Suspension Training: Getting Hung Up On A Good Thing

Could hanging around be one of the best exercises to improve body strength?

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I’m a creature of habit. When I find something I like–I tend to stick with it. A good restaurant, a friendly gas station, a favorite website–if something is good and it is working for me I just make it a habit.

Running was one of those things. After logging in over 30, 000 miles of jogging exercise, five marathons, and endless local races my physician suggested it was time to switch to exercises with less impact on my joints. Fair enough. I’d never had a serious injury running–so making the shift to a gym for cycling classes, weight training and the like seemed like a good idea–staying ahead of the injury curve. That was a couple of years ago and–you guessed it–I’ve stuck with the gym and my routine classes.

Sure, I’d try new classes when they offered one–particularly some of the yoga classes because I probably need them the most. I’m sort-of built like a fire hydrant–so anything that has to do with stretching is definitely desirable. However, try as I might, I am just not very good at it and didn’t stick with it. Then they offered a class in “suspension training.” When I asked what it was all about I was told: “It’s like yoga on ropes.” Somehow this really piqued my attention. Maybe this is what my fire hydrant body needed: rope-assisted yoga.

When I took the demonstration class the room was set up with a stanchion with a dozen black and yellow straps–similar to some heavy duty tie-down straps you might use to secure something to the roof of your car–only much more substantial and very well-made. Their were handles at the end of the straps with loops and the lengths of these straps coup be adjusted from a foot off the floor to several feet higher. Not too intimidating so far.

I couldn’t wrap my brain around how a good workout could come from a couple of dangling straps–but I followed the instructions for getting ready. I was in for a major– and pleasant surprise.

After adjusting the straps for my height we did a few simple squats. What is immediately noticeable is the balance factor. Holding on to the ropes provides a type of stability that lets you extend more than usual–yet you have to maintain your balance. The instant result is that your core is being worked–your whole body engaged.

After getting our heart rate up we pulled back on the straps as we stood and did a type of standing pull-up–then transitioned into rowing position–then transitioned again into a forward press to work our triceps. Moving to the mats we put our feet in the straps and did planks on our forearms, then our hands, then pulled our legs up one at a time in each of the positions. With every exercise my whole body (and core specifically) was involved. All this in the first ten minutes.

By the time half of the 45-minute class was over I was sweating more than when my usual spin class was finished. At the end of the class I signed up for a package of ten classes.

Within the month I noticed some interesting results. The first was the ever-problematic midsection had been strengthened, tightened, and most delightfully–trimmed. After years of sit-ups, stationary planks and various other approaches this suspension-training thing did something none of the others did. It clearly had been working more of the muscles needed for change.

Secondly, after the ache that came from using so many new muscles there was genuine definition. My arms, butt, and shoulders took on subtle–but clearly noticeable definition. There were also two interesting side effects: First, my posture improved. My usual question-mark stance had become an exclamation point. Secondly, since I was feeling stronger and worked so hard during the workout it made me think before taking a second helping of–well, anything.

Where did suspension training come from? While versions of it date back to the 1800s the current incarnation was born out of the Navy SEALS and its emphasis was to supply a total body workout, endurance, flexibility, and core training–anywhere. No weights to lug around and store–only a two-pound bag of straps to tuck away. The leading company, TRX was the brainchild of Randy Hetrick, a USC grad and Navy SEAL Squadron Commander. His experiences in the field let him to develop a lightweight alternative to bulky and difficult to travel with weights. There are other suspension training programs, but TRX–with over 300 exercises developed for its use–is the industry leader.

I still love both indoor and outdoor cycling. But two or three time a week, I take part in the best workout I’ve had since college. Don’t get me wrong–my body is still like a fire hydrant. It’s just now one that feels a bit taller, stronger, and more flexible. It has become a central part of my new exercise routine. When I find something that’s good–I tend to stick with it.

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