Are your crunches getting stale? Pushups got you down? Planks gone kerplunk?
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If your core-training routine isn’t cutting it for you anymore, suspension training can give your workout the boost you’re craving. Not for the sweat-adverse, suspensions trainers are the love language of the next-level workout crowd.
There are dozens of ways to work out your core with a suspension trainer (also commonly known by the brand name TRX®). We talked with Ernest Miller, PT, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist, to whittle the list down to seven of the best core-boosting suspension trainer exercises for you.
A suspension trainer uses gravity and your body weight for a truly demanding workout that gets some serious results. A suspension trainer is made up of straps that are attached to an anchor, usually on a wall, ceiling or door frame. At the end of the straps are handles. You either grab onto the handles with your hands or use them to support your feet as you perform various exercises.
Suspension trainer exercises can engage your entire core, and a whole bunch of other muscles, by using your weight plus gravity to make you work harder. It’s a science-backed, hardcore, strength-training boost.
“Suspension trainers take away stability and support. That might sound like a bad thing, but if you think about most of the exercises people do in a typical gym setting, you’re either stabilizing yourself by using a bench or the floor to support your body,” Dr. Miller says. “When you use a suspension trainer, you’re attached to something that’s going to move if you don’t stabilize it yourself. So, there are some major core-building benefits there when you take away that support structure.”
Take pushups for example. Manageable, right? Now, imagine doing a pushup while your friend holds your feet a few inches off the ground. Well, now that’s a bit harder. The suspension trainer is that friend. (OK, maybe not your best friend, but a very capable and demanding workout buddy, at least.)
You’ll find suspension training setups at just about any gym. There are also systems for your home gym that hang from doorways or even from your backyard trees. Dr. Miller says home-based machines can be just as good as the ones you’ll find at the gym, but emphasizes that proper setup is required to ensure safety. Read the instructions carefully, and make sure it’s properly anchored according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Because they remove the element of stability from your workout, suspension trainers should be reserved for the intermediate or moderate workout crowd. As Dr. Miller says, “You need to know your 123s before you start doing long division.” Exercise newbies: Start here.
A word of caution before we proceed: When using a suspension trainer, focus on the quality of the workout, rather than completing a certain rep goal.
“These are not the exercises you want to push to the point of failure,” Dr. Miller says. “If you’re on a suspension trainer and you get too tired to go on, it’s not going to be so easy to bail out. You’re out there, controlling your body in space. Put yourself in the situation where you’re in a good position to disengage safely.”
If you’re ready to kick things into a higher gear, Dr. Miller suggests trying these exercises.
Watch the video to see the move in action:
You can change the intensity of this move by changing the angle of your back body to the ground in the leaned-back position. The more upright you start, the easier it will be. Start by taking a step forward, toward the machine, to increase the challenge.
“The inverted row is a good replacement for a pullup, which is very hard for most people,” Dr. Miller notes. “Using the straps, with your feet on the ground, you’re not having to pull your whole body weight from a dead hang, but you’ll get similar benefits.”
You can change the intensity of this move by changing the angle of your back body to the ground in the starting position. The more upright you start, the easier it will be. Take a step back, toward the machine to increase the challenge.
“This is a fun one, and it’s essentially the suspension trainer version of an ab roller,” Dr. Miller says. “You have to have good baseline upper body strength for the fallout. So, while it’s working your core, there are a lot of forces going through your shoulders, too.”
“Much of the exercises we do are backward and forward. If you’re not moving side to side and rotating, you’re missing out on opportunities to train your side muscles,” Dr. Miller states. “Torso rotation is a great one to make sure we’re working out the obliques. You’ll really feel some good all-over core engagement if you do it properly.”
If you’ve had a previous injury, surgery, or any condition that you think may affect your ability to exercise safely, Dr. Miller suggests you consult a physician before starting new activities.
If you’re otherwise healthy, you should consider consulting with a qualified fitness expert or a sports medicine professional to see if suspension training is appropriate for your current level of fitness.