Functional strength workouts get you race-ready at home
This article is one of a three-part series on suspension training:
- Suspension Training: Strengthening Major Muscles and Core
- Suspension Training: Improving Flexibility and Balance
Gyms remain shuttered in many states due to the coronavirus pandemic. Maintaining or achieving optimal muscle strength and staying competition-ready can be difficult during these trying times. Many Masters swimmers need challenging, effective strength training workouts and rely on free weights and machines at their gyms. Home gym equipment isn’t feasible or as effective for many people. Fortunately, a small suspension training device—created by a former Navy SEAL—that uses your own body weight and the principles of vector angles can check all the boxes for your strength workout needs.
TRX founder Randy Hetrick constructed his first version of the TRX device when deployed to southeast Asia as a SEAL Squadron Commander many years ago. The commercial version was launched in 2004. Initially popular with military personnel, TRX (short for Total Body Resistance Exercise) has since become a must-have tool for elite athletes and popular among those seeking a new fitness challenge. TRX doesn’t just make isolated muscle groups stronger; exercises target major muscle groups while also engaging many supporting muscles in a way that mimics athletic activities. TRX “is leading the trend when it comes to functional movement and functional training,” Hetrick said in a 2016 American Fitness interview.
The basic components of the TRX device include the suspension anchor, anchor loops, anchor and main carabiners, the locking loop, and main straps that terminate with handles and foot cradles. During most suspension activities, your hands are suspended from an anchor point by gripping the device’s handles while your feet are in contact with the ground. Some exercises require your feet to be suspended while your hands maintain contact with the ground.
The device can be attached to a sturdy wall with an anchor or temporarily implemented in a doorframe. The portability of suspension trainers makes them ideal for use at home or when traveling.
Once the TRX straps are attached to a fixed anchor point, movements are performed while standing at different distances from the anchor point, changing your body’s angle to vary exercise intensity. By reducing the angle between your body and the ground, your center of gravity moves farther outside the base of support, more load is transferred to the device, and you’re called upon to generate more force. Adjustments are made simply by stepping closer to or farther away from the anchor point.
There are hundreds of exercises you can do with suspension trainers to improve core strength and strengthen major muscle groups. Many others help with balance, flexibility, and range-of-motion in different joints, including shoulders.
Examples of exercises done while standing include squats, rows, deltoid flies, bicep curls, chest flies, chest presses, tricep extensions, and lunges.
Exercises done close to the ground, with your feet suspended in the foot cradles, include rock-climbers, hamstring curls, burpees, and many different types of planks.
Balance and Flexibility
Suspension training is also a great tool for improving balance, flexibility, and joint range-of-motion. “Using gravity to elongate tissues has become one of the staples of the suspension trainer,” Hetrick says.
Better balance on the starting blocks can be achieved through suspension training. The device provides a “dynamic point of stability,” Hetrick says. “You’re not hanging on to a fixed object, which gives too much stability.” The strap handles provide a safety net while allowing for advancement in balance skills. “You get the stability you need,” he says.
Although the original TRX system is undoubtedly the best-engineered suspension training product on the market, less expensive kits, such as the Gaiam Total Motion Suspension Trainer, Lifeline Jungle Gym XT, and the Clothink Bodyweight Resistance Straps Training Kit, are available.
Suspension training is unique and initial workouts can be daunting. For best results, purchase training manuals, videos, or apps, or hire a suspension training–savvy personal trainer to instruct you on the basics and customize a program based on your competitive swimming goals and current strength and performance weaknesses.
- Technique and Training