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Suspension training as a method of improving fitness

This is an excerpt from Complete Guide to TRX® Suspension Training®-2nd Edition by Jay Dawes.

Suspension Training has been shown to improve a variety of health, fitness, and performance measures in recreationally active populations. Janot and colleagues (2013) reported that performing Suspension Training twice per week for seven weeks resulted in significant improvements in flexibility, balance, core endurance, and lower-body strength among younger adults (19 to 25 years). In the same study, researchers also discovered that middle-aged adults (44 to 64 years) using Suspension Training experienced significant improvements in both core endurance and lower-body strength. Similarly, Smith et al. (2016) reported significant (p less than 0.05) improvements in waist circumference, blood pressure, body fat percentage, and muscular fitness among males and females after eight weeks of performing a Suspension Training session. These findings suggest that numerous health and fitness benefits can be developed through the use of Suspension Training. In the following sections, specific physical attributes that can be developed using this modality will be discussed in greater detail.

Improving Muscular Fitness

One of the major benefits of Suspension Training is the ability to apply progressive resistance to the body, which is the key to a successful resistance training program. Suspension Training can be used to improve a wide variety of muscular attributes including endurance, size, strength, and power. However, the muscle attribute best developed during Suspension Training may depend on an individual’s initial strength level. Suspension Training may yield significant increases in overall muscular endurance and strength, and muscle size for individuals with minimal resistance training experience.

As a general rule of thumb, those who can perform no more than 10 repetitions of a given exercise should focus on muscle size and strength rather than endurance. In contrast, those who can perform significantly more than 10 repetitions of a particular Suspension Training exercise would likely benefit the most by using this device to develop muscular endurance. However, many Suspension Training exercises can be manipulated to increase the overall training load even for advanced lifters. For example, adding external resistance (such as a weighted vest), manipulating body position in relation to the anchor point, or using single-limb versions of certain exercises can significantly affect training load and shift the physical demands from muscular endurance to strength.

Suspension Training can also be used as an adjunct to training stronger individuals. Exercises that focus on attributes such as mobility and flexibility can be incorporated into a more traditional training program as a form of active recovery between sets: improving time efficiency and training density. Suspension Training can also be used as a method to increase training volume during a hypertrophy (i.e., muscle size) cycle or as a deloading session to enhance muscle recovery. Suspension Training may also be beneficial in reducing the amount of strength lost during periods in which access to a gym or more traditional forms of equipment are difficult (e.g., travel, facility closures, etc.). During these times Suspension Training may be used to help preserve strength or shift the training emphasis to working on complementary or weaker muscle groups, which may be advantageous when returning to normal training.

Metabolic Conditioning

Suspension Training can be used as a form of total body conditioning to develop the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Research by Dudgeon et al. (2015) found that a 60-minute whole body interval-based Suspension Training workout resulted in average heart rates at 69 ± 2 percent of estimated max and burned approximately 340.9 ± 13.6 kcal (95.3 ± 0.4 kcal/min). Similarly, Snarr and colleagues (2014) reported that a high-intensity interval-based workout consisting of nine body weight–based Suspension Training exercises resulted in participants achieving average heart rates of approximately 83 ± 4.2 percent of estimated max. Furthermore, these authors reported that the estimated caloric expenditure of this session was 96.98 ± 19.49 total kcal (10.8 ±2.2 kcal/min). These findings suggest that Suspension Training is an effective method of improving metabolic fitness and body composition. Additionally, this style of training may work well for individuals that dislike performing traditional steady-state cardiovascular training.

Developing Movement Efficiency

One of the major benefits of using Suspension Training is the ability to develop movement efficiency. Whether in sport or daily life, individuals must be able to produce, reduce, and dynamically stabilize forces to produce efficient and effective movements (see figure 2.1).

Figure 2.1
Figure 2.1 Essential elements of performance.

This requires a combination of both stability (i.e., resistance to movement), mobility (i.e., the ability to move), and motor control (i.e., coordination). Producing efficient movements at the joints requires a base of stability (i.e., proximal stability) that allows the arms and legs to move fluidly through their intended ranges of motion (i.e., distal mobility). Consequently, inadequate mobility or stability may compromise movement and motor control. This is one of the primary reasons for first emphasizing proximal stability and motor control of the trunk in the training program. Doing so optimizes joint mobility and has a dramatic effect on functional abilities. Suspension Training is an excellent way to help develop each of these attributes simultaneously. Based on the setup and execution of many Suspension Training exercises, the demand for trunk stability and control can be increased beyond that of many traditional exercises.

More Excerpts From Complete Guide to TRX® Suspension Training® 2nd Edition

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