Suspension Training - what are the advantages for personal trainers?
In the fitness industry there is always a new fad, the latest next big thing to achieve amazing results; some stand the test of time and others fade away before they have even registered on the conscience of the general population.
Is suspension training a fad or is it genuinely one of the most important developments for personal trainers in the fitness industry?
Well this is easy to answer, because the suspension training movement is still going strong after more than 5 years since it was first marketed as a training method for the masses. The great advantage of suspension training is the mobility of the kit - it can be set up anywhere that has a decent anchor point. And there are other associated benefits,
- Suspension training gives the personal trainer freedom to train anywhere without losing the effectiveness of the workout (depending on the training goal)
- Because it does not require a 'facility' to deliver quality, results based training there is the potential to reduce overheads such as rent
- It provides the rainer with a genuine platform to build a successful business without the need for lots of expensive equipment
While it is obvious that there are many physiological benefits from using suspension training equipment, it is clearly not suitable for every potential goal.
Explosive power and strength, for example, are going to be very difficult to achieve given the equipment relies on body weight, gravity and degree of angle to create a tension and overload in the target muscle. These goals are still best achieved using olympic/standard weightlifting equipment and kettlebells.
There are many physiological outcomes that can be achieved using suspension training ranging from function to stability, range of motion and functional flexibility to strength endurance, although there are a lack of scientific studies to support the anecdotal evidence. However, what is apparent from the few studies that have been performed is this...
The Department of Health & Human Performance, College of Charleston, The Citadel, Dr T. Scheet states that "results from this study indicate suspension training with the TRX® demonstrated significant advantages in comparison to free-range training. It is likely that these findings were a direct result of the TRX® Suspension Training™ system’s unique ability to train core muscles, which translated to enhanced performance in an unrelated skill such as running".
Although the research referenced theTRX® Suspension Training™ System other suspension training equipment would have the same effect.
- A recent literature review published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, suggests that the trend towards segmental stability training (core stability work) has some strong foundations and the method may be more effective for treating chronic low back pain (CLBP) than traditional low back and abdominal training methods. The review looks at previous research (26 papers) conducted on various population groups and measuring outcomes related to; pain reduction, functional ability, physical improvement and recurrence.
There are some interesting findings from the review that include;
- Results that showed segmental stability exercise instruction (core work) improved the recruitment of transverse abdominis & multifidis (important back stabilisers) significantly more than the traditional exercise instruction methods.
- Segmental stability exercises appeared to maintain functional gains over a long period and significantly reduced the recurrence of CLBP compared not only to traditional exercise regimes but also to medical / pharmaceutical intervention.
It is also worth reading pages 97-105 of “Current Trends in Exercise Management for Chronic Low Back Pain: Comparison between Strengthening Exercise and Spinal Segmental Stabilisation Exercise” Journal of Physical Therapy Science. Vol 18, 2006 by Rie, K, RPT, MA
So what makes suspension training an effective addition to a training regime?
Due to the way suspension training equipment leverages gravity and the participant’s body weight against body angle, body stability and body momentum (pendulum effect) to enable various exercises to develop strength, balance, flexibility and core stability simultaneously and aid injury prevention and rehabilitation. The equipment itself requires an anchoring point where the straps are attached; hands or feet can then be placed in the suspension trainer, while the opposite end of the body is in contact with the ground.
This is based on the fact that the majority of exercise used on the suspension training equipment engage and increase core muscle activity. Core muscles provide stability, balance and flexibility; these aspects are used in everyday life, for example, picking something up from the floor (Moreside et al., 2007).
Currently there are no peer reviewed studies to validate core activation specific to suspension training, however studies have been conducted using adjunctive modalities such as the Swiss ball and unstable conditions to study core muscle recruitment, therefore providing some evidence supporting this method (Marshall et al., 2005).
One main benefit of this equipment is the ability to alter workout intensity, making it extremely simple or highly complex and dynamic, quickly and safely – even in the middle of a set, without affecting the workout. It is entirely possible for a beginner, with no specific previous experience, to try suspension training and easily have an adapted workout that achieves the required goals with a clear level of progression. Exercises can be designed to include changes in resistance, stability or both. In terms of rehabilitation or pre-habilitation using therapeutic exercises, these small increases are particularly important (Gill et al., 2004).
Potential limitations to this training method
Many individuals may actually lack the required skill level and movement pattern familiarity with the exercises. Weaker individuals may not have the core stability or joint integrity to use the system safely or effectively. Consequently it is possible for an individual to be placed in a biomechanically dangerous situation, where too much resistance has actually been created.
There are risks with any form of trainin but research appears to suggest body weight related exercise is actually safer than other exercise methods (Scheunke, 2002). And this is why suspension training is probably most effective when mixed in with traditional methods of training and should not be exclusively used – at least not initially for beginners. But again, this is also why an awareness of appropriate and effective exercise prescription is also an essential skill for personal trainers; it’s not about what to use, but why use it and when. Which is why it is important for personal trainers wishing to use suspended equipment with clients to acquire proper training, such as the School of Personal Training's Suspended Equipment Training course.
Andy Cowlings's top exercises for suspended equipment
So here are my top exercises to integrate into your current training programmes to improve range of movement, flexibility and strength throughout that range.
Pistol squat - This is an excellent exercise to develop strength and mobility through a range that most people cannot manage without suspension training equipment. It is an excellent exercise for supersets with squats, lunges or leg press
Suspended lunge (Bulgarian split squat) - Quite simply an excellent exercise. It makes for the perfect partner with Romanian deadlifts and is great at developing balance, stability and strength through entire range of movement.
Sprinters start - A great additional exercise to develop a bit of power endurance in the legs; perfect as a superset with squats or leg press.
For upper body:
Standing chest flye - The perfect accompaniment to DB Press, or bench press; the additional stability from the core will actually lead to strength gains in the bench movement.
Inverted row (wide grip) - A great upper back, posterior deltoid exercise; again great for use in supersets, tri sets or giant sets for the shoulders/back training.
Power pull - A fantastic additional option for back training days. Great for use in a superset with compound movements.
Body saw - A nice progression from the basic plank movements and tough enough to elicit significant improvements in core strength and stability.
Andy Cowling is a product specialist with the School of Personal Training.
1-day Suspended Equipment Training (8 REPs points)