Why you should give suspension training a try
with advice from Kim Gladfelter, PT, MPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
and David Berman, PT, MS, COMT, CSCS
Suspension training has been a big buzz word lately. Infomercials abound, singing its praises. Military men brag about the added strength they build with it. Celebrities endorse it in the pages of magazines and on TV shows. So what is it?
A suspension training device is essentially a very strong strap with handles on the ends that can be secured to something overhead, like over a door or to a beam. The beauty of the systems is that you can do literally hundreds of different exercises with them.
Whether you’ve seen one before or not, here are some good reasons you should give suspension training a chance.
- Suspension training strengthens your core.
Your core, or postural, muscles stabilize your body. While they are a small portion of your entire body, strong muscles around your trunk and pelvis enable balance and stability and make other physical activity much easier.
Suspension trainers effectively make your core muscles turn on and work. By increasing your instability, suspension trainers make you work harder to complete exercises. David Berman, PT, who worked with Railyard Fitness to create the Serius Strap, uses the following example: “It’s like the difference between sitting on a standard chair, where the chair provides all of the stability, and sitting on a fitness ball, where your body has to work a bit to keep you from falling off.”
Suspension trainers also make your core muscles work at just the right level of challenge. Too much challenge puts you at risk of injury; too little challenge limits your progress. Suspension trainers let you adjust the challenge to suit your needs, which means that you can make your core muscles better at doing their job.
Physical therapist Kim Gladfelter, a member of the Physiquality network of PT offices, uses suspension training for rehabilitation, post-rehab and general fitness for a broad range of clients. She loves using the system with clients who have balance issues, because, as she notes, “it’s impossible not to work your core with suspension training.”
- Suspension training allows for constant progress.
Resistance training is all about progression. In order to make progress, you simply have to do a little bit more tomorrow than you did today. For example, if you are doing push-ups and you can do 11 in a row, then the goal might be to get to 12 or 13 in a row. It’s simply a matter of working to do more of what you can already do.
But what if you can’t even do one push-up?
Decrease the challenge. But how do you do that?
One way is to start with doing push-ups on your knees and progressing to a standard push-up. In the traditional push-up, the resistance is equal to about 75% of your body weight. For modified push-ups on your knees, the resistance is closer to 55% of your body weight. That means by going from a modified push-up to a regular one, there’s a 20% increase in resistance.
David advises making increases in resistance gradually at about 5-10% or so at a time — not big jumps like 20%. This can be done by simply adjusting your body position with more or less lean.
The scalability of the system is one of the reasons Kim began using suspension training in her PT clinic. She says that because it’s so easy to adjust the difficulty, it can be used by anyone.
- Suspension training forces your muscles to work together, rather than exercising them individually.
Some fitness experts are proponents of functional training, the idea that since our body works in harmony when doing other physical activity, it’s best to work out in the same way. As Cedric Bryan, ACE fitness trainer, puts it, “In functional training, it is as critical to train the specific movement as it is to train the muscles involved in the movement. The brain, which controls muscular movement, thinks in terms of whole motions, not individual muscles.”
The instability inherent to suspension training forces your body to work together as a unit; your mind keeps your muscle groups focused on how to remain steady and continue the exercises. This is exactly how your body functions in day-to-day life, so the exercises done in suspension training are more likely to benefit you as you move through your daily physical activity as well.
Kim also notes that because suspension training works the body as a whole, it’s great for cross training. She says, “At PhysioFit PT, we work with a lot of swim groups. Because swimming builds your muscles in one direction, the suspension training helps swimmers develop their muscles in a very different way from their sport.”
The Serius Strap suspension trainer
Physiquality has selected one suspension training system, the Serius Strap, as one of its fitness partners. The Serius Strap suspension training system from Railyard Fitness includes everything you need to begin a total body exercise program. Simply secure the overhead straps over a door or fixed position and complete hundreds of exercises to work on your arms, legs, abs and balance.
The system packs up quickly, making it easy to take with you while traveling, and every Serius Strap package includes a training manual with hundreds of exercises to work your entire body quickly and efficiently, helping you lose fat and increase muscle mass.
Serius Straps are also easily adjustable, allowing for a variety of difficulty levels. And the patented MarV® 180-degree rotating handles give you the ability to correctly position your wrists for a variety of exercises, helping you achieve proper form and avoid injury.
The bonus? Suspension trainers like the Serius Strap are fun! Kim says that just about everyone that tries their suspension training classes at PhysioFit PT gets hooked; people “love the instability factor” and the fact that it’s different from other types of fitness classes. And every time David brings his Serius Straps into the gym, people say that it reminds them of playing on a playground or in gym class. It taps into the spirit of climbing ropes and swinging on a jungle gym.
And when exercise is fun and effective — that’s a powerful formula for success.
David Berman, PT, MS, COMT, CSCS, is a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist based in Denver, Colo. He is the designer and co-creator of the Serius Strap MarV® handle, which rotates 180 degrees in order to correctly position your wrists for a variety of exercises.
Kim Gladfelter, PT, MPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, is a physical therapist and owner of PhysioFit Physical Therapy in Los Altos, Calif, as well as a member of Physiquality’s network of highly qualified and carefully screened PT offices. A certified Pilates instructor and dancer, she has expanded her clinic’s facility to be a complete wellness location, offering classes in Pilates, gyrotonics and suspension training, as well as special programs for golfers and senior citizens.
For further reading:
Bryant, Cedric. What is functional strength training? ACE Fitness, May 11, 2011.
Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries. Mayo Clinic, March 5, 2010.
Core exercises: 7 reasons to strengthen your core muscles. Mayo Clinic, October 3, 2009.
Kappes, Serena. Pull your weight! People, April 9, 2009.
Burns, Nick. Suspension training: How risky is it? New York Times, February 1, 2007.
Smith, Stew. Build muscle with TRX suspension training. Military.com.
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