The Car Push (Sled Push) for Athletic Performance

By on December 3, 2020

When it comes to enhancing athletic performance, adding weight to your squat is only going to do so much.

In fact, JC Santana from the Institute of Human Performance – a kind of mecca for functional training – told me he believes that coaches’ obsession with heavier and heavier lifts was, ultimately, to the detriment of their athletes.

Check out JC’s YouTube channel here.

The Law of Specificity

The argument? Specificity is king. In order to train effectively, we need to choose movements that mimic the biomechanics (or at least bodyparts) used in the movement we want to improve.

A movement like the squat has very little in common with running or even jumping. Nor is it a movement pattern that’s particularly useful in everyday life.

As JC puts it:

“The questions have always been the same – and they still remain unanswered.

  1. How much gym strength is enough?
  2. How much of that heavy lifting strength REALLY TRANSFERS?

“In the absence of solid answers, one has to turn to critical thinking and observation. We need to look at the BEST in each sport and see their characteristics, the HISTORY of their training, and their actual performance in a gym vs their field of play.  In my observations – strength and conditioning has missed some VERY OBVIOUS details of this analysis and thus, we are overshot and misinterpreted the gym training by a long shot.”

Squats vs Running

When you run, you will have a relatively upright posture, you will push off the balls of the feet, and you will require “ankle stiffness” to generate power without deep hip or knee angles.

Squatting vs sled push

Squatting involves placing a heavy load on your back and then lifting that weight slowly from both legs, while driving from your heels. Running occurs one leg at a time and forces are driven into the ground through the balls of the feet. 

You see the difference?

And guess what? Even much of the jumping we do perform is done off single leg and also from the ball of the foot!

Studies also highlight this difference. Multiple studies have shown that vertical force production doesn’t necessarily correlate with running speed, whereas horizontal force production does! (study, study, study).

(Though we need to be mindful of the methods used to measure this.)

Enter: The Truck Push

So, what might be a better movement if we wanted to develop great leg musculature, run faster, and jump higher and further?

Car push Gilbert Burns IHP
UFC Fighter Gilbert Burns practicing the car push at IHP

It is, of course, the car push! 

Can’t get to the gym? All you need instead is a quiet car park somewhere and a car, and you can get in a brutal leg workout and resistance cardio session.

Or, if you do have access to a gym, then you can always find a sled, load it up with weights, and push that instead.

And there are more reasons to love the car push too.

Top Benefits of Sled Push / Car Push

First: it looks COMPLETELY awesome. And this matters for coaches that are trying to inspire athletes (or even kids) to finish their workouts.

Second: the specificity we’ve be talking about. The truck push trains the single-leg position, puts you in the proper forward lean for acceleration, and is probably the best exercise to develop “ankle stiffness” for linear locomotion. It uses functional, partial ROM for the lower body used in running. 

The truck push trains the single-leg position, puts you in the proper forward lean for acceleration, and is probably the best exercise to develop “ankle stiffness.”

Third: it’s a concentric-only movement. That means you’re only using concentric contractions and there is no elongation of the muscle. This is something Ross Edgley talks about a lot, as it actually minimizes muscle damage, thereby limiting the amount of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and meaning you can pack more training in with less recovery time.

See also: A Home Workout for Single Leg Strength

Fourth: endurance. This move engages the core to a massive degree, as well as requiring incredible cardio and leg endurance over long pushes (over 90 meters).  

Fifth: you’re using your entire body to generate that pushing movement without bending or sliding backwards, and you’ll likely be using at least an isometric contraction in the pecs, triceps, and shoulders (more likely: they’ll be doing a ton of the work). This is extremely compound. And guess what? When you push people in real life, you tend to use your entire body!

How to do it

“AT IHP, we have stages of progressions to teach people to push cars.” Says JC. “We use the natural inclines and declines of the parking lot, as well as distances to go from beginning down-hill pushes, to the complete 90 m circle that takes you through all of the ups and downs of that 1:15 IHP push.

Another great feature of car push is that you can periodize it.  This means you can push slow for 30-40 m for conditioning, push fast for 10 m for strength and power, and push as hard and you can go for 90 m in about a minute (depending on car model and topography).  You can even perform power complexes that combine short pushes with short max sprints.”

Check out the full video to hear about the “inertial pushes” they use at IHP.

When you start, focus on learning the movement better each time you train: pushing further and/or faster. Which you choose to aim for should be determined by your goals: are you working on strength endurance or on speed and power?

Next: Tank pushing!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.


  1. Andy says:

    Any suggestions for a solo workout?

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