Make Your Own Fitness: The Suspension Training Project
Rauschenbach, Jim, Morrell, Katie, Ridley, Ben, Walsh, Brittany, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators
Suspension training is a relatively new strength training modality that has emerged in the past six years with the advent of the commercial TRX Suspension Trainer. The TRX trainer has entered the market along with a handful of similar products that can now be found in almost every adult fitness center. The same characteristics of suspension trainers that make them popular with adult exercisers also serve to meet the needs of coaches, trainers, and physical educators who teach strength training to youth.
The issue of strength training for youth has been debated for a number of years. Faigenbaum (2003) refers to strength training as a specialized method of physical conditioning that involves the progressive use of a wide range of resistive loads and a variety of training modalities designed to enhance or maintain muscular fitness. He believes that "in general, if a child is ready for participation in some type of sport activity (generally age 7 or 8), then he or she may be ready to resistance train" (p. 133). In the report "Strength Training by Children and Adolescents (Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness)," the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, 2001) set guidelines for adolescent and preadolescent strength training. The committee stated that "adolescents and preadolescents may use strength training as a means to enhance muscle size and definition ... to improve sports performance, rehabilitate injuries, prevent injuries, and/or enhance long-term health" (p. 1471). The committee found that improvements in strength can be made in preadolescents without concomitant muscle hypertrophy. Such gains in strength can be attributed to neuromuscular "learning." Neuromuscular learning helps explain strength gains from resistance training in females and preadolescent boys. Strength training can also augment the muscle enlargement that normally occurs with pubertal growth in boys and girls. The guidelines for preadolescent and adolescent strength training proposed by the AAP and Faigenbaum are summarized in Figure 1.
In describing the benefits of strength training for youth, Faigenbaum (2003) adds:
Resistance training may provide a unique opportunity for previously sedentary children and adolescents to participate in physical activity. Since resistance exercise is not aerobically taxing, this type of exercise can provide an opportunity for all youth, regardless of body size and fitness level, to experience success and feel good about their performance. (p. 136)
Suspension trainers can be used as an integral part of any strength training program for youth. Because they employ body weight as resistance, suspension training exercises can be individualized to meet the needs and characteristics of each exerciser. By changing the performer's stance and position, the resistance can be increased or decreased as needed. As a result, suspension training exercises can be taught to youth in a physical education setting and can then be safely used by students outside of the formal class setting. The suspension trainer is a highly versatile tool that can be used to perform dozens of different whole-body exercises, and it can be easily adjusted to meet the individual needs of exercisers. In spite of these characteristics, or perhaps because of them, for a New York Times article, Nick Burns (2007) interviewed several researchers and experts who provided cautions and guidelines for using suspension trainers with populations who have a very low level of fitness (see Figure 2).
Physical educators can utilize the core stress that exists in every suspension exercise without placing exercisers at risk for injury by using the following suggestions made by the experts Burns (2007) interviewed: Work on core training along with suspension training; be watchful of individual exerciser's joint integrity and core stability; focus exercisers on the right muscles to use; teach proper stride stance and a more upright posture to help lower-level exercisers with weak and compromised ankle joints to avoid placing undue stress on their lower extremities; and teach exercisers to maintain straight wrists when they hold onto the stirrups of the suspension trainer to help them avoid placing too much stress on their wrists as well. …