Suspension training: 5 ways to boost your workouts
A while back it felt like suspension training was going to become the most popular form of training around.
Personal trainers were creating entire workouts dedicated to the TRX (to name the most popular suspension training system). Every gym had one, and some small studios consisted of nothing but suspension equipment.
Today this craze seems to have passed, but suspension training is still popular in gyms and at home. In this article we are going to look at the science behind their effectiveness (or lack thereof) and at 5 ways suspension training can boost your workouts.
A brief look at the science
One of the most popular beliefs was that suspension training was more effective because unstable surfaces produced more muscle activation than stable surfaces. This theory has been pretty much disproved, to activate more muscle you require more resistance (i.e. a heavier weight).
This means that an unstable surface would actually prevent higher muscle activation as the instability would make it difficult to lift heavy weights. A study by Yongming, Chunmei, and Xiaoping (2013) found this to be the case when evaluating the Reebok core board .
A study by McGill, Cannon, & Andersen (2013) compared regular press ups, TRX press ups, and the Bench press . They found that the TRX press up activated the core muscles the most, but that the bench press activated the pectorals, triceps, and deltoids.
What does this mean exactly? Well if you're looking for a stronger core then the TRX is ideal, but if you are looking for stronger muscles then strength training would be more beneficial.
In another study, by Byrne et al (2014), the effects of suspension training on muscle activation during a plank was analysed . The study found that the suspension plank produced greater muscle activation than the regular plank.
Interestingly, a more unstable version of the suspension plank (both feet and both arms suspended rather than just feet or hands) failed to increase muscle activation more, this may have been because the surface was so unstable that the core muscles couldn't perform a proper plank.
5 ways Suspension Training can boost your workouts
If you've ever tried to perform super sets in a busy gym you'll probably be aware of the difficulties faced. Grabbing two pieces of equipment and trying to make sure that they are near each other is particularly difficult!
Enter suspension training, now you can perform a barbell bench press alongside a TRX row. Or a lat pulldown followed immediately by a suspension press up.
2. Bodyweight Training
If you are outside or training at home you will probably be following a bodyweight training program. This is perfectly fine but whilst the chest, legs, and abs can easily be trained, it is a lot harder to target the back muscles, or shoulders.
This is where adding suspension training could be hugely beneficial, you can now add a whole host of exercises that target the back and shoulders. You can also add some variety to your leg/ab/chest exercises too!
3. Circuit Training
Performing circuits is a great way to complete a full-body training session within 30 minutes. Many circuits involve dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, and bodyweight exercises. Adding suspension training to this list would help make your circuit more enjoyable and varied. It also is a good substitute for pull ups or dips if you can't perform those exercises yet.
4. Travel Workouts
When it comes to travelling suspension training wins hands down. Most suspension devices weigh almost nothing and can be hung up on a door without leaving a mark. This means that you can take it with you and use in your hotel room. The same cannot be said for barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
5. Upgrade your Ab workout
As mentioned earlier, suspension training is clearly effective at strengthening the core muscles. The suspended plank also works the abdominal muscles harder than a regular plank, so adding a suspension trainer to your ab workout will make a big difference to core strength.
From reviewing the relevant research it seems clear that there is a place for suspension training within a program, but that suspension training should be performed alongside (rather than as a replacement to) strength training. The strengthening of the core muscles in particular is a major strength of suspension training.
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 Yongming, L., Chunmei, C., Xiaoping, C. 2013. Similar Electromyographic Activities of Lower Limbs Between Squatting on a Reebok Core Board and Ground. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 27(5): 1349-1353
 McGill, S., Cannon, J., Andersen, J. 2013. Analysis of pushing exercises: Muscle activity and spine load while contrasting techniques on stable surfaces with a labile suspension strap training system. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28(1): 105-116
 Byrne, J., Bishop, N., Caines, A., Crane, K., Feaver, A., Pearcey, G. 2014. Effect of using a suspension training system on muscle activation during the performance of a front plank exercise. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28(11): 3049-3055