Switch Things Up With Suspension Training

Every now and then, I think every hardcore weightlifter hits somewhat of a mental blah.  You know the one…you roll into the weight room, look at all the steel, run through your planned routine and why you’re doing it in your head, then suddenly think, “I’m getting a little bored!” 

There are a handful of experts that would say, “you must be overtraining…your CNS must be fatigued.”  Yeah, maybe that’s the problem.  And maybe you ARE just a little freaking bored!! 

It’s not crazy to switch things up from time to time and use a few training modalities that are far from your current scope of practice, especially if you plan to use such methods appropriately and incorporate them with good planning toward your goals.

I have to admit, there’s nothing like ripping an intense amount of steel off the floor or grinding out speed sets on the bench press, but every now and then, our brain and bodies are hungry for something a little different. 

If there’s one way to maintain all your meat and increase fat loss, joint stability, and core strength while feeling brutally challenged and mentally stimulated at the same time, then this is it.

Bring on Suspension Training

You mean that Hollywood crap those dudes on the infomercials are doing and claiming is the ‘fastest, most efficient way to trim and tighten your core, blah blah blah’?  (Am I the only one that thought that?) 

Yup, that’s what I mean.  You know there’s something to this stuff when you see such a wide array of coaches and athletes advocating its use, coaches in sports from powerlifting, triathalons, the NFL, and NBA, CrossFit, etc.  Many great athletes are using this type of training either as a secondary exercise modality or as a primary, believe it or not. 

So why wouldn’t you or I use it? 

What is Suspension Training?

Suspension Training is a type of training that uses the body and gravity as the primary loading device and allows users to move within a variety of ranges of motion.  With the majority of the training exercises, it’s next to impossible for the body to not to engage nearly every muscle available in order to sustain and perform the movements. 

Because of the lack of stability within the suspension device, the body is forced to stimulate a large amount of stabilizers throughout each movement along with the prime movers and antagonist muscles.  This obviously creates an increased demand on the body, upping the challenge of each movement, and offering a completely different approach to strength training than the typical world of resistance training you’re used to.

Suspension can be utilized as a primary exercise choice for athletes by basing the entire workout around the strap system for resistance and core work, or as a secondary movement system by either super-setting the movements with traditional body weight or free-weight movements, or using them as finishers after focusing more on dumbbells, barbells, and medicine balls as the primary exercise devices.

I know what you might be thinking: If this stuff is so great, where’s it been your whole life?

“Best Total Body Tool” – Awarded by Men’s Health Magazine

Suspended in Time

Believe it or not, this stuff wasn’t invented in Hollywood and certainly wasn’t born out of an infomercial, though it may seem like it from the latest T.V. ads and internet links.  Even still, a good number of individuals are touting that suspension training is a ‘new’ and ‘advanced’ method of resistance training.  I’m sorry, but this really couldn’t be any further from the truth. 

We’ve all seen the good old gymnastic rings, haven’t we?  Those suckers have been around since the mid 1800s and while I will agree that they were mostly used for swinging at first, the rings were still part of an intensive method of suspension training.  In fact, movements like the Iron Cross, Muscle-ups, Hand Stands, and Dips were soon developed, and these are only a few of the incredible exercises many of the early innovators of this type of training performed. 

Today, most trainees are lucky to pull off a good suspended pushup while performing their new ‘advanced’ method of resistance training, so I’m going to go ahead and say the “advance” is more like a mutated fitness regurgitation of something that once was and still is great: gymnastic rings.

However, with respect to the efforts of most individuals attempting to achieve a better physique, joint stability, and core strength, the suspension method is certainly more advanced, and in my opinion much more effective, than what they’re probably currently doing, and it is certainly ‘new’ to most individuals who typically spend the majority of their workouts in the circuit room or performing a myriad of low-load isolation movements. 

So if it wasn’t a spikey haired, bosu-ball worshiping Hollywood aerobics instructor who invented these, then who was it?

It’s said that the ‘rings’ have been around for nearly 2000 years and were invented in Italy, but it’s pretty hard to find any solid research or evidence of application during those times.  However, suspension training came to light in Germany around the middle 1800s via a man named Adolf Spiess.  This new method of training soon gained popularity and was first introduced into the Olympic Games in 1924 in Paris.  The sport now known as ‘Still Rings’ is obviously still a major event in male gymnastics today and is very much the foundation of the suspension training we see today. 

Suspension Training Today

We’re seeing it all over the place at present, in home gyms, hotel gyms, large chain gyms, private high-end personal training studios, yoga facilities, and even in the hardcore training centers…they’re all using the suspension devices and hopefully using them well.  It seems like if you’re not implementing some sort of suspension device into your training today, then you’re missing the boat somewhere and are left wondering if there’s a good reason you should board that puppy any time soon.

It took me a while to be convinced that this stuff wasn’t just for the short, jacked men in tights and hot chicks who were afraid of weight training, but after examining the movements a little more, I thought I could definitely see some major reasons to attempt this type of exercise modality.

For most general exercise enthusiasts, fitness efforts usually involve using low intensity weight training movements with poor muscle recruitment, poor need for muscular or joint stability, and poor core stimulation.  To paint a little better picture, just think about what you see the majority of gym goers doing: riding the elliptical for 20 minutes, then cruising around the circuit room using every machine for three sets of ten, then possibly cruising over to the lower end of the dumbbell rack, and performing a few bicep curls and side bends. 

Hopefully I didn’t just describe any WBB readers’ workouts, but even still, it’s not terribly frequent that the slightly more advanced weight lifter puts some serious efforts into performing major functional movements or spends any serious amount of time on increasing joint stability and core strength beyond the scope of leg raises, dumbbell presses, and dead lifts. 

So it’s obvious that if there’s an exercise method available that can stimulate a large amount of muscles, increase caloric output, increase joint stability and core strength, and still aid in overall muscular strength, function, size, and power, then you should probably find a way to implement it into your training routine from time to time, right?

You’re Suspended!

There’s a pretty good selection of exercises you can perform with suspension devices that range in difficulty levels, so you’ll have to rate your strengths and perform them accordingly.

Also, there are obviously more exercises you can perform with this type of equipment; however, I’m only displaying a few of the movements that I feel can provide equal to or superior training performance over that of other training methods.

Try these movements first, then either get creative or do a little extra research and begin compiling more intense workouts for yourself.  You’ll be hooked!


Suspension Training – Upper Body Exercises


Suspension Training – Lower Body Exercises


Suspension Training – Core Exercises


A Changed Routine

If you think you could use a little diversity in your training routine for a while in order to keep your mind fresh and keep the boredom at bay, then there are several ways you can begin to implement this into your current routine.  You can also simply change your routine to suspension training only for a while to work on joint recovery, fat-loss, core strength, and stability while giving yourself a little break from the more heavy load-bearing movements.   

Here’s a few ways you can do it:

  • Cross-set or superset every free weight movement in your routine with a similar suspension movement.

Example – Incline Dumbbell Press (ss) Single-Arm Suspended Pushup OR Incline Dumbbell Press (cs) Single-Arm Inverted Suspended Row)

  • Simply replace most of your current free weight movements with the same movement pattern in suspension.
  • Replace all core movements of your current free weight routine, with all suspended core movements.

1 Day Suspension Routine – Because I love ya!

This is a one-day routine that you can pretty much throw in anywhere as part of your current routine.  Consider it a metabolic conditioning day.  Do keep in mind that this is still resistance training and will still require pre- and post-workout recovery like anything else, so plan accordingly.

1 Day Full Body Suspension High Intensity Routine

Lower Body Combo – 4 x 10 x 10, No rest

  • 1a) Balanced Lunge
  • 1b) Single-Leg Hamstring Curl

60 seconds recovery

Upper Body Combo – 4 x 12 x 8, No rest

  • 2a) Suspended Pushup
  • 2b) Inverted Row

60 seconds Recovery

Core/ Arm Combo – 4 x 8 x 10 x 10 x 8, No recovery

  • 3a) Fallouts
  • 3b) Bicep Curls
  • 3c) Tricep Extensions
  • 3d) Shoulder Flys

60 seconds recovery

Lower/ Core Combo – 3 x 8 x 8 x 8 x 20

  • 4a) Single Leg Squat
  • 4b) Pike
  • 4c) Hip Abduction
  • 4b) Bicycle

Repeat (Just kidding!)

Wrap Up

TRX Suspension Training: Get Beach Body ReadyIn the end, all that matters is the end results.  How we get there is not nearly as important as what it is we’re seeking.  Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s about your personal goals and reaching them as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

You’ve got to take care of every part of your car to keep it running, and the same goes for your body and mind.  If your joints are weak, find ways to make them strong.  If your core is pathetic, make it better.  If your brain is burnt out, find new ways to keep it challenged and fresh for your training so you can continue towards your goals!

Suspension training may just be a new way for you to continue on without getting hung up.  There are a variety of different suspension devices available, and I’m sure if you ask around, you can quickly come to some sort of opinion as to which ones are for you.  However you do it, just get on it and try something different!

Lastly, here is a link to the official TRX Suspension Training website – TRX Suspension Training. You can pick up TRX Suspension Training gear, DVDs and all types of quality stuff from here – check it out!

I’ll see you in suspension!

Written by Mike Scialabba

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 – Switch Things Up With Suspension Training discussion thread.

About Mike Scialabba

Mike is the Director and Owner of the Missoula Underground Strength Training Center located in Missoula, Montana.

He’s an Expert Strength Coach and has been in the business for nearly a decade working with hundreds of individuals utilizing conventional and unconventional training methods. 

Michael has sent over a dozen kids to collegiate football and basketball and has spent endless hours in the trenches getting dirty with real training and real results.

Be sure to check out his blog!