Suspension training has recently gained popularity due to its potential to simultaneously challenge multiple parameters of performance. Although used by acrobats and other related professions for years, individual and group classes using suspension training is now quickly becoming the norm. The most commonly recognized piece of suspension equipment in the fitness industry is the TRX®. The popular suspension training equipment was developed by Randy Hetrick, a former Navy Seal, in the 1990’s, but the device gained notoriety more than a decade later as the training system.
The TRX® can be utilized almost anywhere with minimal additional equipment needed to address all major muscle groups. The device can basically work with any stable, non-moveable structure such as a door or wall to anchor the extendable straps. The working ends of these straps are shaped so that the hands or feet can be secured in place while the bodyweight of the participant creates resistance through a variety of movements - limited only by the imagination and maintenance of proper body biomechanics.
As is the case with most new methods of training, it takes time for structured research on the method to catch up with the practice. For this reason one is likely to find only independent reviews of its efficacy as supplemental or comprehensive training for human performance. However, a wealth of anecdotal data suggests that suspension training can be very useful for enhancing stability and coordinated function. It is suggested that the diverse methods of training possible with suspension equipment can provide enhancements in stability-endurance, hypertrophy, strength, power, balance, flexibility, and coordination/kinesthetic awareness within each individual training session. Certainly these parameters of performance can be addressed utilizing free-weight and other existing training modalities, but suspension training creates a unique training stress for proprioceptive and stability enhancement not commonly experienced during more traditional training approaches.
Many suspension exercises can be implemented in a compound and multi-planar fashion, promoting polyarticular improvements via coordinated actions. The potential for complex movements complemented by stability demands certainly can be used to challenge the experienced athlete but some experts have expressed concern that less conditioned individuals or novice lifters may not be able to utilize the system safely and effectively. Even with this potential concern, fitness professionals should realize that exercises can be easily adapted for individuals of differing fitness levels by manipulating body position or adjusting the angle of resistance relative to gravitational pull. For example, a bodyweight pull at 45° can be used as a variation to train the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids for a weaker participant; rather than a bodyweight pull at 150° with the feet elevated on a physioball. Nonetheless, personal trainers should use prudence in implementing any suspension training exercises with their clients. If proper form cannot be maintained, or if the client has joint stability issues due to muscular imbalance, weakness, or poor flexibility, suspension training may not be an optimal choice as benefits may not outweigh the potential risks.
A unique feature to engaging in traditional exercises with suspension training equipment is that many open kinetic chain activities can be modified into closed kinetic chain exercises. During a standard seated chest press, the machine arms move away from and toward the body during the concentric and eccentric phases of the lift making it an open kinetic chain exercise. The pectoralis major, being the primary agonist, performs the majority of the work to accelerate and decelerate the resistance arm without significant joint stability requirements at the spine and shoulder. During a suspension push-up, the hands remain stationary on the straps as the individual moves the body away from and toward the fixed strap positions. This makes the same movement a closed-chain variation, with added joint stability demands at the wrist, elbow, shoulder and trunk to manage force through the entire body. The force produced in this case actually begins with the ground reaction force at the feet and continues through the body to manifest in the hands.
Suspension training exercises may help adjacent muscle groups to work together in a synergistic fashion, or as a single unit. This is one of the primary focal points of any type of functional training. A secondary, albeit apparent feature to suspension training, is the added core stability, balance, and coordination demands seen in almost every exercise. This can allow a personal trainer to implement just a few dynamic exercises to achieve activation of all major muscle groups for time-efficient training.
Suspension training appears to be a novel method of exercise with explicit benefits. It forces the participant to engage the lumbopelvic musculature at all times to maintain proper body alignment and biomechanics which can translate into enhanced core stability both dynamically and statically. Suspension training has significant balance and coordination requirements, and forces the participant to train the body as a functional unit. This can transfer into performance based movements much better than traditional movements. Overall, suspension training seems to be a great variation to reduce boredom, introduce different joint stresses to a program, and address multiple components of performance with each individual exercise. It can certainly provide supplement to any comprehensive program aimed at a client fit for the challenge.
The following group of exercises can be employed as part of a training regimen aimed at improving coordination, stability, and balance. The movements employ force couples that emphasize both the anterior and posterior chain, leading to improved neuromuscular function. The exercises can be made easier or more difficult by adjusting the range and the level of gravitational pull. Much like any exercise or training technique used for improved fitness, proper biomechanics are an important consideration particularly for transitional exercises that place the participant at an elevated risk for injury in performed incorrectly.
Squat Pull to Rotation
Curl-up to Iron Cross
Single Leg Extension
Prone Adduction with Balance