In the never-ending quest for fresh and innovative ways to keep clients motivated, it seems our industry has landed upon something truly unique. Suspension training, made popular by the introduction of TRX equipment, has been catching on in fitness centers and gyms across the country, and for many compelling reasons.
The premise of suspension training draws from leading-edge research. The concept of the TRX device was developed by Navy Seal Randy Hetrick in the 1990’s. However, the apparatus didn’t gain notoriety as an official training system for more than a decade. Many branches of the military, professional sports teams, and academic institutions are utilizing the benefits of suspension training, as are coaches, trainers, and even EMS first responders.
A key reason for its popularity is that an infinite number of exercises can be executed utilizing a single training tool. Another aspect of its mass appeal is that a suspension workout is safe and highly effective for athletes and recreational fitness buffs capable of performing at any level of fitness. An individual may customize a workout simply by readjusting his body closer to or further from the suspension trainer’s anchor point. A TRX is lightweight, portable, and offers many benefits that cannot be achieved with traditional gym equipment.
A careful analysis of the structure of the human body reveals that its center of gravity is positioned directly above the hips, along the central axis of the body. We are aware that the center of gravity will be altered with every movement the body makes. Somehow it manages to remain within our physical limits while performing activities of daily life. The body utilizes stability muscles to control its center of gravity during any movement.
Unlike more traditional gym equipment, a suspension trainer allows one to purposefully change the body’s center of gravity during exercises, thereby further challenging all of the muscles, not solely those responsible for stability. This is especially noted during an abdominal workout. Rectus abdominus training is typically performed while lying supine on the ground. By utilizing suspension training as part of an abdominal program, one can employ more functional and dynamic moves.
A properly designed total body suspension workout consists of integrated exercises. Integrated exercises engage intensive, multi-planar movements, the execution of which requires coordinated efforts. Training in such a fashion enhances the nervous system’s ability to effectively coordinate movement at higher levels. By creating strong motor patterns, the body is able to facilitate increases in both stabilization and functional muscle mass.
In contrast, isolation exercises provide the opportunity to train only one muscle group at a time, and usually within a single plane of motion. This requires quite a bit more time, and while muscularity will definitely become enhanced with such training, these movements offer little in the way of neuromuscular development. Some fitness professionals have gone so far as to observe that isolated exercises actually contradict the nature of how the human body has evolved to move.
Core stability is a valuable asset in taking us through every movement of an active lifestyle. During a typical day, the body moves in all planes: right and left, forward and backward, and diagonally. Suspension training allows for creative exercises requiring the movement through space in all planes, thereby mimicking daily living. By training the way we naturally move, work and play, such workouts tend to reduce the incidence of injury.
Certainly as trainers, we all endorse movements such as the chest press and the push-up. Shifting from traditional exercises such as these to those performed utilizing suspension training allows an open kinetic chain move to become a closed kinetic chain exercise. Let’s take a closer look at the mechanics of these two fitness favorites. When executing a seated chest press, most machines function by moving the parts away from and toward the body during the concentric and eccentric phases. The dominant agonist in this scenario, the pectoralis major, assumes the majority of the workload without tapping into significant joint stability requirements at either the spine or the shoulder.
When performing a suspension push-up, the hands remain stationary as the body moves away from and toward the fixed strap positions. This adds joint stability demands at the wrist, elbow, shoulder, and trunk to yield a collective effort at managing force through the body. In this case, the force produced begins at the feet and continues all the way to the hands.
When we design training programs for our clients, the goal is always customizing to the needs of the individual. For a truly deconditioned novice, standard gym equipment may prove daunting. Suspension training allows us to meet a client at his current capability level, and slowly yet purposefully help him achieve his goals, whether they are strength, balance, or flexibility.
Caution should be taken, however, to stress proper form. If muscular imbalances or other structural issues prevent a client from maintaining proper form while utilizing a suspension trainer, it is incumbent upon us to weigh the benefits and the potential risks for the individual, and proceed appropriately.