Introduction to Suspension Training

Suspension trainers have become very popular in the last few years. The original TRX suspension training system was the brain child of Randy Hetrick who wanted a portable but effective workout tool for soldiers on deployment where traditional exercise equipment was impractical. While Hetricks TRX is probably the most well known example of this type of exercise tool, there are lots of similar, and often cheaper products on the market.

What is Suspension Training

A suspension trainer consists of two straps that end in handles/foot loops that can be attached (or suspended) to a variety of anchor points such as a tree, the top of a squat rack, a sturdy door or a custom-made support frame. Once fixed in place, you can change the length of the straps for the performance of a wide variety of exercises.  Some suspension trainers, such as the TRX suspension training system use a single anchor point while others use two.

iStock_000014884375XSmallOnce you have set up your suspension trainer, you can perform an enormous number of effective exercises for just about any part of your body.  Unlike weight training where you use an external load to challenge your muscles, by adjusting your body position, you use your own bodyweight to exercise.  If this sounds a lot like traditional bodyweight training, that’s because it is – but with a twist.

Multidirectional movements equal challenging and effective workouts

Because you are supporting your weight (via your feet or hands depending on the exercise you are performing) on straps that are free to move in all directions, the stability demand of an exercise performed with a suspension trainer is much higher than the regular bodyweight exercise equivalent.

As your limbs are not fixed into any one plane of movement, it is also possible to perform exercises and exercise combinations that would otherwise be impossible such as a suspension trainer fly, rear foot suspended lunges and the push up/abdominal crunch combo commonly called an atomic press up.  Most cable and many dumbbell and barbell exercises can be replicated using a suspension trainer although some may take some imagination.  You can even do bicep curls and tricep skull crushers!  It’s also worth noting that virtually every exercise performed on a suspension trainer will force you to use your core muscles to keep your spine solidly fixed in place.

Suspension trainers – nothing new!

Suspension training is not new and has been used for hundreds of years in the form of gymnastic rings.  Despite the name, gymnastic rings are not the reserve of gymnasts and have been a popular part of the physical culture movement since its inception.  Some suspension training purists still use gymnastic rings, stating that the larger ring-shaped handles are better for exercises like the muscle-up than those supplied with typical suspension trainers.  The muscle-up, a combination of a pull up followed by a dip, is a gold-medal standard exercise for suspension training aficionados and only possible if you can hang your handles above head-height and then have sufficient clearance above the rings that you won’t hit your head on the ceiling! Muscle-ups aren’t for everyone…

The only downside I can see with suspension trainers is that you are limited by your bodyweight for resistance.  If you are trying to develop general muscular endurance this is no problem as you can simple perform more repetitions.  If, however, you want to develop maximal strength, a suspension trainer workout may leave your fast twitch muscle fibers relatively unchallenged.  This isn’t really much of a problem as those seeking that sort of strength will almost always gravitate towards barbells and dumbbells anyway.

Suspension training – effective, portable and versatile

Suspension training provides a viable alternative to standard bodyweight exercises and even some classic barbell and dumbbell exercises.  The increased joint and core stability demand means that the muscular conditioning you develop will be more usable than if you trained mainly using resistance machines.  As a portable “gym in a bag”, suspension trainers like the TRX suspension training system provide a convenient, effective and cost-effective workout.  If your goal is general fitness and conditioning, you could do a lot worse than a suspension trainer.

By Mark Darco

Mark Darco is a professional personal trainer with 15 years experience and has completed multiple certifications. He works in NYC and Brooklyn, NY.