Updated: Sep 18, 2018
New research shows that suspension training increases muscle fibre activation for bodyweight moves so you add size and strength faster
Suspension training has traditionally been seen as good for developing stability, but now there’s solid evidence that it should be taken seriously as a muscle-building tool.
In a study in the Journal Of Sports Science And Medicine, a group of experienced gym-goers who all had at least four months of experience of working with unstable training systems performed press-ups using four different suspension training devices and also their own bodyweight.
Researchers found that, on average, all four suspension training devices scored higher than the floor version of the exercise for muscle activation.
The difference was most pronounced in the rectus abdominis – the sheet of muscle that makes up your six-pack – suggesting that suspension training is an effective way of developing your midsection during exercises that aren’t traditionally seen as direct abs work. That’s particularly useful if you’re short on time and want to make your training more efficient.
The suspension training devices also beat the floor version for chest and triceps activation, so if building T-shirt-filling arms is your aim, introducing some unstable training into your routine could be the route to the results you’re looking for. Read on for four suspension moves that will add size fast, plus two workouts that target your abs and upper body.
Why “Press-ups work your chest, triceps and front shoulders, but the instability of holding rings forces your core muscles and your shoulders’ stabilising muscles to be fully engaged to keep your body stable,” says fitness expert Andrew Tracey. This means you’ll be able to lift heavier weights.
How Grip a ring in each hand with palms facing and toes on the floor so your body is straight from head to heels. Keeping your whole body tight and your elbows close to your sides, lower your chest. Press back up powerfully to return to the start.
Progression Placing your feet on a box or bench will make your major and stabilising muscles work harder.
Why “The instability of the rings forces you to focus on form,and slow, good-quality reps are the best way to work more triceps muscle fibres so they grow back bigger and stronger,” says Tracey. “It also engages your abs, lower back and glutes for the whole set to keep your torso upright and prevent your legs from swinging.”
How Hold the rings with a palms-facing grip, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Jump up into the start position and tense your core and glutes. Keeping your chest up, bend your arms to lower your body as far as your shoulders allow, then press back up.
Progression Add extra weight or lean forwards for each rep to work your chest too.
Why “If you want a six-pack, crunches won’t cut it,” says Tracey. Abs roll-outs are tough and work your deep-lying core muscles; using the rings recruits more muscle fibres to keep you balanced.
How Hold a ring in each hand with an overhand grip. Lean forwards with arms straight to place tension on your abs. Then take your hands forwards to get your chest as low as possible. Once you are as far forwards as possible, use your abs to pull your torso back upright to return to the start.
Progression The better you get, the further you can go. And once you’re completely straight, you can add a pause in the middle of each rep.
Why “The flye is one of the few moves that gets close to isolating your chest,” says Tracey. “Performing them on rings forces these muscles to work far harder than using dumbbells or a cable machine, not only to lower and raise your body, but also to stabilise your shoulder joint and torso through every rep.”
How Start in the ring press-up position but with hands together and a slight bend in your elbows. Take your hands out to the sides as far as you can, maintaining the bend in your elbows, then squeeze your chest to lift your torso back up and bring your hands back together.
Progression Place your feet on a box or bench so they are the same height as your hands.
EMOM Push-Pull Upper-Body Workout
Find a tree branch, a set of goalposts or any secure overhead bar to hook your kit on, then try Tracey’s upper-body metabolic circuit below. The 30-minute circuit is split into two parts containing three moves each: the first half targets your “pushing” muscles – chest, front delts, triceps – and the second half your “pulling” muscles – back, rear delts and biceps. In each circuit the moves get easier but the reps increase to capitalise on accumulated fatigue to keep your muscles pumped and your heart rate high.
“This technique keeps rest to a minimum, maximum calories are burned, and compounding fatigue causes a cascade of beneficial fat-burning, muscle-building hormones to be released,” says Tracey. Go down this route to find your way to a bigger, stronger and more mobile upper body.
This is a 30-minute every minute on the minute (EMOM) workout. After a quick warm-up, start the clock. In the first minute do five dips, then resting for the remainder of the minute (use the time to adjust the straps). In minute two do ten decline press-ups with your feet in the straps and hands on the ground, then rest for the remainder. In minute three do ten incline press-ups with your hands in the straps and feet on the ground. Repeat this for five total rounds, which lasts 15 minutes.
In the first minute of the second part of the workout do five pull-ups, then again use the rest of the minute to adjust the straps. In minute two do ten inverted rows with your feet on the ground, then rest for the remainder. In minute three do ten kneeling straight-arm roll-outs. Repeat this five times as well.
Hold a handle in each hand with your arms straight, elbows close to your sides and chest up. Lower yourself under control as far as you can go, then press back up powerfully.
Adjust the straps and put your feet through them so you’re in a press-up position with your hands on the ground and feet elevated. Keeping your glutes and core braced, bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor, then press back up powerfully.
Turn around so you’re still in a press-up position but with your hands in the straps and your feet on the ground. Keeping your glutes and core braced, bend your elbows to lower your chest towards the floor, then press back up powerfully.
Adjust the straps so the handles are high enough off the ground. Using an overhand grip, get into a dead hang position. With your core braced and chest up, engage your lats and pull up until your chin is higher than your hands. Lower back into the dead hang.
Adjust the straps down, then hold one in each hand with your body and arms straight and heels on the floor. Keeping your core engaged, drive your elbows back to raise your body. When your chest is level with your hands, pause, then return to the start under control.
Kneel on the ground, bending forward from the hips, holding a handle in each hand. With your core engaged, slowly lean forwards, keeping your arms straight, to lower your chest towards the ground.
Suspension Training Workout For Abs
This workout has five moves, with the first four moves paired in supersets. Do all ten reps of move 1A, rest for 10sec, then do all ten reps of 1B, then rest for 60sec. Repeat this for four sets, then move on to moves 2A and 2B and follow the same pattern but for 12 reps per move. When you move on to the final move, perform it as a straight set. Focus on keeping your core and glutes engaged throughout every lift to keep your body stable and to work your muscles more effectively.
Sets 4 Reps 10 Rest 10sec
How Start in a press-up position. Lower your chest, then press back up powerfully.
Why The instability of the handles works your chest muscles harder to maintain good form.
Progression Start with your hands closer to the floor to work your chest, shoulders and triceps harder.
1B Inverted Row
Sets 4 Reps 10 Rest 60sec
How Lie with only your heels on the floor. Pull your chest up towards your hands. Lower slowly.
Why As well as your biceps and back, your core must work hard to keep your torso stable.
Progression Starting with your heels on a raised surface works the muscles through a greater range.
Sets 4 Reps 12 Rest 10sec
How Start with your feet through the handles. Draw one knee in at a time, then back out.
Why It works both your core, to stabilise your torso, and your lower abs, to bring each knee in.
Progression Holding your knee in place for a second after you draw it in will increase your core’s workload.
Sets 4 Reps 12 Rest 60sec
How Lie with your upper back supported and your feet through the handles. Raise your knees.
Why Raising and lowering your knees activates your glutes and your entire core region.
Progression Hold the move at the top for a two-count while squeezing your muscles.
Sets 4 Reps 6-10 Rest 60sec
How Hold a handle in each hand. Lower your chest as far as you can, then reverse to the start.
Why Your abs and core get fried keeping your torso stable as you lower and rise.
Progression Hold the bottom position for a one-count before you return to the top position.