by Vincent Metzo, MA, LMT, CSCS
In this video, we review the main suspension training products on the market based on their ease of use, features and unique selling propositions. Below the video is a product guide and resources for buying suspension trainers.
The Blast Straps from Elite FTS were the first suspension trainer I used. They are rated for very heavy loads and have a very convenient metal clip that is used to attach them to squat racks or pretty much any other piece of equipment in the gym. The straps are separate (two individual anchor points) and so you can adjust the width of the handles. The length adjustment of the straps is not the easiest as you must pull the thick (heavy duty) nylon strap through a small metal buckle. The length adjustment is very secure and you won’t worry about it slipping but I did find it challenging to get the straps the same length quickly between exercises when working with clients. The main limitation of these straps is that you can’t really use them for hooking your feet into. The handles are basically metal cable crossover handles. On the other hand, you could easily attach them to a sled and because of their weight rating, not be worried about them breaking.
TRX is probably the most well known suspension trainer. They certainly were at the forefront of the revival of suspension training. Therefore, their suspension training unit can be thought of as a gauge or bench mark to measure other suspension trainers against. What TRX has done that most of the other manufacturers have not (the exceptions being CrossCore, Redcord, and Primal 7) is offered instructor training courses and continuing education units for personal trainers/fitness instructors. These courses teach instructors how to utilize the straps and offer programming guidelines for one-on-one and group instructional environments. This approach to marketing, offering ceus and education to fitness professionals, has made TRX the most ubiquitous of the suspension trainers found in gyms and fitness settings. The strap itself has one anchor point and handles/stirrups that allow you to easily use the strap with both the hands or the feet. The strap’s length adjustment is one of the easiest both to lengthen and shorten with an easy locking clip to depress and a tab to pull on. Additional material keeps the excess part of the strap together with the weight bearing piece during exercise. Considering the other options on the market now, I’m not sure these features justify the price of the TRX equipment. Although not every manufacturer offers approved CEU courses, almost all provide manuals and DVD or web-based video resources on how to use their apparatus.
The Jungle Gym XT offers some unique features or upgrades when compared to the TRX. The handles are a formed plastic which makes them easier to get your feet/heels into and is easier to wash or keep clean as they can be wiped down with cloth and cleaning solution. The Jungle gym has two separate anchor points so the width can be adjusted and you can easily do unilateral work without having to secure the two sides of the apparatus together as is necessary with the units that have only one anchor point. The length adjustment is very similar to that of the TRX in its method and ease of use.
The CrossCore 180 changed the suspension game by adding a pulley so that the arms or legs can move independently in alternating or reciprocating fashion. This also increase the instability of the apparatus offering more challenge to stabilizing muscles and increased the number and types of movements (rotational movements) that can be done. Formerly called the War Machine, the pulley system also allows one to use the CrossCore as a cable machine by attaching a weight to one end. The handles allow you to use your hands or feet with the CrossCore and are very similar to the handles on the TRX. The main limitation of the CrossCore is adjusting the length of the straps. One can adjust the height of the pulley itself or one must cinch up the cord that runs through the pulley. Recently, CrossCore has addressed this issue by adding an additional piece of hardware that allows one to more quickly adjust the length of the strap/cord.
The Rip 60 is a suspension training apparatus for which Jillian Michaels is the spokesperson. If I put aside the 60 minutes to get ripped marketing campaign and ignore the celebrity spokes person and all the problems I have with fitness celebrities in general and this one in particular, the unit itself is not bad. I first encountered it when I was teaching in the Dominican Republic at GoFit Gym. The Rip 60 features a wide strap like the TRX and Jungle Gym that is strung over a metal arch so that you can perform reciprocating and rotational exercises as with the CrossCore. The difference is not only the metal arch instead of a pulley, but also that the Rip 60 features this wide strap and length adjustment similar to the TRX and Jungle Gym. It also features interchangeable handles attached with carabiner clips. How long until the friction on the metal arch frays the strap and the unit needs to be replaced would depend on the usage. All the straps and clips will wear down eventually.
The Pure Motion AirFit Trainer is a suspension training device that offers a pulley and a spring. The spring absorbs force making it “glide on air.” At least I think that’s what the name signifies. What’s most unique about this unit is the large strap like handles that can wrap around arms, forearms, thighs, and other body parts. These large strap like handles can also be grabbed in many different ways. Pure Motion makes a rack system and the AirFit is just one of many accessories one can get to outfit their rack system. This is an important point in that suspension training is not a panacea, it’s just one of many modalities or tools that can be used in an exercise program. Especially with leg exercises in a standing position, I often wonder, why people are holding onto a TRX or other suspension trainer. Unless it’s remediation, wouldn’t that squat or plyometric exercise be more effective if you don’t hold onto something?
The Universal Strength Apparatus (USA) is one of my favorite suspension trainers. Sadly it is not manufactured under this name anymore by Body Weight Culture. Fortunately, WOSS (listed below) now manufactures the BEAST SUSPENSION LADDER which, for all intents and purposes is the same thing. The many handles that form a ladder make use of this unit easy because they all together eliminate the need to adjust the height of the unit. The fact that ladders were a staple of old school physical culture makes this even more appealing to me. With respect to transferability to job tasks and other climbing movements (climbing on ship rigging was an important skill) this unit is hours of fun.
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Vincent is the Dean of Advanced Personal Training at the Swedish Institute and the Director of Education for Kettlebell Concepts in New York City. After a few years working in corporate fitness and receiving his Diploma and License as a Massage Therapist, he began teaching at the Swedish Institute where he developed and runs the Advanced Personal Training Program, the first personal training degree program in Manhattan. In addition to maintaining a private massage therapy practice and personal training business where he works with track and field athletes, Broadway dancers and fitness clients, Vincent is the creator of the FCES (Flexibility and Corrective Exercise Specialist), Focus on Flexibility and Periodization of Sports Massage workshops, As the director of education for Kettlebell Concepts, he authored the KBC Level 2 course called The KBC Metabolic and Neurologic Specialist Certificate (KBCMNS.)