Suspension Training Equipment: Benefits and Product Guide

TRX, YokeBar, Rings, and Swings

Suspension training almost sounds like some sort of medieval torture device. Thankfully, while suspension training can certainly be tough, it's not torturous, and is probably a form of training you're already familiar with. For instance, if you've ever seen Olympic gymnasts swing from the rings, you've seen an expert-level form of suspension training in action. The gist is fairly simple: suspension training involves any bodyweight exercise performed while using straps, cords, rings, ropes, or chains suspended from a single or multiple vertical anchor points. But the question, of course, is why should someone try this form of training?

Benefits of Suspension Training

suspension training
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Luke James Masters, a head instructor with the Australian Fitness Academy, points first to suspension training's ability to help people develop functional strength. "Functional strength is important to activities of daily life and is demonstrated in suspension training through the ability to move in multiple planes. Humans aren't robots—we don't only move forward and backward—we have the ability to move side-to-side and to rotate. Suspension training allows you to move through each of these phases individually, and in some cases, more than one plane at a time."

And it's precisely this functional style of training that facilitates another benefit of suspension training: Core activation and stability. "Suspension training exercises are unsupported—for instance, when doing a suspension push-up, your hands aren't fixed against the floor or a sturdy object, they're pressing against the suspension straps, but are otherwise mobile in space—the core muscles need to activate to protect the lower back. This increased activation of stabilizer muscles around the core as well as other joints, such as the shoulder and hip, may assist with injury prevention," Masters says. Essentially, every exercise performed on a suspension trainer becomes a core exercise.

Finally, and possibly best of all, suspension trainers are incredibly portable and flexible, allowing for a great range of exercises that target every major muscle group. "They're great for individuals who don't have time to go, or access to a commercial gym," says Dr. Austin Robinson, a strength and conditioning specialist with a PhD in Exercise Science. "Personally, I use suspension trainers when traveling to sneak in a quick workout. You can adjust your body angle and go from using two arms or two legs to a single leg or arm to make movements more challenging."

Considerations Before Starting

suspension training pushup
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Of course, you shouldn't dive headfirst into suspension training without being aware of a few things. Namely, you need a fair amount of core stability and control to perform exercises safely and effectively. "Because suspension exercises are unsupported, they can be complex and aren't always the first choice for beginners new to resistance training," Masters says.

The good news is that small adjustments to the equipment and body position can turn an otherwise advanced movement into a beginner-friendly exercise. So, take the suspension training push-up as an example. When the straps are perpendicular to the floor, and your body is more-or-less parallel to the ground, the exercise is at its most challenging, requiring the greatest core and shoulder activation in addition to engaging your chest and triceps. But if you position the straps so they're extended at a 45- or 60-degree angle with the floor, the exercise becomes easier for beginners to perform.

Regardless of your level, Masters says there are three things to think about when setting up for any exercise. First, you should focus on your breathing. "Breathe in through your nose during the relaxation phase of the exercise—during a pushup, that's the phase where you're bending your elbows and lowering your chest—and breathe out through your mouth on the exertion phase," Masters says. Second, make sure you maintain tension on the straps at all times—they should always be fully extended. And finally, avoid rounding or caving your back, or hunching your shoulders during exercises. Maintain a strong, tight core throughout.

Types of Suspension Training Equipment

Yoke Bar Suspension Training
Yoke Bar

While all suspension trainers are similar, there are a few differences worth noting, says Jennifer Novak, a personal trainer and owner of PEAK Symmetry Performance Strategies. Namely, some suspension trainers have a single, convergent attachment point, and some have separate, adjustable attachments.

A TRX suspension trainer is a good example of a single, convergent attachment point, while gymnastics rings or a Primal 7 trainer would be an example of equipment where each strap has its own attachment point. "Single attachment suspension trainers create resultant force, changing the intensity and sometimes the challenge to the joints," Novak says. "For example, when doing a suspension pushup exercise, the single attachment places a force vector pulling the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints inward, toward the attachment. The broader the shoulder girth of the user, the more dramatic this resultant vector inward would be. At different levels of elbow and wrist flexion, this could present uneven joint compression or translation/shear, depending on the baseline stability of those joints and the strength of the surrounding muscle." This is a factor to keep in mind, especially if you're new to suspension training or have weak shoulders.

On the other hand, Novak explains that suspension trainers with two separate attachment points allow for a more customized workout. "The attachments can be adjusted to accommodate shoulder girth, and even manipulated if a more extreme force angle is desired. Either way, the emphasis can be changed to fit the desired muscles of emphasis and the size of the person using it," Novak says. 

For most users, neither system is "better" or "worse," but they are different. For instance, it's impossible to do a true pull-up or dip on a TRX trainer because when your body is perpendicular to the ground, both handles hang straight down. You can't position the handles at hip or shoulder-width to facilitate the exercise. Conversely, it is possible to do dips and pull-ups on suspension trainers with two separate attachment points because you can position the attachments wide enough to allow your body to move vertically between the equipment's handles.

Yoke Bar

Yoke Bar
Yoke Bar

The Yoke Bar is, perhaps, the most interesting piece of suspension training equipment on the market. Unlike equipment with a clear single or double attachment point, the Yoke Bar essentially does both. While the bar features a single, overhead attachment, this attachment is affixed to a horizontal bar from which two separate chains hang vertically.

The result is a system that creates more instability than a traditional suspension system, providing a three-axis rotation that twists from the top anchor point, swivels to the front and back, see-saws from side to side, and swings from all three anchor points, individually and separately. This added instability may recruit more muscle groups, particularly those of the hips, abdominals, back, and shoulders, enhancing functional training, balance, and core strength. 

The system also comes with separate attachments that can be added to the chains, offering a handlebar option for pulling and pressing exercises like pushups and rows, or a more comfortable padded strap for planks and superman squats.

Because the suspension chains are all attached with carabiners, you have complete control over which link of the chain you attach the handles or straps to, making it possible to position the handles and straps at practically any height. You have a lot of control over how to set the equipment up for each exercise, and you can even use the overhead horizontal bar for traditional pull-ups.

One thing to note is that the Yoke Bar system is heavy duty. It's made from steel and chain, so it's incredibly durable, but also physically heavier than other suspension trainers on the market. It's not one you can easily throw in a carry-on bag to take with you for an on-the-go gym.

That said, its durability makes it a great option for hanging indoors or out as a semi-permanent gym. You don't have to worry about it wearing down when exposed to the elements, so if you have a sturdy tree branch to hang it from, you can set it up outside without worrying about taking it down between workouts.

Overall, due to its three-axis rotation, it's a more advanced form of suspension training that takes a little getting used to.

Gymnastics Rings

Gymnastics Rings
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Gymnastic rings are a classic suspension tool. They feature two separate attachment points that allow your limbs to work independently, and because the attachment points can be placed at varying distances from each other, you can use the rings to perform true dips, pull-ups and muscle-ups. The height of the rings can also be adjusted so you can perform exercises completely suspended off the ground or with your arms or legs in contact with the ground.

One of the biggest drawbacks of rings is that they're inherently uncomfortable for any exercise where you want to suspend your feet from the ground. Placing your feet through the rings requires you to position the hard ring against your ankle or shin, which starts to hurt in no time. This pretty much limits ring workouts to upper body exercises.

If you're looking for a tool that combines the benefits of rings with a more comfortable strap system that allows for total body training, the TRX Duo Trainer is a good option. This system has two separate attachment points, just like rings, so you can use them to perform pull-ups and dips, but the handles are completely horizontal, making them easier to grip than the curved ring, and they also have a nylon strap that wraps around them for placing your feet through.

Swings

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Laura Williams

Swings could be the original suspension trainer. While the classic playground toy isn't as functionally flexible as rings or suspension straps, and certainly isn't as challenging as the Yoke Bar, it's one easy way to give suspension training a try. Plus, if you have access to a park, you can try it for free. That said, you probably don't want to hog the swings at the playground if there are kids around, so if you get serious about suspension training, you may want to purchase a trainer of your own.

Suspension Straps

TRX suspension straps
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Suspension straps, specifically the original TRX Suspension Trainer, are what popularized this form of functional exercise. While the single anchor point does limit some exercises (specifically, the already-mentioned pull-ups and dips), suspension straps are an appropriate option for the general population, and a great option for individuals new to the exercise.

One other benefit of the straps is that they're incredibly light weight. The TRX trainer, for instance, only weighs 4 pounds, so you can easily throw it in a backpack or a carry-on and take it with you. This style of strap is also incredibly easy to set up, and can be hung from the back of a door, a jungle gym, a tree branch, or a sturdy beam. And because most commercial gyms have such straps available for their clientele, chances are you can give the tool a test drive if you have a gym membership.

A Word From Verywell

Because suspension training requires significant core engagement, it's a good idea to talk to a trainer or fitness instructor when you first try the form of training. A little guidance can go a long way toward injury prevention.

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