The body-weight suspension-training movement has achieved significant popularity in the last ten years.
Today, almost all gyms currently have one or two sets of “straps” hanging from a bar or wall hook.
However, one of the biggest benefits of a suspension body-weight workout is that it’s also easy to do outside in the fresh air.
A suspension-training workout is effective for both men and women.
Using suspension straps is appropriate for all fitness levels – including beginners, since you’re using your own body-weight as resistance. You can easily modify an exercise by simply changing the degree of incline or decline.
You can keep a set of straps in your car and hang them from the monkey bars at your local neighborhood park.
Suspension-training straps can also hang from tree limbs, bleachers, any secure bar, or even an SUV’s roof rack.
Among the two most popular suspension trainers are the:
- Lifeline Jungle Gym XT (the “XT” stands for Cross-Trainer, meaning you can train more than one skill or muscle group at a time).
- TRX (which stands for Total Body Resistance Exercise).
Both of these suspension systems are similar – and good to use (you’ll notice I use both kinds of systems in the photos and video below) – though I confess I slightly prefer the Lifeline Jungle Gym XT because:
- The straps have a built-in separator which helps position the arms wide enough that the straps don’t have to hit your shoulders during reps.
- It has secure plastic stir-ups that your feet can fit into nicely.
One of the astounding benefits of suspension training is that it trains the body’s core muscles in the particular way they prefer to be conditioned – as stabilizers. For example:
- When you do a sit-up you’re training your abs as flexors (bending forward and using the ribcage like an accordion).
- But when you do a plank, you’re training your abs as stabilizers (forcing the muscles to work as they’re intended, to stabilize your body-weight from your body’s central core).
It’s not that I never do crunches – I do – but I find that balancing my body within precarious planking positions is about the most effective way there is for me to condition my abdominal muscles. Suspension training accomplishes this beautifully.
Another thing I like about suspension training is that it’s highly functional, preparing my body to move skillfully in ways it might have to later in real life – using agility, mobility, and balance.
We’ve all heard stories of people who throw their back out sneezing, or break their ankle stepping off of a street curb. Functional fitness is good for making your body stronger for those ways humans actually move out in the world.
Finally – for aesthetics – I like the way suspension training sculpts muscle by emphasizing range of motion, higher volume, and quality of muscular contraction.
Sure, I sometimes like to move heavy iron around inside the gym to help my muscles get bigger. But suspension training outside is an opportunity to work on the shape and definition of those muscles – instead of just their size.
A Full-Body Suspension-Training Workout that You Can Do Anywhere
What follows is a suspension-training workout that uses your own body-weight for resistance, and can be easily modified by varying your positioning – so it can be good for beginners as well as athletes over the age of 50.
These 15 exercises comprise a caloire-burning workout that will sculpt your major muscle groups as it firms your core.
Each circuit is done three times.
Do each exercise within the circuit consecutively without rest, then take a 2-minute rest before repeating.
The benefits of doing circuits in this way – with little rest – is the positive impact it has on your metabolism. You’ll keep burning calories even after the workout is over.
It’s a real fat-burner.
After you complete your third time through a particular circuit, you move on to the next circuit in the series.
I recommend beginning each exercise gently at first, to get an idea of what your body can handle on a particular day. Be mindful of your shoulders and hips especially – if something causes sharp pain, stop doing it immediately.
Pardon me for wearing sunglasses in the photos – I have light-green eyes that are sometimes very sensitive to glare.
Circuit One: Suspension Supermans, Roll Ups, Prone Knee Pulls, Pike, and Scissors
- Start by bending at the waist and reaching for your toes.
- Keep the core activated and feel just a bit of stretch in your hamstrings.
- Next, reach your arms out and lower your hips to plank-level, like Superman flying. Repeat.
- 20 repetitions.
- To protect your lower back, keep your glutes and abs working the entire time.
- 10 reps.
- Heels in the stir ups. Start by reaching for your toes, then roll down slowly using the strength of your core.
- At the bottom reach your arms overhead without letting your ribs pop up.
- Without using momentum, roll up and touch your toes.
- Initiate the movement from the muscular contraction of your abdominals.
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Prone Knee Pulls
- 10 reps.
- This is an opportunity to flatten your lower abdominal plate – that part of your front waist located below the navel.
- Be mindful – you don’t want your shoulders to come too far forward of your wrists.
- It’s tempting to use your quadriceps and hip flexors for most of the effort, but try to pull from your abdominals instead.
- 10 repetitions.
- From starting plank position, pull your hips up to the sky as far as you can.
- Excellent for developing your core muscles.
- Initiate all movement from the abdomin first.
- Careful of your wrists (make fists if it feels better, but keep your forearms stable).
- When returning to the starting position, make sure your hips don’t drop below plank level.
- Objective: some inner and outer thigh work while firming the waistline.
- Scissor your legs out and in while holding a suspended plank position.
- Keep your navel pulled up as tightly as you can.
- 10 reps.
Second Circuit: Leaning Body-Weight Squats, Reverse Suspension Lunges, Jump Squat, and Plyometric Reverse Lunges.
Leaning Body-Weight Squats
- Find the squat positioning that is most helpful for your knees. For most people, that means feet hip-distance apart (or a bit wider) and feet parallel (or just slightly turned out).
- Lean back as you squat with your chest up and butt back. Push the soles of your feet into the ground the entire time and keep your abs tight. As you come up toward the top of your squat, give your glutes an extra squeeze and center your pelvis.
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- For some reason, people are tempted to hold their breath when they squat. But inhale deeply on the way down, and exhale vigorously (yet quietly) on the way up.
- 10 reps.
Reverse Suspension Lunges
- 10 reps each side.
- Reach your leg back and lunge until you knee almost touches the ground.
- To protect your front kneecap, be certain to reach your leg back far enough so that your front knee is then not to0 far forward of your ankle.
The next two exercises in the circuit are a repeat of the first two, except they’re the plyometric version:
- 10 reps.
- Same as the leaning squats you just did, but this time you jump up – so that your feet leave the ground. See the video at the bottom of this article to see a live-action version.
Plyometric Reverse Lunges
- 10 reps, alternating.
- Same as the reverse suspension lunges you just did, but this time you jump up to switch legs – so that your feet leave the ground. See the video at end.
Third Circuit: Suspension Push-Ups, Leaning Fly, Hanging Rows, Reverse Fly, Bicep Curls, and Tricep Extensions
- 10 reps each side.
- Suspended push ups should work mostly your chest muscles, not just your arms and shoulders.
- 10 reps.
- Core super tight.
- Be sure to keep your elbows slightly bent the whole time. The more tender your shoulders are, the more you’ll need to bend your elbows.
- Lean forward like you’re flying, with arms wide. As you exhale, bring your hands together in front of your chest – like you’re hugging a tree.
- 10 reps.
- Think about initiating the movement from your back muscles, otherwise your biceps will do all the work.
- You can do either hanging rows (see video below) where your back is almost touching the ground, or leaning rows (like in photo above).
- 10 reps.
- Lean back at the beginning with hands forward, and then as you reverse fly (open your arms), pull your self forward to almost standing.
- This is a great posture-improver, as it strengthens the posterior-deltoids.
Bicep Curls and Tricep Extensions
- 10 reps each.
- For biceps, lean back with knees slightly bend and arms forward – then curl, keeping your elbows close.
- For triceps, lean out the other way. Arms forward, bending the elbows, keeping them turned forward – then extend (see video below).
Executed with good form, the above suspension exercises can help to give you a defined, sculpted body and improve the overall condition of your physique.
The entire workout can be done in under 45-minutes.
For beginners, proceed slowly while you familiarize yourself with the movements. Later, you can add speed, for increased results.
Please do remember to make absolutely sure that your straps are fully secure before you start exercising with them. Once, a sleep-deprived workout buddy mounted the straps while telling me a story – and when it was time for me to do a set, the strap slid right off the bar and I fell flat on my back. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt, but from that point forward we were more careful!
As always, ask your medical doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
It’s a lot of fun to do a full-body suspension training workout outside in the fresh air. These 15 exercises can give you a complete, calorie-burning workout in a short amount of time.
Special thanks to Ákos Farkas for his help with this article.