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10 Essential Suspension Training Exercises for a Total Body Workout

By Laura Williams

stabilityWhen you introduce instability into your exercise routine, whether by working out with a stability ball, a BOSU ball, or any similar piece of equipment, your body has to engage more muscle groups in order to maintain balance. Ultimately, this helps improve joint stability and core strength, two factors that can enhance total body fitness and help prevent injury. Suspension training is a popular method of instability training that allows you to work in every plane of motion, using your body weight and gravity to improve strength and balance.

Suspension trainers are essentially heavy-duty straps that attach to the top of a door jamb, wall, or ceiling, with handles at one end. Each brand’s configuration is unique, but most provide a way to adjust the length of the straps so you can position the handles at different heights, expanding the number of exercises you can perform. This number is practically endless, as you can grip the straps or place your feet through them to change your body’s positioning.

Most suspension trainers cost between $50 and $250, depending on the brand. I picked up my set of Jungle Gym XT straps for $100, but you can find them for less.

Using a Suspension Trainer

To use suspension trainers safely, you need to consider three things:

  1. Where You Anchor the Straps. Regardless of the brand, suspension trainers must be securely anchored to a door, wall, or ceiling. Read the instructions carefully to make sure you’re anchoring yours correctly. Failure to properly do so could cause straps to fall during use, which might lead to injury.
  2. Your Core Strength. While suspension trainers can help improve core strength and balance, they also require a baseline level in order to use them correctly. It’s a good idea to work with a personal trainer or fitness instructor the first time you use a suspension trainer to make sure your form is correct. A fitness instructor can also help you determine which exercises you’re ready for and which you need to wait on.
  3. Your Familiarity With Exercise. Suspension trainers add a twist to many traditional exercises. If you’re familiar with the moves when executed without a suspension trainer, you’re going to be better prepared to perform them correctly when using the straps. It’s not a bad idea to ease your way into a suspension training program by starting with the standard moves performed on land, without the added difficulty of an unstable, semi-airborne position.

Suspension Training Exercises

While the possibilities are practically endless when it comes to suspension training, here are 10 exercises to get you started.

1. Pistol Squat

pistol squat

Develop leg and core strength while working each leg unilaterally by performing a pistol squat. This type of squat is hard to master without added support, so this is actually one of the few exercises that’s easier with a suspension trainer.

  1. Using one strap, position the handle so that the grip is at approximately shoulder-height when you’re standing next to the trainer.
  2. Stand so the strap is just in front of your right shoulder, and grip it with your right hand. Take a step backward to add some tension to the strap.
  3. Lift your right leg off the ground, extending it in front of your body at an angle.
  4. From this position, make sure your weight is centered over your left heel, then shift your hips back and squat down, lowering them toward the ground as you bend your left knee and allow your right arm to extend. Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t rely too much on your right arm as you lower yourself down – it’s there to help with balance and allow you to perform the squat correctly.
  5. When your left knee forms a 90-degree angle, press through your heel and push yourself back to standing position, allowing your right arm to assist as needed.
  6. Perform 8 to 10 squats on one side before switching to the opposite side.

2. Single Leg Lunge

single leg lungeWork your lower body unilaterally while improving ankle stability with the single leg lunge. It’s a good idea to have a chair or another sturdy object close at hand to hold onto in case you lose balance.

  1. Position the grips on the trainer at about the height of your upper thigh.
  2. Stand approximately one foot in front of the suspension trainer, with your back facing it. Bend your left knee backward and slide your foot through the suspension trainer’s hand grip, using it as a foot grip. Place your hands on your hips, or let them hang at your sides.
  3. From this position, bend your right knee, pressing your weight through your right heel as you extend your left leg behind you, as if you were performing a lunge. Keep your torso upright and straight.
  4. When your right knee forms a 90-degree angle, press through your heel and return to standing, drawing the left foot back in toward your body.
  5. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions on one side before switching to the opposite side.

3. Squat to High Row

squat to high row

While this exercise does work your lower body, its targets are actually your shoulders, back, and biceps.

  1. Position the trainer at chest height. Stand about one foot behind it, facing the grips.
  2. Reach out and hold the trainer with both hands and sit back into a squat, allowing your arms to extend. Shift your hips backward so your arms continue the diagonal line created by the straps. Lift your toes slightly off the ground to help keep your weight shifted backward.
  3. From this position, use your back and biceps to pull your body up toward the handles by squeezing your shoulder blades together as your elbows bend. You can use your lower body for help if you need it, but try to do as much as possible using only your upper body.
  4. Very slowly lower yourself back to starting position, again using the strength of your back and biceps to control the downward movement.
  5. Perform 12 repetitions, rest, then repeat.

4. Pushup

push up

This version of a pushup engages your upper body and core, and requires a fair amount of shoulder stability.

  1. Position the handles at any height you feel comfortable with, from chest-level to knee-level. The closer the handles are to the floor, the more difficult the exercise is.
  2. Stand behind the handles, then grip them with both hands. Depending on where the grips are positioned, either step your feet backward or extend your arms forward to create tension in the suspension straps. The goal is for your arms to be fully extended and perpendicular to your body while your body itself is straight, forming a line from head to heel. You’re going to notice that this position requires a lot of core engagement, and also requires you to tighten your shoulders and chest to help keep your arms from shaking or wavering. If this feels too difficult, lower the straps toward the floor and perform the exercise while kneeling on the ground, much like a standard kneeling pushup.
  3. Keeping your core tight and your shoulders strong, slowly bend your elbows, lowering your chest toward the handles.
  4. When your elbows form 90-degree angles, press against the handles to push yourself back to the starting position.
  5. Perform 8 to 10 repetitions, rest, and repeat.

5. Running Man

running man

Work on your core while also strengthening your shoulders, chest, and hip flexors.

  1. Adjust the straps so the handles are about two feet off the ground. Kneel in front of the straps with your back to them.
  2. Place your palms on the ground, your arms fully extended, then one at a time, position each foot within its respective handhold. Once they’re both in, shift your weight forward over your palms and engage your core, lifting your legs from the ground as you extend them behind you. The starting position looks like a pushup, only with your legs being held off the ground by the straps.
  3. Keeping your core tight, draw one knee in to your chest, then extend that leg as you draw the opposite knee toward your chest, as if you were running.
  4. Continue alternating back and forth for 30 seconds. Rest, then repeat for another 30 seconds.

6. Bridge

bridge

Work on your core, glutes, and hamstrings with this exercise.

  1. Position the suspension strap handles so that they’re a few feet off the floor, at knee-height or lower.
  2. Lie down on a mat behind the straps, your arms on the ground at your sides. One at a time, place each foot halfway through the straps’ respective handholds so you can use the hand grip as a platform for your feet. Press your feet against the grip to create tension in the straps. Your knees should be bent at a roughly 90-degree angle to accommodate this position.
  3. Keeping your knees bent and your feet fixed in place, tighten your core, hips, and glutes, and press your hips up toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from shoulder blades to knees.
  4. Carefully lower your hips back toward the ground, stopping just before they touch down.
  5. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions, rest, and repeat.

7. Hamstring Curl

hamstring curl

To work on your hamstrings, glutes, and core, try this version of a hamstring curl.

  1. Position the suspension strap handles so that they’re a few feet off the floor, at knee-height or lower.
  2. Lie down on a mat behind the straps, your arms on the ground at your sides. One at a time, place each foot halfway through the straps’ respective handholds so you can use the hand grip as a platform for your feet. Press your feet against the grip to create tension in the straps, then extend your legs fully. Tighten your core and lift your hips from the ground so your body forms a straight line from shoulder blades to heels. This is your starting position.
  3. Keeping your torso fixed in place, bend your knees, and pull your heels in toward your body. You should feel this working your hamstrings.
  4. Reverse the movement and carefully extend your legs. Do this exercise 8 to 10 times, rest, and repeat.

8. Pike

pike

Work your core, chest, and shoulders as you perform the pike exercise.

  1. Position the suspension trainer handles so they’re a few feet off the floor. Kneel in front of the straps, your back to the handles. Lean forward and place your palms on the ground. One by one, place both feet into their respective handles. Once they’re positioned, shift your weight forward over your palms, tighten your core, and lift your knees off the ground, extending them behind you. The result should look like a pushup position with your legs held off the ground. This is the starting position.
  2. Keeping your torso and legs independently straight, tighten your core and hinge your hips up toward the ceiling. As you hinge upward, your shoulders should also hinge, and your legs should be drawn in toward your body.
  3. When you’ve hinged as high as you can (aiming to form a “V” with your body), reverse the movement and carefully extend your hips, lowering your body back into the starting position.
  4. Perform 8 to 10 repetitions, rest, and repeat.

9. Reverse Ab Curl

reverse curl
Work on your abs, core muscles, chest, and triceps as you perform the reverse ab curl.

  1. Position the suspension trainer handles so they’re a few feet off the floor. Kneel in front of the straps, with your back to the handles. Lean forward and place your palms on the ground. One by one, slide both feet into their respective handles. Once they’re positioned, shift your weight forward over your palms, tighten your core, and lift your knees off the ground, extending them behind you. The result should look like a pushup position with your legs suspended off the ground. This is the starting position.
  2. Tighten your core, then in a single unit, pull your knees in toward your chest. You should keep your arms straight and fixed throughout this motion.
  3. When you’ve drawn your knees in as close as you can, reverse the movement and carefully extend your legs back to start.
  4. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions, rest, and repeat.

10. Situp-to-Curl

sit-up to curl

Work your abs and biceps as you perform a situp-to-curl.

  1. Position the suspension strap handles at a height where you can grip them with your arms extended when you’re lying on the ground beneath them.
  2. Lie on a mat beneath the suspension trainer so that the handles are hanging over your navel.
  3. Bend your knees and place your heels on the ground. Reach up and grasp the handles with both arms, your palms facing your head.
  4. Engage your abs and curl your neck and shoulder blades off the floor. Then, engage your biceps and pull your chest up toward the handles, bending your elbows until you’ve pulled yourself as high as you can go.
  5. Reverse the movement and carefully lower yourself back to the floor.
  6. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions, rest, and repeat.

Final Word

If you’re adding suspension training to your exercise routine for the first time, don’t be afraid to take it slow. Try one or two exercises, master the form, then continue on with your normal strength training routine. The last thing you want is to try more than you’re ready for and end up overly sore or injured.

Have you tried suspension training?

Laura Williams
Laura Williams holds a master's degree in exercise and sport science and enjoys breaking up her day by running her dogs, hitting the gym, and watching TV. Having been in charge of her own finances since the early age of 12, she knows how to save and when to spend, and she loves sharing these tips with others. Laura ditched her career as a fitness center manager for the relative freedom of home-based writing and editing work. She stays busy by working on her own website, GirlsGoneSporty, a website designed to help the sporty woman live the sporty life.

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  • http://moneystepper.com/ moneystepper

    Great tips and a very timely reminder that this “Christmas insulation” isn’t going to lose itself!! :)

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