The Ultimate Guide to Tire Training

There’s nothing better than getting a great strength and conditioning workout while outside on a beautiful day (or on a brisk December morning!).  The only problem with training outdoors is that you’re limited on equipment, which makes it tough to use the heavy loads needed to put on serious muscle, unless you’re at the legendary Venice Beach gym where all the equipment is already outside!

In this article, I’m will show you a fast, cheap, and easy way to build bigger, stronger legs while drastically improving your level of conditioning and burning off some serious body fat (not to mention all while getting a great suntan). Get ready for the ultimate lower-body workout using a big ole tire!

Mentors, Friends, and Big Tires

Before going any further, I’d like to thank my good friend and mentor, Coach JC Santana, for showing me the ins and outs of tire training.  If it weren’t for Coach JC putting me through my first ever tire training workout over ten years ago, I would not be able to write this article. I also would have missed out on all the amazing fun and challenging tire workouts I’ve had with friends and clients since then.

JC Santana and I in 2001 – After my first Tire Training Workout

What’s NOT in this Article

I know what you’re thinking when you see the words “big tire” and “workout” in the same sentence: tire flips and hammer slams.

Wrong! First off, using hammers is not tire training, it’s hammer training.

As far as tire flips are concerned, I don’t have any of my athletes perform tire flips, and I recommend against using tire flips as an exercise regardless of your fitness level.

Tire Flips?

I don’t use tire flips because I don’t feel the risk is worth the reward. Due to the shape of the tire, it’s very difficult to maintain the optimal spinal alignment needed to minimize possible low back injury while lifting the tire. Most folks who perform tire flips lose their lumbar curve and end up in a more kyphotic position, which is asking for a back injury!

This is poor tire flipping form and can put you on the back surgeon’s table fast!

Lifting a tire trains the same muscle and movement pattern as a deadlift. However, using a barbell to deadlift is a better exercise in my book because it’s much easier to keep good spinal alignment while still training the same movement pattern and strengthening the same muscles.  So, why not just deadlift? There’s less risk with the same (if not better) reward!

The Right Way to Train with a Big Tire

Instead of using the big tire for flips, I like to use the tire as a sled. Using the tire as a sled has a number of benefits:

It’s cheap! –  Not everyone can afford a weight sled or a prowler. The tire gives you the same training benefits without the drain on your wallet.

No storage space, No problem! – Sleds and prowlers are made of metal and need to be kept inside somewhere where they won’t rust out. You can keep a tire outside.

Note – Someone stole all of our training tires here last year, so take a lesson from our mistake. If you keep your tires outside, keep them chained together like we do now.

Tire training Is fun! – Everyone loves the feeling of hooking themselves up to a big tire and pulling that tire around. It’s an empowering feeling of you vs. the tire, and you win each time (we hope)!

It looks bad-ass – What looks tougher to onlookers than watching someone pull around a tire that is double their size? We all love to train hard and look hard doing it…the tire does just that!

The weight load is easily adjustable – You may not think it’s possible to make a tire feel lighter or heavier without cutting it apart. It IS very possible, and I’m going to show you how at the end of this article.

Tire Training Works for EVERYONE!

No matter who you are, what your fitness level is like, or what your training goals are, the tire sled can get you results!

For bodybuilding – The tire sled is fantastic as a finisher to a traditional bodybuilding-style leg workout. There’s nothing you can do in the gym that trains the legs in the same manner as the tire. Therefore, the tire is a great way to shock your body and stimulate some new muscle growth by doing a new activity!

For sports performance – Just look at the driving angle used by a football lineman, the body angle required for optimal acceleration by a sprinter, or the angle of a MMA fighter’s body while shooting in for a wrestling takedown. These positions are all analogous to the angle of the body while pulling the tire sled, which leaves no doubt about the sports carryover of training with the tire sled.

For exercise enthusiasts – The tire sled is a great way to add some variety to your training. It will also help you add a new, fun, and challenging element to your boring, one-dimensional gym workout.

For knee and back injuries – Almost all of my athletes who suffer from aching, painful knees and/or backs can still go hard with the tire sled while pulling some heavy loads. The tire sled is a great knee- and low back-friendly strength training tool. Read my “Big Legs with Bad Knees” article for more on how to train around knee issues.

Getting a Tire!

You can usually get a big tire for free at any local tire recycling center. Here’s a picture from our last tire pick-up trip. They’ve got plenty to choose from, in all shapes and sizes!

All you have to do is go there and pick it up yourself; they’re usually happy to give it to you. Here’s a picture of Marc’s (my business partner) truck loaded with tires. Be sure to bring some straps to hold the tire in your truck bed!

Before you leave the tire yard, I recommend finding the tallest, most stable tire pile to do your best super-hero pose on, like this:

All you have to do is go there and pick it up yourself

Additional Equipment Needs

In order to perform all of the tire exercises and workouts featured in this article, you’ll also need a few more things:

  • A thick chain (to go around the tire)
  • A length of long climbing rope or a heavy-duty dog leash
  • Handles from any cable machine
  • A shoulder harness

You’ll see what the general setup with this equipment looks like in the videos and exercise pictures below.

Tire Training – Performance U Style!

Here’s a list of the most popular tire training exercises that I use here at Performance U to get my athletes into sick shape!

Tire Dragging

This is the most pure tire sled exercise you can use to crush your legs and build insane levels of conditioning. Also, as I mentioned above, you can’t find a better exercise for improving the forward lean / driving angle needed for optimal sprinting ability, MMA/wrestling, and football performance!

I love using the Abs straps around my arms for this exercise to increase the demand on the upper-body and core. My MMA and NFL athletes love this version with the Abs straps!

The Tire (Prowler) Push

I love the using the Prowler! Prowler Pushes are one of my all time favorite total-body exercises for increasing strength, conditioning, and mental toughness levels. That said, not everyone can afford to buy a Prowler and others just don’t have the storage space.

The tire can be kept outside and is free or low cost. Plus, due to the instability created by the handles, it can give you an even more intense workout than the Prowler!

Check out this video to see what I mean:

Reverse Tire Drag

If you’re looking for a great way to crush your quad muscles and build some sick new muscle size in the front of your legs, the reverse tire pull will deliver big results!

Wrestlers and MMA athletes can use the Abs straps (as shown in the picture) to make this exercise even more grappling-specific!

Crossover Tire Drag

This movement is great for hitting the lateral muscles of the leg that are often neglected in most traditional gym exercises. It’s also a great way for athletes to improve lateral power and change-of-direction ability.

Adjusting The Load of the Tire

It’s easy to make the tire feel lighter or heavier if you use the physics principles of angles, forces, and friction.

Put simply, the shorter the rope/strap connecting you to the tire, the lighter the load will feel because you’re reducing the vertical force of the tire on the ground (because part of the weight of the tire is being held up by the rope/strap), which reduces the friction and thus the perceived dragging load.

To make the tire feel heavier, simply lengthen the rope/strap and position yourself farther away from the tire.

This places more of the full weight of the tire on the ground instead of being held up by the rope, which enhances the friction that makes the tire harder to move.

I explain and demonstrate these concepts in great detail in this video:

Tire Sled Workouts

Now that you’ve seen the tire sled exercises, here’s a few sample lower-body workouts that put them into real-world practice.

Workout #1 – Use this workout for improved lower-body strength

1. Deadlifts: 4x 4-6
2. Tire Sled Drag: 4 x 20-25yds (use large/heavy tire)
3a. Reverse Tire Drag: 4×15-20yds (use large/heavy tire)
3b. Glute/Ham Raises: 4x 8-10
4. Barbell Calf Raises: 2×20

Workout #2 – Use this workout for increased lower-body power

1. 10-15yd sprints: x6
2. Long Jumps: 5×5
3. Tire Drags: 4 x 15-20yds (get to finish line as fast as possible)
4. Crossover Tire Drag: 2x 10-15yds each side (get to finish line as fast as possible)

Workout #3 – Use this for improved conditioning and fat loss

1. Prowler Tire Push: 4x 25yds
2. Cross-Over Tire Drag: 2×15-20yds each side
3. 300yds Shuttle Run: x2 (sprint 25yds x12)

What Are You Waiting For?

I’ve given you everything you need to know in order to get a safe, fun, and super effective workout using a big tire.

I’ve done my part…now it’s time to do yours!

Go get yourself a tire, get yourself out of the same old gym routine, and start “getting after it” outside for all the spectators to witness!

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Ultimate Guide to Tire Training discussion thread.

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.