A Guide to Suspension Training

(Article by Hannah Groves with Study Active Tutor and Assessor Rebecca Ireland)

Suspension trainers have become common in gyms and homes worldwide. They are highly convenient and known as an entire gym in a bag meaning you can take your workout anywhere you go, thereby eliminating any excuses for not training. I had a chat with Study Active Assessor and Tutor Rebecca Ireland about her thoughts on suspension training.

IMPORTANT: The ideas in this article are purely for information only – please do not start an exercise programme until you have completed a PAR-Q and, if necessary, received medical clearance. Always warm up and cool down and never do any exercise that you are unsure of without the support of a qualified professional.

To start us off, what is suspension training?

Suspension training is a form of exercise where you use functional equipment such as straps to provide body weight as resistance. To be able to utilise suspension training there must be an anchor point where the 2 straps can hang from like a ceiling beam, a door frame, or a strong branch from a tree if using them outside. The 2 straps are adjustable and vary in height and length to assist different fitness levels. Handles, stirrups, and other different types of equipment can be added to the straps to add more resistance.

Providing there is an anchor point suspension training can be done anywhere and doesn’t require much space or other equipment as it requires the use of the individuals body weight and gravity to perform a variety of exercises while suspended in air. This then challenge their muscles, which can be modified for different fitness levels. The types of body weight movements performed when using suspension training are usually compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. Some of the common exercises are movements such as push movements like push ups, pull movements like pull-ups, rows, variations of squats, lunges, planks, and other core exercises. Isolation exercises can also be performed to target specific areas of the body e.g. biceps, triceps, deltoids etc…

What are the key benefits of including a suspension workout in your fitness routine?

The key benefits to including suspension training in your fitness routine is that it can be used to improve muscular endurance by performing exercises that improve the endurance in your muscles, helps build muscle to become stronger and therefore increase strength, helps improve balance, stability, and coordination, as it stabilizes the muscles used in the core, which results in increasing core strength and improves balance.

It is a piece of equipment that can be adapted so one can perform a variety of different exercises. Majority of exercises are low impact which can be modified if necessary, making it an excellent choice for people of all ages and abilities.

Suspension training can also be used to improve coordination and agility by performing high impact/plyometric exercises using the equipment if the individual chooses.

With both high and low impact options available it means suspension training can be used by anyone regardless of their fitness levels or experience. 

As suspension training is used to help improve posture it therefore reduces the risk of injury. Suspension training improves posture by strengthening the muscles that are required for good posture. By engaging the multiple muscles at once it can reduce the risk of injury by preventing overuse on any one muscle group which could potentially result in an injury.

Would suspension exercise be suitable for a beginner?

For beginners, simple exercises would be advised such as the chest press, high row, low row and squats.

As the individual progresses they can then move onto exercises that require more balance like the single leg lunges, single leg squats, planks, or isolation exercise that require more strength such as chest flies working the pectorals, single arm rows with the lats, I, Y, T raises working the deltoids, etc…

For the more advanced and experienced, complex movements can be used to increase strength, power, and coordination by performing plyometric exercises as burpees, single leg jumping lunges, alternating single leg squats by jumping from one leg performing the single leg squat on that side then jumping onto the other leg and performing single leg squat on that side, etc…

Using your imagination when using suspension training can go a long way. Combining or incorporating different exercises together can make things more interesting. If the exercise is safe, and effective you’re onto a winner!

Could you talk us through some of the main suspension training exercises to give a full body workout?

Complete an appropriate warm-up used as a pulse raiser to increase the heart rate, increase the blood flow to the muscles, increase mobility, prepare the body for the workout ahead and reduce injury.

With suspension training the system works by using your body weight as the resistance by either pushing your body away from the straps or pulling your body into the straps. To increase or decrease the intensity of the movement you either step closer to the anchor point or step further away.

  1. Chest press – Face away from the anchor point lean forward so straps are fully extended, performed like a press up but pressing onto the straps and pushing your body away from the straps, like you would push your body away from the floor.
  2.  High Row Low Row – Facing the anchor point lean back so the straps are fully extended, hands facing the floor, arms extended out in front of you, slowly bring your elbows back in line with the shoulders and bent at 90 degrees, squeezing the upper back, then return to starting position.
  3.  Low Row- Facing the anchor point lean back so the straps are fully extended, hands facing inwards, arms extended out in front of you, slowly pull your elbows back keeping them close to your side, squeeze the lats, then return to starting position.
  4. Squat- Facing the anchor point lean back so the straps are fully extended, hands facing the floor, arms extended out in front of you. Feet should be hip with apart, like a normal squat sit your bottom back and down as low as you can go, keeping the back flat, chest lifted. On the way up make sure you push into your heels, squeeze the glutes and the quadriceps to return to the starting position.
  5. Single Leg Lunge, similar to Bulgarian split squats, but placing the foot in the hands of the stirrups rather than a bench/platform. Facing away from the anchor point, adjust the strap so the handle is inline with the knee, put one foot in the stirrup of both the handles, make sure there is no slack in the straps, balancing on one leg bend that leg to 90 degrees in a lunge position, keep the back foot flat and extended, back straight and chest lifting, when returning to the starting position keep the core tight for balance and stability, on the leg being worked, push through the heel, squeeze the glutes and drive through with the quad. Repeat 10-12reps on each leg before changing sides.
  6. Plank- Adjust the strap so the handles are in line with the knees. Come to the floor and put both feet in the stirrups of the handle, 1 in each. Both feet should be hanging evenly and level. Turn over onto your knees, lower yourself onto your elbows like you would a normal plank, and when you are ready lift the knees and hold for set amount of time.
  7. Side Plank- From the normal plank position mentioned above, rotate the body round onto one elbow keeping the body align and straight. Hips lifted away from the floor. Hold for set amount of time and then change sides and repeat.

Exercises can be performed for  2-4sets of 10-20reps, and 15-60secs rest depending on fitness level and experience. Exercise can be performed as multiple sets one after another or in a circuit format, with the core exercises always at the end. Core exercise like the plank/side plank can be held for maximum amount of time for beginners or anywhere between 30secs – 90secs for 2-3 sets.

An appropriate cool-down should then be performed to reduce injury.

How might you go about building a suspension trainer workout?

Depending on the individuals’ goals suspension training can be used and built into your workouts in many different ways.

Firstly, suspension training can be used as part of your usual gym-based workout. Types of suspension training exercises can be added to mix up equipment and target muscles in a different way e.g. when doing a chest workout, I like to sometimes add Pectoral flies instead of using cable flies or dumbbell flies as I find I tend to push myself more using suspension training. This is because I am activating more muscles to keep my arms stable when pressing on the straps by using my deltoids as fixators, triceps as synergists and I am using my core to help with my balance and stability. I also find that they are an easy alternative if other equipment isn’t available to use, for example a Monday is always international chest day and I can never get onto a bench or cables because they are busy being used by someone else, so I my go to is always the suspension trainer as an alternative.

Secondly, Suspension training core exercises can also be added at the end of your usual gym-based routine, when you want to increase the intensity of your normal body weight core exercises, e.g. a plank, side plank, mountain climbers, crunches, pikes etc…

Suspension training can be used to progress from a normal body weight plank/side plank etc… because your feet are elevated and suspended in the air. The exercise intensified and more muscles are being used to stabilise yourself to perform the exercises correctly and effectively, not only are you using your core muscles, but you are also using your deltoids muscles to keep your body elevated off the floor.

Thirdly suspension training can be used along with other functional equipment to build a fantastic workout such as kettle bells, medicine/slam balls and battle ropes etc… You can pick several different exercises dependant on your goals and fitness levels and perform a full body circuit. This not only means that the workout can be done almost anywhere with little space needed, but it also prevents the individual from plateauing as they are using different equipment and a new stimulus to shock the body, meaning they are working harder which equals results. It is also great way to keep people motivated, by preventing boredom.

Finally, suspension training can be used on its own and again dependent on the individuals, goals and fitness levels using exercises such as rows, chest presses, triceps extensions, biceps curls, squats, lunges, leg curls, I, Y T raises to work the deltoids and the many different core exercises will give you a challenging workout using your body weight, gravity, and the straps to create the resistance.

With suspension training you can also incorporate unilateral exercises such as single arm rows, single arm chest presses, etc… into your workout. This will help overall performance, increase posture, and reduce injury as unilateral exercises help develop strength and stability in the muscles, increases range of motion in the joints, as well as increasing balance, coordination, and overall body control by challenging the core muscles and muscles that help stabilise the core.

Much like any other gym-based workout routine suspension training can be used as a full body routine as shown above. You can do an upper/lower body split routine, a push/pull split routine, or you can do a combination of muscle groups like chest and triceps, back and biceps, etc… As said before use your imagination. For best results do anywhere from 2-4sets of 10-20reps with 30-60sec rest in between sets for best results and for core 2-3sets of 30-60secs holds.

Conclusion - A Guide on Suspension Training

Thank you to Rebecca for providing us with insight to Suspension Training and the benefits. As we have learned, suspension training is an effective form of exercise where you use functional equipment such as straps to provide body weight as resistance.

For more information on Study Active Personal Training courses please visit the website via: Personal Trainer Courses & Fitness Qualifications | Study Active | Study Active - Personal Trainer Courses


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