Suspension Training Exercises

Learn a variety of suspension exercises to improve muscle mass, balance and endurance

By Monte Egherman
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2012 | From the July 2012 Issue of FireRescue

As more departments take on technical rescue responsibilities, it becomes increasingly important for firefighters to know how to balance. When your goal is to make an effective rescue by hanging from a rope off a steep incline, you must know how to manage your center of gravity. Suspension training is one way to train for this activity while also gaining strength and endurance. There are a handful of suspension training systems on the market, the best known of which is probably the TRX system designed by U.S. Navy Seal Randy Hetrick.

Suspension Training Benefits
I like suspension training for many reasons. First, it’s a good exercise in body awareness, because when all or part of your body is suspended in the air, you’re forced to be cognizant of what all your parts are doing—or you’re going to take a spill. Many firefighters become injured because they lose their balance when they twist or turn suddenly. This happens easily if you’re wearing full PPE and have low visibility.

Another reason I like suspension training: It builds endurance. If you’ve never tried suspension training before, you’ll soon find that most exercises, even the ones that concentrate on certain body parts, will use just about every muscle in the body.

While doing these types of exercises in succession, you’ll also get a really good cardio workout as well. It’s kind of like sprinting in place.

If desired, you can easily make a circuit that includes suspension exercises and that constantly raises your cardiovascular output. (Remember: A circuit is simply multiple exercises combined together.) You can make all the exercises concentrate on a single muscle group, which I call a “stacked” set, or you may design a circuit that concentrates on multiple muscle groups, which I call a “scattered” set.

A third benefit: Suspension training works well for rehabilitating an injury, because you can make it as easy or as hard as you want through any range of motion you want. All you have to do is change the various angles of the exercises you’re performing or where the participant places their feet or arms in relation to the suspension device’s anchor point.

Last but not least, you get to have some fun! Suspension training is something that we don’t do every day, and it’s a somewhat new type of exercise.

Equipment Needs
To perform suspension training, you’ll need a suspension system and an overhead anchor point. A suspension system is any device that will keep a specific body part from contact with the ground. The TRX system features an easily adjustable design that includes handles for the upper body and stirrups for the feet.

The system will need to hang from a sturdy overhead anchor point that can hold your body weight without tipping over. The TRX company actually sells an anchor that you may use in a door and another for a ceiling (although I haven’t seen them myself yet).  

If you want to try these exercises without purchasing a system, you can do them with rope and webbing, or you can design your own system utilizing heavy-duty exercise bands (but I’ll talk more about those in a future article). Over time, you’ll probably want to buy a system so that it’s easier for you to change the length of the system for multiple exercises in a short time frame.

I’ll discuss just few exercises to get you rolling, but if you do a simple Web search, you’ll see that there are many effective exercises you can do with the TRX system alone.

Single-Leg Lunge
The single-leg lunge is done by simply placing one foot in the grip and placing the working leg forward. As you extend the suspended leg back, lunge forward with the working leg. Remember: The foot on the working leg does not leave the ground.

Do three sets of 10 on each leg, and you’ll notice a nice pump-up in your quadriceps, as well as tightness in your core as you keep your balance through this exercise. Your arms may be kept at your side with hands on hips, or you can try keeping your hands straight overhead. When you get proficient at this exercise and you want to advance, you can use weights and/or boxes as well.

The Push-Up
One great chest exercise in suspension training is the push-up. To perform, grip the suspended handles while keeping your feet on the ground, and place your body in a push-up position. Advanced users can place their feet on a balance ball, a bench, a box, or even a second suspension system. You can do a basic push-up motion, or you can leave one leg in the air while doing pushing movements as well, thus increasing overall pressure on your core. Another variation is to suspend both feet and keep your hands on the ground.

Shoulder & Back Exercises
For the shoulders and back, face inward toward your suspension system, and place your legs forward, with your feet as close together as possible. Place your arms straight out in front of you. While keeping your elbows as straight as possible, spread your arms out wide and pull down so that your hands end up at either side of your body. Bring your hands back to center to complete the exercise. One addition to this exercise: Bring your arms overhead or side-to-side in an alternating fashion.

Suspension Up/Down
The last, but certainly not the least important exercise I will cover is the suspension up/down. To perform, place one foot in the stirrup and remain balanced. Then kick your feet back as you bring your arms down into the push-up position.  Keep the unsuspended leg up in position with the suspended leg. Then do a push-up and return to the standing position by pulling your feet back in and standing up. Note: Keep your one foot in the stirrup when pulling your feet back in. Next, do a one-legged hop while throwing your arms up in the air. Finally, land back down on your single foot that is not suspended. Repeat this 10 times per foot and you will feel like you just sprinted 400 meters.

Add Some Variety
You can add suspension training to any of your workouts or you can use it as a stand-alone workout as well. And if you use the TRX system, you can even do it while on vacation to keep up with your workout regimen. (Keep in mind the system was developed by a Navy Seal for use while on long deployments.)

So if you want to add some variety to your workout and/or if you’re interested in working several different muscle groups, don’t overlook suspension training. The concept may sound strange at first, but you’ll soon learn that the exercises involved in suspension training can build muscle, improve balance and endurance, and perhaps most importantly, are fun!

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The single-leg lunge is done by simply placing one foot in the grip and placing the working leg forward. As you extend the suspended leg back, lunge forward with the working leg. Photo Monte Egherman

Suspension Training Exercises

Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Due to the weight of PPE and other gear, the ability to maintain balance is probably one of the most important physical requirements of firefighters. Monte Egherman's photos illustrate several suspension exercises and how they can help improve balance while also increasing strength and endurance.