Health and Wellness: Suspension Bodyweight Training for First Responders

This is the year you and your department team commit to getting back in shape, isn’t it? After all, as first responders, health and fitness should be one of your top priorities.

With that in mind, I challenge you and your team to start 2022 off on the right foot by hanging out in the gym — and hanging, I mean trying suspension bodyweight training.

Suspension trainers are a series of ropes, usually with handles, that hang from a fixed anchor point, such as a door, wall, squat rack, or even a sturdy handle on the motor. The most notable system, TRX, was invented by a Navy SEAL who was on deployment during the Gulf War. He and his team had to remain combat ready. Without access to weight training equipment, he improvised the first suspension trainer from a parachute cord and strap.

Suspension training is a form of leveraged bodyweight training. The system uses gravity and the user’s body weight to provide resistance in various movement patterns. Its programming principles are unique in that the user’s hands or feet are supported by a single anchor point while the opposite side of the body is in contact with the ground. By changing the body angle, the user can load the appropriate amount of body weight for the user’s fitness and strength level.

Functional

As first responders, we need functional strength in all planes of motion and on unstable ground. We lift, drag, pull and push as we twist and stand in various positions and postures. Because the suspension trainer uses muscle groups, as opposed to isolated muscles, it strengthens muscle firing sequences. Therefore, it strengthens the body for the movements we perform at the fire/rescue scene, making it functional, unlike an isolated up and down bicep curl. The exercises will have a greater impact on the movements you perform in your day-to-day life.

It’s something you feel from the very first exercise you do. In fact, you don’t have to think about it. Instantly there are increased muscle demands, which you can’t achieve when using a machine or free weights. For example, when doing a hanging chest press, you are suspended in a forward lean while on your toes. Your quads, butt, core, and back are all working while you do these presses.

Basic Stamina

To create movement, several muscles, especially the core muscles, must contract to stabilize and balance each other. This helps stabilize the spine and joint stabilizers. As these muscles become stronger and more enduring, the body’s ability to stabilize itself in difficult and unbalanced positions increases. The resulting increased ability to balance directly correlates to increased performance in every movement on (and off) the range and decreases the risk of injury.

Versatile and fun

A third benefit: suspension training is safe and highly effective for people of all fitness levels. Users can easily vary the resistance level of any exercise by readjusting their body closer to or further from the suspension trainer anchor. Unlike a barbell, dumbbells, or machines that are heavy and bulky to move around, suspension trainers are lightweight and portable, and you can perform over 70 exercises in a small space.

Finally, suspension trainers are fun. They make training interesting. You can continually change the dynamics of a workout by slightly changing the grip or position.

Equipment requirements

To perform suspension training, you need a suspension system (ropes, straps, straps) and an overhead anchor point. You can build your own system, but I recommend spending a little money to buy a complete system. They are safer and more durable than any you might create and have easy ways to adjust the length.

If you’re not convinced that suspension training is effective, here’s a quick workout you should try. I do this workout in the bay and attach a suspension system to the back of the ladder truck.

Before we start, there are two important points to make about the shape:

Safety first. Make sure the floor is free of debris and moisture to ensure your feet don’t slip and cause injury. You also want to make sure the suspension trainer is properly anchored, so it doesn’t slip or break during training.

Monitor posture. Make sure your head and shoulders are always in proper alignment and posture, including when you get tired and therefore exert more effort.

Warm up

This workout, like any workout you do, should start with an active warm-up. I’ve simplified this to one move, the spin spiderman.

Start in a push-up position and step your right leg forward towards your right hand. Pause for a second, then extend your right hand toward the ceiling. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds, then return to the starting push-up position. Alternate sides and perform five reps on each side.

First responder training

For this circuit, you perform each exercise as many reps as possible for one minute. You can rest anytime for the minute if needed, especially if you feel your form is suffering. After the minute, rest for 30 seconds, then perform the next exercise.

If this is your first time using suspension exercises, perform this circuit only once. If you are more advanced in your fitness level, challenge yourself to complete 2-3 rounds.

Here are the five exercises:

Suspension squats/raised arms. This is a great exercise for working the legs and upper back postural muscles.

Stand facing the anchor point. Extend your arms above the head wider than shoulder width. Keeping your back naturally arched and your arms raised, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause and then push yourself back to the start. Be sure to stand straight between reps and focus on keeping your arms straight throughout the movement.

Hanging lines. The row exercise targets all major muscle groups in the back, shoulders and core. All of these muscle groups are important for improving posture and strength for pulling pipes and lifting patients.

Face the anchor point and grab the handles with your palms facing each other. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lean back until your arms are straight. The position of your feet will determine the difficulty of the exercise: moving them towards the anchor point increases the degree of backward lean, which increases the difficulty. Pull your chest up between your hands, keeping your elbows close to your body. Pause at the top of the movement and then slowly lower until your arms are straight.

Hanging chest press. This is not the traditional chest exercise you may be familiar with. The suspension system challenges your body in unstable conditions. This forces you to constantly engage your core and forces your shoulders to stabilize.

Grab the handles and step away from the anchor point. Lean forward until your body forms a 45-60 degree angle with your arms straight. Keep your body straight from head to toe and slowly lower your upper body, bending your elbows until your chest reaches the level of the handle. Pause for a second, then push through the handles to straighten the arms and return to the starting position.

Hanging slots. This is a great exercise for improving lower body strength and balance. You can use your arms to help with the movement and change the position of your feet to focus on different lower body muscle groups.

Face the anchor point and hold the handles at chest height. Step back with one leg bent and lower the hips to 90 degrees. You can rest your back foot on the ground or, for more challenge, let it hover just above the ground. Pause in this bent-knee position, make sure to keep your balance, then return to the starting position through the heel while extending the hips. Alternate from side to side. Make sure to keep your back straight and your chest lifted throughout the movement.

Hanging board. This takes plank exercise to a new level. By placing your feet in the handles, your core has to work harder to stabilize and perform the exercise.

Work your feet into the handles which hang about a foot off the floor. Come out with your hands, so that your body is fully extended and in a push-up position. Beginners just need to focus on maintaining that push-up/plank position. For a little more challenge, slowly lower your weight onto your forearms. Hold this position until your hips begin to sag, then return with your hands and remove your feet from the handles.

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