Suspension Training Benefits and History

Suspension Training Benefits and History

As a personal trainer, I am always looking for ways to “up my game,” let’s say. Meaning I am always on the lookout for new tools for my toolbox when training my clients. These tools can come in the form of not just the newest and greatest fitness gadget but in education as well. In fact, I find that keeping up my education and knowledge in the arena of Kinesiology (biomechanics) is paramount in navigating the minefield of new innovative fitness widgets and gadgets that are rolled out and peddled by our generation’s version of snake oil salesmen every year.  

suspension trainers at the beach

I can remember working out at a local big box gym about 12-15 years ago and watching one of their staff trainers looping and attaching webbing with a couple of handles on it to the top of a squat rack. I am not sure why it caught my eye initially. He began to use it to stretch at first. I remember thinking, “That’s cool, but I can think of a number of ways to do that without needing to bring more equipment into a gym.”

Then he began to work out with it. Now he had my complete and undivided attention! My Kinesiology BS-degree-infused grey matter was all lit up and a-twitter! My inner monologue was screaming one single word, “Genius!!!” That was followed quickly with, “I must have one!” Little did I know at the time, but I was watching the birth of suspension training.

It seems like every 10 years or so something comes along and really rocks the fitness industry and establishes a trend that manages to get traction and stick. Think of spin classes in the early 1990s or the newest thing now which seems to be wearable tech during workouts, for additional examples.

I am proud to say, from that initial day in the gym I was pretty quick to jump on board with the suspension training trend. I am thinking it is pretty safe to say at this point that suspension training is here to stay!    

Is There Anything Suspension Training Can’t Do?

Now I am a firm believer that there is no one single piece of equipment that is a silver bullet that can do everything. In fact, if you are approached by someone trying to separate you from your hard-earned cash preaching such a promise, run the other way with your hand over your wallet. However, I do believe that suspension trainers/body weight trainers are about as close as we have come at this point. I will also admit that I am in awe of how many things you can do with a body weight trainer and at the same time how simple they are in design.

Where did Suspension Training Come From?

A little history on suspension trainers: They were born out of necessity in the mid-1990s in the special forces world of the US military as a way for our military personnel to stay in shape while on the front lines. The first suspension trainer was actually nothing more than a jiu-jitsu belt and parachute cord. We have come a long way, baby!

One of the biggest benefits to us as civilians with suspension trainers is that, just like the military, suspension training can be done anywhere and they are highly portable. I personally own three suspension trainers. Two of them are hanging in my personal training studio and the third I often loan out to my personal training clients to take with them on vacations or business trips so they can keep up with their workouts even if the hotel they are staying in doesn’t have a gym. Suspension trainers weigh all of maybe 2lbs and can be compressed to fit easily in the bottom of your suitcase. In fact, one of my female clients gets a little nervous about working out in hotel gyms, but with a suspension trainer in hand she can work out without ever leaving her hotel room!

How Easy is it to Set Up a Suspension Trainer?

Bodyweight trainers are very quick and easy to set up virtually anywhere. I personally have hung a suspension trainer from a fence, a tree, playground equipment, a squat rack and even a door/door jamb. I have been known to take a client to a park for a killer one-hour circuit running through the park. Suspension trainers are great for this application. We will run through the park until we see a stout tree branch or piece of vacant play equipment, i.e., monkey bars or swing set, lash the suspension trainer to our anchor point and crank out a few sets of suspended rows or push-ups, and quickly start running again to the next opportunity to attach the suspension trainer to something else and torment another muscle group.

As a personal trainer, I find suspension trainers a very valuable tool to use in setting up circuits for my clients during personal training sessions as well. You can quickly transition from one exercise to the next in a matter of seconds, making suspension trainers extremely efficient at helping to keep a client moving from one station to the next and keep their heart rate elevated during the entire workout.

I can recall when I got my first suspension trainer in the mail and I couldn’t wait to jump on my mountain bike, ride to the closest park from my house and break it in! I remember it came with a little spiral-bound book that described a couple dozen exercises and a sample full body circuit-style workout. There were two versions of it, one called beginner and one tagged advanced. I jumped right into the advanced workout, being a fit guy. No problem, I thought. The little book of pain and torture suggested doing three rounds of the circuit. I managed 1.5 rounds of the advanced circuit before crying uncle and regressing back to the beginner circuit. My personal trainer brain was impressed! “This is legit,” I thought to myself. I spent another two weeks personally working out with my new suspension trainer before unleashing it on my clientele, and I have never looked back since!

In my mind, one of the best things about suspension training is how easy it is to progress or regress any exercise to match my client’s ability. Think about it. This is a tool that I have used to flog myself without mercy as well as more athletes than I can count, plus I have turned around and worked out my own pre-teen girls on it as well as elderly clients. Suspension trainers transition flawlessly from one ability level to the next.

Is it Easy to Vary Resistance with a Suspension Trainer?

Another aspect I truly love about suspension trainers is that my clients can micro adjust their resistance level on the fly during the middle of a set. This is something that is impossible to do with weight room equipment or free weights. You basically use your body weight and adjust the amount of lean of your body, taking advantage of gravity. For instance, say your grandmother came in and signed up for personal training. If I had her flat on the deck and had her attempt to perform a push-up, it is probably not going to happen. However, if I stood her up next to a wall and had her lean into it and perform a push-up movement, I think you would find her success rate increase exponentially. Maybe as grandma gets stronger, doing the push-ups against a wall isn’t cutting it anymore. So then we take granny and have her do push-ups on a kitchen countertop. I think you get my point here. Well, this is exactly how we change resistance with a suspension trainer. The only difference is this transition is absolutely seamless with a suspension trainer in play!  

I alluded earlier to the versatility of suspension training and being a piece of equipment that couldn’t do everything but would come darn close. Again, there is no silver bullet, but suspension trainers are about as close as it gets, and here is why in my mind. You can work out every major muscle group in the body with one, using your body weight as resistance. EVERY exercise you do with a suspension trainer will also incorporate your core. You will see improvement in flexibility, balance, stability and mobility all while improving strength at the same time. I have even used one personally to rehab a shoulder injury from several years ago. If you haven’t already used a suspension trainer, I would highly encourage you to give it a go! Remember, anyone can use it!

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