The sport of Bobsled has been around for 130 years and to this day, two attributes are evident when describing the athletes that participate in this sport. First, they are extremely fast, explosive, and powerful. They have to be able to push the 400-pound sled in the four-man event at a high velocity from a dead stop. Second, they also have to have tremendous courage to jump into that same sled and ride at eighty miles-per-hour.

“It’s not a mainstream sport. You don’t grow up Bobsledding,” explains Mike Snyder who was a brakeman of the 2010-2011 National Team. Snyder got into the sport after learning that most US Bobsled athletes were former track athletes, football players, or both. As a former Division I and semi-professional football player, Snyder fit the bill.

Recruiting the fastest and most powerful athletes and teaching them the technique is a process more conducive for attaining positive results in the sport. “No one is born to be a bobsledder,” says Martin Rooney, founder and CEO of Training for Warriors and US Bobsled team member from 1995 until 1997. “You want to get the most powerful horses you can get.” Rooney was teammates with the US women’s coach, Todd Hayes, who selected some of the fastest female athletes from track & field including Olympians Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams. This concept of teaching skill to an already explosive and fast athlete possesses a greater potential of sport mastery. Skill development like pushing technique and entering the sled at full speed obviously have a more rapid learning curve.

The Start

There is no denying that any athletic endeavor that requires linear speed is highly dependent on the success of the start and the sport of Bobsled is no different. Add the synchronization factor when involving multiple athletes pushing the same apparatus and that dependence is multiplied. Overcoming inertia to initiate the movement of the 400-pound sled requires a team effort of explosive power.

“At the beginning of that race, it’s all about speed and power,” says Rooney. “After they all get in that sled, it’s all about the driver; but that initial push is highly correlative with winning that race or not.”

One of the most overlooked aspects of the sprint portion of the sport is the fact that the linear speed mechanics are slightly different. Although a 50-meter race on a track would require an adjustment of mechanics throughout the course of the race; this transition is not as prominent when pushing the bobsled. The main reason for this is the constant contact the athletes have with the sled itself. Because of the height of the handles, the pushers and brakeman will exhibit sprinting mechanics more consistent with acceleration as apposed to top-end velocity.

elitefts bobsled speed continuum

Overspeed Training

The purpose of overspeed training is to increase stride length and stride rate by using sprint-assisted drills such as towing or downhill sprinting. These neuromuscular adaptations acclimate the athlete to higher contraction rates when sprinting.  On the surface, pushing a bobsled would appear to be closer to the opposite of overspeed training. Loaded sprint drills like pushing a Prowler®, towing a sled, or sprinting uphill are all designed to overload the sprint pattern by adding resistance. When watching the sport of Bobsled, this comparison looks reasonable.

“One of the biggest eye-opening things for me was when we were at Lake Placid on the simulator,” explains Derek Fry, a funded athlete for the USA Bobsled team in 2007. Fry compared it to pushing a Prowler® by the poles with no weight added. “It needs to be weightless.” Understanding that is virtually impossible to replicate the push-cart simulator, let alone the bobsled on a track, Fry’s training was similar to Snyder’s as they concentrated on the Olympic lifts, squats, and sprints.

The biggest adjustments when pushing the sled on the track - which seems like it weights next to nothing - is the increased stride length and frequency to not only keep up with the sled, but to adapt to sprinting downhill sometime after the first 20 meters or so. The athletes can actually slow the sled down by holding on and not keeping up with the increasingly faster sled. This can also make getting in the sled more challenging.

Not all performance coaches believe in or at least see the value in implementing overspeed training into their programming for most sports. Bobsled may be the exception due to its unique nature. It is one of the few sports where sprinting downhill is applicable.

Body Composition

There is a reason why most of the pushers and brakemen weigh in the 220s on every Bobsled crew, but it’s not for the reasons that you may think. Along the same misconceptions as stated before, I was under the assumption that large powerful athletes are needed to push a heavy Bobsled. “There are weight requirements for the sled, and if [your team] is too light, they are going to put weight in the sled,” admits Snyder.

The combined weight limit for a 4-man bobsled is approximately 1,388 pounds including the sled and all four athletes. Teams strive to be as close to that limit as possible. Along with the simple fact that a heavier sled will travel faster down the track, fluctuations in weight of the sled could result in unwanted adjustments by the driver. All this being said, the most important reason for athletes being as heavy as possible is rather quite simple.

“You want heavy guys pushing a light sled as opposed to light guys pushing a heavy sled,” adds Snyder, who added about 10-12 pounds after making the team. This is no different for the female athletes as Lolo Jones added over 20 pounds of lean mass in order to be more effective in the sport. Rooney confirms this idea by stating, “That’s why you want to have pound-for-pound the most diesel, fastest athletes on the planet.”

3 Final Training Tips for Bobsled

  1. Incorporate some exercises without the stretch-shortening cycle to develop explosive power and starting strength (i.e. Olympic lifts from blocks, throws with out counter-movements, and seated jumps).
  2. Loaded sprint work should be done close to weightless for simulating mechanics and not loading the movement pattern.
  3. Overspeed work should consist predominately of downhill sprints with a slight grade.

Typical Bobsled Tryout Training Week