Monday, March 26, 2007

Suspension Training

My friend Alex sent me the recent NYT article on "suspension" training. I looked at the website for the TRX straps and couldn't find any images of someone using the Inkaflexx straps to get a better idea of how people are using these things. Basically they are rings, but with flexible slots that allow you to easily support the legs as well. And you can take them anywhere. That's a good thing, in my book.

Again, we have a "new" product that the personal fitness industry is all abuzz over. And of course, it is "sexy" because it was "invented" by a former Navy Seal. Hey, we'd all like to say we aspire to the physical capabilities of a Navy Seal, right?

It sells, baby.

Like some of the people quoted in the NYT article, I don't feel most "fitness oriented" people are prepared to use this equipment. They have trouble controlling and perceiving their own bodyweight in modified positions on SOLID surfaces. But hey, regular push ups and lunges aren't sexy. And they can a little boring after a few weeks, months and years. But the point of basic or high level fitness and athletic development isn't about doing the most exotic moves. It's about first mastering the most basic movements and then pushing the envelope training for a higher level of capacity. Even the most elite athletes practice and refine the most basic movements over and over.

Then there are those people who are ready and they enjoy some variety. Certainly the CrossFit community and the popularity of parkour have brought back the appreciation for basic gymnastic skills and bodyweight strength/endurance skills. There's some good stuff in this type of training, although it doesn't always emphasize quality of movement, just the quantity of movement. Lots of inane activities can raise your heartrate for 50 minutes. Again, I like to get the quality of the base movement established and an understanding of its purpose, prior to going balls-to-the-wall with developing work capacity or making surfaces unstable.

Bodyweight training should be the foundation of all rehab, general fitness and athletic development. But it isn't sexy and it doesn't necessarily require special toys. (Warning: MY SOAPBOX) And that makes it hard to sell, unless you package yourself well and have the backing of say, the NSCA speaking circuit, the ACE PR machine, the Perform Better speaking circuit, and/or you are lucky enough to have one of the transient acquisition editors from Human Kinetics ink you for a book deal. Or you can be appointed a guru by Ryan Lee. Then people might listen to and buy your materials or services. Exit Soapbox.

So, to answer your question Alex, I think suspension training can be fine for some and a little overwhelming and inappropriate for many. But it is hip and it is cool for now. Clubs and personal trainers will market it and people will become certified instructors and many will make money; clients will be entertained for a while. Time will tell if it is just another functional training fad that gets taken to the inevitable absurd end.


Joe P. said...

I've experimented with these straps. Like I-M said, it is advanced stuff because you are always using 100% bodyweight and there is no way to fool gravity with this gear. I'm not sure how "functional" it is -when an athlete will require that degree of instability. I felt I was wasting a lot of energy just trying to keep myslef still so I could accomplish the movement. Be careful, I saw a guy who didn't have the straps fastened correctly, and slammed flat on his back from a pretty good height.

The Iron Maven said...

Thanks for that input Joe. I don't want to be quite as cynical as I sounded but with every implement, one has to consider whether the training movements are really purposeful for the individual.

As you say, when do people require that much instability? Well, maybe if you are a trapeze artist or you are perfecting your rings routine.

And yeah, you can really do a number on yourself with any of these gadgets if you aren't careful. Even ye olde Swiss ball...

Anonymous said...

As the old over protective PT that I am I can see a lot of people tweeking those little deep stabilizers 'cause they don't have enough control over and strength in those big superficial bulky strong multi-joint muscles. WoW! Look out here comes a whole load of new injuries to the clinic! S~

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ironmaven for a different and refreshing look at the "latest and greatest." Things are marketed so well that you think you need to hurry and run out and get them. It's also funny that when you look at the marketing and websites for the product(s) you only see top-level athletes and fitness people. You rarely see the "average Joe" using them. I also like the shot at Ryan Lee - I'm sick of his Internet marketing bull also.

rafik shutterworks said...

I disagree that the movements are functional only for trapeze artists, etc. The whole point of suspension training is to gain enough strength in the core and in muscles like to shoulders to control the instability, and allow other muscles to make the movements they need to, like pecs doing suspension push-ups, or hanging dips. It also works many more muscles at the same time (not just pecs for instance, but the core muscles to keep stable), that you're burning that many more calories than you would be if you were stabilized on a weight bench.

I also disagree that you're always using 100 percent of your body weight. That is not true about this kind of training. You use between 5 and 100 percent, depending on the angle at which you place your body. Push-ups are much easier when your body is at 60 degrees, then when it is horizontal to the ground. Choose your angle, and you choose your resistance.

Not to mention that this training was made to build strong cores.

So I think, from an exercise perspective, this is a very functional device, if you want to develop that core strength that everyone needs, and if you want to develop a lot of strength in all the other muscles.

Anonymous said...

I have the TRX and love it. I am female, tall and puny. This device is helping me to get stronger with bodyweight exercises incrementally and most importantly I'm sticking with it because I find it fun. Another important consideration for me is it is very tough but doesn't hurt my joints or aggravate old injuries I got using free weights back in the day. Bottom line- It works for me.

Anonymous said...

One of the valuable things about progressive resistance is that ability to measure increases (or decreases) in strength and also to be able to accurately set a given resistance. I'm wondering if there's any issue in say recreating a given resistance level. For example, if I'm doing a set of push ups and I have my body at a particular angle, will I be able to duplicate that angle the next time or is that not even an issue.

Cindie said...

I think anything that helps you balance and form your core can be added and when workouts get so mundane and trainers have a hard enough time keeping motivation in their clients I cant see why one would not want to add this. Or is it noble to "only" use sit ups on the floor. Im not into fad but when I do spend 10+ hrs a the gym personally I value different devices to work my muscles out in different ways.

The Iron Maven said...

I think it is fine to challenge people with unstable surfaces when it is appropriate. There is some good stuff to be done with the TRX. No one said anything about doing sit ups and they certainly aren't a part of my programming. Variety and challenge are good, but mastering the basics is my goal for physical health and athletic development. Then again, I'm not a master motivator and sales person and don't have a giant personal training clientele. I guess you have to do what works best for your situation.

Roger said...

I have lower back problems, slipped disc, nerve involved, etc. I use the TRX straps at my club as an assist for doing crunches on the floor. The straps help ease the stress on my back at points in the crunch when I feel I need it. I punch out a hundred deep crunches, and my core has really strengthened. There is no stability issue using the straps in this floor exercise. If you have back injury, this is a great use of the straps to build core strength. (Roger)