The Science Behind Suspension Training®

The Science Behind Suspension Training®

We think the smartest gym is one that is effective, affordable, intuitive, and convenient; a gym that anyone, regardless of their background can use. 

It’s why we created the TRX Suspension Trainer™. 

Reading The Science Behind Suspension Training® 8 minutes

With the barrage of screens and gadgets flooding the fitness market, it may seem like a “smart gym” is one that requires a power supply and a WiFi connection. TRX takes a different approach. We think the smartest gym is one that is effective, affordable, intuitive, and convenient; a gym that anyone, regardless of their background can use. 

It’s why we created the TRX Suspension Trainer™. 

With the Suspension Trainer, you don’t need an outlet, a drill, a PhD, a home installation crew, or small fortune to get a full body workout. Sure, that may sound like magic or wishful thinking, but it’s actually driven by something even more powerful: science. 

According to studies published by the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, the Suspension Training® versions of exercises like push-ups, planks, and rows, are better than the standard bodyweight versions. 

Studies showed:

  • Average activation levels of the rectus abdominis, external abdominal obliques, internal abdominal obliques and latissimus dorsi were, respectively, 184%, 46%, 54% and 59% greater during suspended push-ups than they were during standard push-ups
  • A plank with elbows in a Suspension Trainer elicited significantly higher muscle activation in the rectus abdominis than all other variations of the plank exercise
  • Suspension Trainer push-up exercises require greater torso muscle activity than push-ups performed on stable surfaces.
  • An inverted row on a Suspension Trainer requires less spinal load and shear force than other rowing exercises, while still stimulating trunk muscle activation, making it a better option than traditional rows for people with compromised trunk musculature.

Let’s dig into how Suspension Training works, why bodyweight and gravity make the ultimate strength-training team, and why the TRX Suspension Trainer is all you need for a ridiculously good workout.

What is the TRX Suspension Trainer?

The TRX Suspension Trainer is a tool that leverages your bodyweight at different angles to make exercises either easier or more challenging. A set of adjustable straps with handles and foot cradles on each end, it can be set up almost anywhere in a matter of seconds, without special equipment or a lot of space. (The official recommendation is a 6’ by 8’ workout area.) With just one tool, you can perform a complete range of exercises, like chest presses, bicep curls, tricep extensions, squats, rows, and planks. 

Anyone, regardless of their fitness level, can use the Suspension Trainer. On the easier end of the spectrum, someone might use it to absorb some of the load of an exercise—to make an exercise easier. (That’s just one reason why physical therapists love the Suspension Trainer.) On the more challenging side, someone could use the Suspension Trainer to invert an exercise, making it harder.

What is Suspension Training?

Suspension Training is a form of exercise that uses supportive straps—i.e. the Suspension Trainer—to adjust the load created by a combination of gravity and bodyweight. With the straps, you can amplify or offset your bodyweight. For many exercises, it’s been proven more effective than using free weights like dumbbells or bodyweight alone.

If you’ve never tried Suspension Training, that might be confusing, so let’s talk through that idea with a few real-world scenarios demonstrating how the Suspension Trainer can make an exercise easier or harder.

We’ll take the easy route first.

If you can stand on two feet, then the act of standing likely comes naturally to you. Your weight and balance are evenly distributed between your feet. Lift one leg, and standing on a single foot probably feels harder. But, if you have a chair nearby to steady yourself, that single-leg stand becomes more manageable. That’s because the chair takes on part of the load and reduces the stability challenge.

The same idea can apply to Suspension Training. By holding the Suspension Trainer handles during an exercise, you have the option of offloading some of your bodyweight onto the straps, and letting the straps stabilize your movement. 

Consider a squat. Almost anyone can squat, but not everyone's squat looks the same. By holding onto the straps, someone who struggles with a deep squat can get assistance from the Suspension Trainer. Because they’re holding onto something, they can focus on their form, instead of worrying about toppling over or getting stuck at the bottom of a rep.

The Suspension Trainer can also make an exercise harder by creating conditions of instability.

In Suspension Training, you’ll often hear people talk about “adjusting the angle” of an exercise to change the difficulty level. This is a pretty common concept in strength training. Have you ever used an incline or decline bench at the gym? Or tried the limbo? The same principles apply. When you perform an exercise at a steeper angle, it increases the intensity of the exercise. In Suspension Training, you adjust your angle—and difficulty—by stepping further from or closer to your anchor point. The steeper your angle, the harder the move. 

Leaning in to Gravity

There’s a common misconception in strength training that lifting heavy stuff is the sole path to getting stronger. In reality, the two components to building muscle are muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and muscle protein synthesis (MPS). You increase your muscle mass through exercise when the MPS is greater than the MPB. 

Lifting a heavy object is just one way to build muscle. You can also turn to tempo-based exercises and time under tension. 

High Intensity Interval Training, better known as HIIT, is a tempo-based solution. Tempo variability—slowing down or speeding up an exercise—changes the challenge. 

To increase mass through time under tension, you slow down the pace, and hold an exercise at the hardest point of the move. For example, in a push-up, you could lower down from straight arms to bent arms on a count of three, hold at the bottom of your range of motion for a count of three, and then push up to straight arms quickly. 

Do you do yoga or ballet? The shaky feeling you get as you hold a pose is the time under tension burn. 

Bodyweight and gravity are phenomenal resources for improving your strength and mobility. That’s why they’re the foundations of Suspension Training. 

Movement Training

Suspension Training isn’t just for building muscle; it’s for helping people move better. There's an assumption in fitness that people can move well; that's typically incorrect. The strongest athlete in any room probably could use help with flexibility or mobility. The most flexible dancer or yogi may need a strength boost. There’s room for movement training in everyone’s fitness program. 

The idea of movement as the foundation of all the other components—cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, and flexibility—is central to the TRX training philosophy. Every exercise with the Suspension Trainer circles back to at least one of the seven foundational movements: plank, pull, hinge, push, rotate, squat, and lunge. The Suspension Trainer helps people master their form, and gradually increase the load to improve performance.

By training and challenging those foundational movements in different ways, Suspension Training improves a person’s overall functional movement. It’s a low-tech, high concept approach to building stronger, more mobile bodies.

Professional Support

You don’t have to venture into the world of Suspension Training alone, and you don’t have to max out your credit cards on a pricey coaching. With TRX Training Club, you get access to the best TRX trainers around the world in both live and on-demand classes. Our coaches handle all the science and programming so you can focus on sweating and having fun.

From basic set-ups videos explaining how to install your Suspension Trainer and adjust the straps, to TRX START-level beginner classes to TRX STRONG pro-level workouts, there’s something to help every athlete hit their goals.

Every TRX Suspension Trainer—even one that’s years old—comes with a free trial to TRX Training Club, so be sure to register your straps to get started for free.

Exercise fads built on expensive studios and slick new toys come and go; it’s the minimalist, evidence-based tools that have staying power. The TRX Suspension Trainer is simple, effective, absurdly portable, and—most importantly—proven by science. Want to move better? Embrace movement through Suspension Training.

New to the Suspension Trainer? We’ve got in-depth tutorials on how to set up and adjust your straps here.