Suspension Training: Functional Training Leans Forward

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Fitness Anywhere, Inc.
When Billy Polson talks, RealJock listens. That's because the co-founder of the DIAKADI Body personal training gym in San Francisco, top 10 trainer in the Bay Area (SF Chronicle), and creator of's Strong and Lean 12-Week Workout program knows a ton about fitness. So when Polson really raves about something, our ears tend to perk up.

Raving he has been, and not about the latest stability ball (although he likes those too). What's been getting Polson so excited? Suspension training—and a suspension device called TRX in particular. TRX, made by Fitness Anywhere, is one of two increasingly popular suspension systems currently making their way into higher-end gyms like Crunch and Equinox (the other, InkaFlexx, is made by Inka Fitness).

So just what are these so-called suspension systems? Well, they're not much to look at—a couple of heavy-duty nylon straps, some handles and foot cradles, buckles, and standard hooks for attaching to any weight rack or other gym equipment. But, like the stability ball, it's not until you see them in action that you begin to understand just how much they can help your fitness regimen.

Suspension training comes out of the increasingly popular school of functional training, in which you train your body as a whole instead of focusing on individual body parts. The basic premise of suspension training is that you hang from the straps—either by holding the straps by your hands and leaning into or away from them, or by hanging your feet in them—and use your own weight to work your body. A typical example: Instead of doing leg presses on machines, you can hold the straps in your hands, lean back, and do one-legged squats—working your legs and core while dealing with a serious balance challenge.

The benefits of suspension training are two-fold. First, it trains muscles together as they are meant to be worked, and not in isolation. Second, the suspension system literally forces the body to use core muscles in almost every exercise. The end result? Four big wins: Stronger muscles, a tougher core, improved balance, and better flexibility.

"All of the trainers here at DIAKADI have taken to using the TRX with a huge majority of our clients," says Polson. "It is an amazing tool that combines full-body joint stabilization with nearly every exercise you perform on it. We are able to force the client to use their entire body with every individual muscle we are focusing on. Whether they are working their biceps, back, chest, or triceps, clients must always use their abdominals, pelvic stabilizers, and lower back to maintain body control throughout the movement."

TRX was developed by Randy Hetrick, a veteran of the Navy Seals. Hetrick created TRX as a performance training tool that could be used by Navy Seals no matter where they were deployed—on a boat, in a sub, and so on. The Navy Seals liked it so much as both a training and rehabilitation tool that Hetrick continued to develop it into the professional system it is today. Its competitor, InkaFlexx, was developed by a former professional soccer player named Kurt Dasbach, now a personal trainer at Equinox.

These suspension products can be found in tough cardio/strength/flexibility classes at an increasing number of gyms, as well as in the hands of in-the-know personal trainers. But, like their predecessor the stability ball, it will probably take several years until they become a ubiquitous tool. If you can't find the system at a gym near you, Fitness Anywhere sells the product on its web site and offers training courses for professionals as well as video demonstrations of individual exercises. If you do decide to try the system yourself at home, be sure to buy the door anchor attachment, which does not ship with the standard product.

Get a Taste of Suspension Training
We asked Ami Student, an ACSM- and NASM-certified personal trainer at DIAKADI Body, to model some of TRX's recommended exercises, then picked our favorite five from the bunch to give you an idea of the innovation you can add to your workouts using suspension training. Thanks to TRX for providing on-site staff and accurate descriptions to make sure we got it right.

TRX Exercise Quick Links
  1. "Y" Shoulder Raise
  2. Chest Press
  3. Bicep Curls
  4. Suspended Crunch
  5. Hamstring Curls
  6. Suspension Training Overview