning. Strongmen competitors will train with this variation by sitting and placing their feet against something solid to keep themselves in place then pulling the sled to themselves.
There are two effective ways to do this depending on what training stimulus you want:
- Hand-over-hand and rowing. Pulling the rope with one hand then the other (just like a rope climb, but sitting down) places a strong emphasis on biceps, posterior delts, and your upper back.
- Pulling the sled with your whole torso by bending towards the sled with arms out then leaning back and pulling your arms towards you places less emphasis on the upper back and instead places a lot of work on the lower back.
Finally, the skis are welded on. More on that later. All of the welds are sound, but they aren’t going to win any beauty contests. The powder coat is a medium weight semi-gloss that provides a solid grip for your hands that shouldn’t slip even when covered in sweat.
Performance on Different Surfaces
I used the sled on a concrete driveway, asphalt parking lot, and grass turf. Pushing on the asphalt and the concrete was very loud, which is to be expected. What I did not expect, however, was for the concrete to legitimately eat into the skis. This was after only two runs up and down my driveway.
I strongly discourage using this on driveways since the skis are kind of soft and since they are welded on, they aren’t replaceable (without cutting them off then fabricating and welding new ones on…). I will say that this is easily the biggest drawback to this sled’s design, and I would suggest that if Fringe ever releases a version 2 that they make the ski’s bolt on so they can be easily replaced.
The asphalt didn’t eat the skis up like the concrete did, so if you’re planning on pushing this in a parking lot or along a subdivision street you will be good to go. With that said, I really loved the sled best on the grass. It wasn’t screeching loud and the sled rides “softer” on the grass. That’s really personal preference though, and no matter what surface you push on you’re bound to get an amazing workout.
The Fringe Sport Econ Sled is a solid option for the garage gym athlete. It is priced really competitively with other budget priced prowlers, and the streamlined design stores and transports easily. The only real downside is that the skis aren’t replaceable.
Editor’s Note: Fringe is looking into the possibility of making the skis replaceable. Wear on them is of course an issue for every brand of prowler. A few companies sell replacements that fit their sleds, but at $50-70 for a set you would best avoid having to replace them. The best advice we can give is to avoid using your prowler on unfinished concrete like a driveway or parking lot. Some concrete surfaces are smoother than others. Asphalt roads are easier on it, being a softer surface than concrete. ~David