The suspension trainer.
It's a tool that can enhance almost any strength and conditioning or fitness program because of its many unique benefits. These benefits include an easy way to train when equipment is limited or when you can't make it into a full-scale gym. The suspension trainer is also a useful tool to help learn or correct movements or progress traditional movements by adding a greater stability demand and novel stimulus.
But there are hundreds of suspension trainer exercises at your disposal. While many of them can help you build a better body, some are certainly more effective than others. With that in mind, let's look at nine of the most effective trainer exercises available to you, broken down into the categories of core, lower body and upper body.
Suspension Trainer Core Exercises
One of the best benefits of the suspension trainer is that it creates an unstable surface to perform exercises on. This unstable surface greatly enhances the activity of the core, even during exercises that we typically think of as targeting mainly the upper or lower body.
This instability can make performing direct core work on a suspension trainer a brutal affair. The following three core exercises utilize the suspension trainer and are listed in order of difficulty.
1. Suspension Trainer Plank
The Suspension Trainer Plank can be both a progression or a regression from the standard Plank, and that is why this exercise is so effective.
The suspension trainer allows the athlete to increase their body angle in relation to the floor, which decreases the challenge of the Plank. When an athlete can not hold a solid Plank from the floor, this is a great option for regression. As the exercise becomes easier, the athlete simply moves their feet farther back to create a more shallow body angle and thus a greater challenge.
When the athlete's body angle reaches roughly 20-30 degrees in relation to the floor, the challenge of the Suspension Plank exceeds that of the standard Plank. The instability from the suspension trainer places a greater demand on the core and shoulder complex than the firmness of solid ground.
To execute the Suspension Trainer Plank, stand in a relatively vertical position and place your forearms in the stirrups of the trainer. Lean forward to put tension into the trainer.
Throughout the entire exercise, focus on keeping your hips from tipping forward and engage your core to prevent your lower back from overarching. Envision pulling your zipper line up toward your ribcage to solidify a proper position and to ensure the core is being targeted as intended. Slowly move your feet backwards until you reach a position that's challenging to hold for 20-30 seconds. You can even go as far as elevating your feet to make the Plank a slightly declined angle. Once you can complete the shallowest angle Plank for 20-30 seconds without issue, you can move on to the Suspension Trainer Fallout.
2. Suspension Trainer Fallout
The Suspension Trainer Fallout can be thought of as a sort of dynamic Plank.
The goal of the fallout is to extend your arms out as far as possible all while maintaining a neutral hip and low back position. Again, you will focus on "pulling your zipper up toward your ribcage," making sure to keep your hips from tipping forward and preventing your lower back from arching throughout the exercise.
Transitioning for the fully extended position back to the start of the movement is the most challenging portion of the Suspension Trainer Fallout, making it the point where you'll need to focus the most.
To complete the Suspension Trainer Fallout, start in a push-up plank position on the trainer. Move your feet back to establish a 30- to 50-degree body angle (the stronger your core, the lower the angle you can hit). Let your arms "fall out" into a "Superman" position while also keeping your hips from dropping and lower back from arching. Return to the starting position and repeat for 8-12 reps.
3. Suspension Trainer Anti-Rotation Press
An Anti-Rotation Press is typically performed using a cable or band as the resistance. However, The suspension trainer can also be used to perform the Anti-Rotation Press, effectively turning your body weight into the resistance. This creates a different stimulus, and allows us to overload the exercise to a greater extent.
To perform the Suspension Trainer Anti-Rotation Press, grasp the handle of the trainer with both hands and turn parallel to the trainer's anchor point. Split your feet, putting your outside foot in front. With the handle at the center of your chest, walk your feet in toward the trainer. Keep your core engaged to prevent the hips from tipping forward or your lower back from arching. Press the handle away from your body, keeping the handle in line with the center of your chest. Your hands will want to go towards the trainer's anchor point as the body twists. Your goal is to prevent this from happening, hence the term "anti-rotation." Return to the start position and repeat for 8-10 reps before facing the opposite direction and completing 8-10 reps on the that side.
Like the fallout, if the exercise is too easy, you can walk your feet down more to create a shallower body angle in relation to the floor. If you find the exercise too difficult, walk your feet away from the anchor point to create a greater body angle relative to the floor.
Suspension Trainer Lower-Body Exercises
The suspension trainer can be utilized to help fix and progress lower-body movements. From there, the suspension trainer can also be used as a way to create a greater demand on the movement.
Let's start with how you can use the suspension trainer to fix one of the most commonly flawed movements—the Single-Leg RDL.
1. Suspension Trainer Single-Leg RDL
The Single-Leg RDL is one of the most difficult exercises to complete properly, as you have to control a large range of motion about the hip while moving in and out of a hip hinge. With it being one of the most difficult exercises, it is also one of the most beneficial, so solidifying it is critical.
The point where you are most likely to lose the Single-Leg RDL movement is at the very bottom of the reach. This is when a suspension trainer can be used to provide some extra stability. The great thing about using the suspension trainer for this purpose is that you can't rely on it for the entire exercise, as you lose tension on the trainer as you go into and come out of that bottom position. This prevents you from relying on the passive stability of the trainer alone and forces you to rely on your active stability and control.
There are two ways you can start this exercise.
- Start standing and go into the reach.
- Start at the bottom of the reach and work to the standing position.
If you have trouble getting into the reach position, you can start at the bottom of the reach. If you typically lose the moment at the very bottom, you can start standing. Keep the abs engaged throughout the movement and stay heavy on the heel of the down leg throughout. Make sure to keep the hips back and try to reach the hands as far away from the trailing foot as possible. Lastly, focus on keeping the hips square to the floor. Thinking about keeping the back toe pointed to the floor helps with this.
2. Suspension Trainer RFE Split Squat
The Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat has become a staple in many training programs. The rear-foot-elevated position creates a greater stability demand compared to the traditional Split Squat, and it also demands more mobility of the back hip to complete.
To take it a step further, you can complete the RFE Split Squat utilizing the suspension trainer. On the suspension trainer, the rear foot no longer has a stable surface to work from, which creates an even greater stability demand.
With your foot in the stirrup, try to keep as much weight as possible in the working leg (front leg). Sink into your front heel as you sit back into a split squat position. Drive through the heel to return to the top position. Throughout the whole set, focus on keeping the abs engaged to prevent the hip from tipping forward or lower back from arching. Also, focus on keeping the rear foot from crossing the midline of the body at any point.
Repeat for 6-10 reps per side, and if body weight doesn't provide enough resistance, hold a pair of dumbbells.
3. Suspension Trainer Single-Leg Squat (Skater Squat)
For many, the Single-leg Squat is considered the epitome of single stability and strength. Unfortunately, it is an exercise that is often executed improperly.
When you squat on a single leg, the knee should not cave in (a position that's commonly known as "knee valgus,") the hip should not shift out, and the spine should not flex. For this reason, the Skater Squat is a superior option to the Pistol Squat. Even with the Skater Squat, it is still difficult to properly perform a set without breaking into one of the aforementioned movement flaws, at least initially. This is where the suspension trainer comes in.
Grasping the handles of the suspension trainer, go into a single-leg stance, making sure to keep the hips squared forward. Step back as if you were to perform a Reverse Lunge, keeping the hip, knee and ankle all in line and the pressure evenly distributed throughout the foot. When you approach the bottom of the movement, place little to no pressure on the back foot as you try and tap the floor or a small pad with the knee. Drive through the front foot as if you were trying to rip the floor behind you to return to the standing position.
Throughout the entire exercise, try to only use the suspension trainer to help you stabilize the movement, not to help you take resistance off of the exercise. Repeat for 6-8 reps per side.
Effective Suspension Trainer Upper-Body Exercises
Lastly, upper-body exercises are also enhanced when using the suspension trainer. Once again, the suspension trainer provides a less stable platform to perform traditional exercises.
The suspension trainer can also be utilized to help digress or improve upper-body exercises when necessary.
1. Suspension Trainer Pull-Ups
The Pull-Up is one of the best exercises for developing upper-body strength, size and athleticism. However, the standard Pull-Up is also one of the most difficult movements to perform.
Many times, that difficulty stems from the fact that you must pull your entire body weight up to the bar. If you're not strong enough to do that, you're not going to be able to do a standard Pull-Up. However, the suspension trainer allows us to de-load some of that bodyweight to make the movement easier.
Position the suspension trainer to a height that allows you to hang with your arms fully extended when you are on your knees. From there, pull yourself up off of the floor, extending the knees to straighten the legs while keeping the toes on the ground.
You are using your legs to help push you off the ground. The goal is to use your legs as little as possible to help you fully complete the Pull-Up. You will eventually find that you need less and less assistance from the legs, and will soon be capable of pulling yourself up while keeping the knees bent or raising the suspension trainer to a height where your legs can start in a straight or near-straight position.
Shoot for 4-6 reps. Once you can complete 2-3 sets of 6-plus reps, be sure to reduce the amount of assistance you get from your legs.
2. Suspension Trainer Single-Arm Row
The Suspension Trainer Row is likely the first exercise many of us think of when we see a suspension trainer.
While the Row is a great exercise, the single-arm version provides enhanced benefits. Not only does the Suspension Trainer Single-Arm Row target the upper back, rear shoulder and biceps, but it also challenges core strength (particularly in the rotational plane).
The hips and torso want to rotate toward the ground at the bottom of the Row and toward the ceiling at the top of the Row. The goal is to prevent this from happening and keep the hips and shoulders square throughout the movement.
Focus on keeping your abs engaged and preventing the lower back from arching as you initiate the Row with your upper back, pinching the shoulder blade across the back. The arm will simultaneously flex and finish the Row. Go for 6-10 reps on each side.
3. Suspension Trainer Push-Up
You're likely familiar with the standard Push-Up. The Suspension Trainer Push-Up takes that same move and forces you to perform it on an unstable surface, increasing the stability demand of your core and shoulders.
Start in an inclined position from the floor with your arms fully extended. Walk your feet back to an angle where it feels slightly challenging to hold the push-up position. From here, keep your abs engaged to prevent the low back from arching as you bend the elbows and descend into the Push-Up. Try to keep the elbows at a 45-degree angle from the body and do not allow the elbows to pass to0 far behind the back, as this will create unwanted stress on the anterior shoulder.
Push yourself back to the top position and then repeat for 8-12 total reps.
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