If you have some space in or around your gym like we do here at Fort Mason, a sled can be a very valuable conditioning tool as part of circuits or as a nice finisher to a weight training session. If you have some cash lying around, I’d recommend the versatile prowler from Elite FTS or the affordable power sled from Muscle Driver. Since I eventually want two (or even three) sleds in order to accommodate larger groups and keep rest time shorter, I decided to make one on my own to keep the cost down. Here is the material list and how I went about building it.
I picked up a couple of tires at the local Pick N Pull. For a used tire with a 13-14 inch hole sold as a single, you shouldn’t have to pay more than $16 for each one. Regardless of how big the tire itself is, I’d recommend sticking with one that has less than a 15 inch hole. In order to add weight to the tire later, we’re going to drop standard 45lb or bumper plates into the tire and you want them to rest securely in there. Plates are about 17 inches wide, so if you buy a large tire with a 17 inch hole, the plate will just fall through and drag on the ground. Not good.
When looking through the tires, try to find one with very hard, sturdy tread. If the tread is bald or thin, it will provide a less stable base to secure the handle and tow rope. The sturdier the tread, the longer the rubber will hold out after being pulled on hundreds of times. I bought Michelin X Radials, which have a long tread life compared to most other tires.
These are all the necessary materials and cost of each
- 14 inch used Michelin X Radial Tire – Pick N Pull $16.00
- Power drill with a phillips head bit
- Door pull handle with 4 screw anchor points – Home Depot $3.70
- Length of 2×4 just long enough to accommodate pull handle
- 4 count of 1.5 inch wood screws
- 15 foot emergency car tow strap – Home Depot $16.50
- Total Cost = $36.20
I could have cut down on the cost quite a bit by trying to find a cheap or even free strap, but the car tow strap was too cool to pass up. The locking hooks are heavily stitched into either side of the strap, the material is wide and comfortable for pulling, and the strap and hooks are rated for up to 5000 pounds.
Attaching the Pull Handle
I first considered attaching the pull handle directly to the tire using bolts, nuts, and washers. After thinking about the force that would be generated and the possibility of ripping the rubber, I settled on anchoring it to a 2×4 backing using wood screws. Since the 4 anchor screws are all essentially connected via the 2×4, there is a whole lot more stability. The hardest part is getting in the first screw. Place the handle lengthwise in the center of the tire like the picture above and get the first screw through the tire rubber. Then reach in with the 2×4 and go by feel where the screw should connect to the wood. Then drill in while pressing hard on the wood. Once the first screw is securely in, the other three are pretty easy.
In order to add weight to the sled, you need to increase the diameter of the top of the tire to accommodate bumper plates. First, start by centering a bumper plate on top of the tire as shown below.
Make small pencil or chalk marks around the plate so you know how wide of a space you need to cut in order to make the plate fit. Stay about a quarter to a half inch outside these marks while you cut. To do the cutting, the best method is probably to use a drill to make a small hole then use a handheld jigsaw to make the cut all the way around the tire. I didn’t have a jigsaw, so I just used the blade on my leatherman skeletool, which did the job very quickly. Any serrated hunting knife will work just fine. After you’re done, there will be enough space to drop in plates.
My cut was by no means perfect, but going a little wider than necessary certainly won’t hurt you. It will give you a little more margin to set plates in there on top of each other. In hindsight, I’m going to do the cutting before attaching the pull handle the next time I make one of these. You can see in the picture above that the 2×4 anchor is much more visible and accessible after making the cut. Getting the first screw attached to the 2×4 would be much easier at this point than prior to the cut.
The Finishing Touches
Next, just attach the two tow rope hooks to the pull handle and you’re good to go. Here is the final product. It’s definitely a versatile and quality piece considering it only cost $35 to make. After a first test of a total of 50 sprints on blacktop, there is no visible wear on the bottom tread and the pull handle is just as secure as when it was built.
The tire itself weighs a little over 20 pounds, so using it with a 25 pound plate turns it into a 50 pound sled. This was more than enough weight to gas us on repeats of 40yd sprints followed by a 40yd backwards pull to the starting line. If you wanted to load it up, the tire could probably hold about 4 45lb plates, making it a 200lb sled. Since the friction of the tire on asphalt is pretty substantial, there would probably never be a need for more than that. While the loop works well as a harness, you could easily detach one of the rope hooks and clip it to a standalone shoulder harness, which would allow the arms more freedom during sprinting. Another really cool use would be to take a cable rope or lat pulldown bar and clip it to one of the rope hooks to do straight arm overhead pulls of the sled. There would be less speed to it, but it would tax the entire body similar to a car push.
There are also other potential great uses like using it for hand over hand pulls if I attach it to a long manila rope. It could also easily be converted for farmer’s walks by detaching the tow rope and carrying it by the handle. Regardless of how you use it, it’s definitely a great addition to any gym with outdoor space.