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  • Al Painter, NASM-CPT, CES, PES


Suspension training has been around for decades and for good reason, it is a great way to build total body functional real world strength. It started with training rings, and has evolved into what you see you hanging from a squat rack, ceiling, etc in most commercial gyms and personal training facilities.

It is incredibly convenient, and it allows you to train every muscle in the body while you support you as you move (which is how we are meant to!). All in all, it is a conveniently efficient way to train.

What are the benefits?

Asking not what you can do for suspension training, but what it can do for you yields the following benefits:

  • A total body plank while the arms and legs move anchored through the glutes and core.

  • An very effective tool for strengthening the primal patterned movements of the squat, hinge, push, pull as well as lateral force resistance.

  • A very high convenience factor. If you can hang one securely/safely somewhere, the world is your "pull up bar."

  • You get load without impact making it the perfect modality for endurance athletes (especially in season).

  • You get feet to fingers total body core work.

  • You can undo sitting down all day by activating your posterior chain (back half of the body). The exercise below is an example of that.

  • Single arm pulling can hammer the diagonal stabilizers which is always a good thing. If you read the prose regularly, you know I'm a little "partial" to this kind of training.

What are the most common mistakes?

So, on the surface it looks like suspension training is mostly upside. With all of the benefits listed it has to be #yay-me #winning (complete with happy face emoji) in the gym right? Wrong.

While it is one of the better ways to involve total body joint stabilization, there are several nuances you need to be aware of when you use this piece of equipment to get the maximum benefit. An exercise is only as good as the form you use to do it.

With that said, the list below highlights the most common movement lowlights I see when people exercise with suspension trainers:

  1. Their head moves forward as they begin the movement effectively destabilizing their core.

  2. They let their shoulders hike up all but taking the back muscles out of play.

  3. I see elbows going too far back at the bottom of the pull causing the shoulders to roll forward.

  4. People aren't owning their ribs (low back is arched lengthening the abdomen, HINT: this is bad) at the top of the pull.

  5. You will see the Wrists curl in toward the forearms.

  6. The heels aren't the primary anchor point to the floor for the hips and core.

How You Should Do the Movement

Luckily, there are some pretty simple ways to improve your movement quality. The technique tips listed below are a good place for you to start.

  1. Make your goal to absolutely OWN your ribs. This is listed first because it is probably the most critical factor to moving correctly. The Stick Mobility move shown above is a great way to teach the body how to do this. You'll be amazed at how much more control over the movement you have once you get the pink slip to your core!

  2. Pulling your shoulder blades toward the middle of your body when you initiate the movement. Think of squeezing a sewing needle with them as you move.

  3. You want to anchor the heels into the ground as you pull. The easiest way you can do this is to keep the toes off the floor. Doing this will help you stabilize the movement that much more through the hips. If you have trouble with this, squeezing a small ball with the heels can help.

  4. Be sure you are keeping the shoulders down as you pull.

  5. Move as if you've got a cast on each wrist. This will help to keep them still and make the movement cleaner.

  6. You need to be CRUSHING the grip on each handle if you want to maximize your stabilization system. If your grip isn't firm enough, you won't get as much joint irradiation as possible and leak a bit of strength as you move. Pay extra attention to the pinky. Its amazing how such a tiny digit can play such a big part in pulling correctly.

Adding in some squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling in addition to multi-planar plank work with suspension trainers can help you build quite a bit of strength. Not to mention add variety to your workouts. Plus, if your goal is to be able to do pullups, dialing in your form for the basic row is one of the better places to start.

Thanks for reading!

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