Aquatic Suspension Techique
What is suspension technique? The term “suspension training”, trademarked by Fitness Anywhere, LLC., involves a system of ropes or straps with an anchor point using resistance body weight exercises and leverage to physically condition the body with compound movements.
There are different types of suspension equipment. TRX is the original suspension system product created by Navy Seal Commander Randy Hetrick, who made his first system in the field out of a Jujitsu belt and a parachute (TRX.com). Today, there are many options including RedCord, Primal 7, and Bodhi by Balanced Body. Equipment that is suitable for the aquatic environment is offered by NZ Manufacturing.
We can use NZ StrechCordz Upper Extremity and Lower Extremity Kits to mimic the TRX while we’re in the pool.
Don’t let the minimalist design fool you. The tubing offers distinct advantages. They’re incredibly portable for private sessions and take up limited space when storing at the pool. If your pool has a pool stair railing, lifeguard stand, or other stable anchor, you have all you need for an aquatic suspension workout. There is a wide range of options for use with different populations: athletic, fitness, and rehabilitative. Suspension exercises can be easily adjusted for each population by changing the angle of the body, the distance away from the anchor point, the height of the anchor point, and different stances. There are unlimited adjustments that can be made.
Training in an unstable environment helps build a solid core, increases muscular endurance, and benefits people of all fitness levels, from athletes to seniors. By destabilizing the body, the core is more actively involved and functional benefits increase. A variety of multi-planar, compound exercise movements can be performed. These are done with the aim of developing strength, balance, flexibility, and joint stability simultaneously. Suspension training develops physical strength while using functional movements
and dynamic positions.
Let’s look at the multiple advantages and benefits of suspension exercises:
- Building stability and mobility. While stability and mobility may seem incompatible at first glance, together they represent the only way the human body can most efficiently move without wasting metabolic energy or minimizing movement performance (Levin 1997). Stability at the expense of mobility leads to rigidity.
- Creating momentum. Certain body tissues – muscles, fascia and skin – are designed to capture and store momentum as potential kinetic energy that will be repaid. Harnessing momentum makes the body stronger, more efficient and more resilient.
- Turning muscle off. Momentum from movement-based load training allows muscles to down-regulate (turn off in a general sense), which increases neural adaptations and sensitivities (Leonard 1998). This helps develop quicker reactivity, eliminating critical delays in motor decisions as our nervous system reacts to sensory information. This significantly reduces our risk of noncontact injury.
- Joint mobility with strength. Joints are offloaded by leaning away from the anchor point. An example of this is to offload knees during squats; therapy patients often lean against a physio ball while doing wall squats.
- Static and dynamic movements. Both static and dynamic exercises can be utilized, and easily progressed and regressed as needed. Lighter loads may result in similar strength gains due to the instability of the stretch straps and the water, and an increase in core muscles activated (Maté-Muñoz et al. 2014).
- Agility. Agility performance, as in a particular sport, can be enhanced by assistance in controlling the landing phase, and slowing down the reaction time.
- Core activation (bracing and preventing rotation). The torso is challenged more with suspension exercises. Take into consideration persons with low back pain (Beach, Howarth, and Callaghan 2008).
- Balance recovery. Maintaining and recovery of balance are essential for older adults with a higher risk of falls. Suspension exercise can safely challenge stability and balance during dynamic movements. Since participants are tethered, they can learn the recovery movement at a slower pace in the water.
Here are two exercises from Stretch Tension, the aquatic suspension technique manual*:
Start: Lean away from anchor point with toes grounded on pool floor, feet dorsiflexed with heels off floor, and hands in straps by shoulders.
Exercise: Press hands forward continuing the line/vector from the anchor point. Bend elbows to return to start position.
Stabilization: Brace core muscles to sustain torso in position while arms are moving.
Tips: Recruiting stabilizing muscles (especially the gluteals and abdominals) is key for holding the body position while the arms move. To stabilize the scapular region, protract the scapulae just slightly with the serratus anterior, and then keep the shoulders in place as you bend and straighten the elbows.
- Step one foot forward into a tandem stance (an easier stance).
- Perform a one arm push up, which is more difficult on the stabilizing side to prevent rotation.
- Change the speed of the push up (e.g. 10 fast, 2 super slow, etc.) which challenges coordination.
Start: Stand facing toward the anchor point, feet hip distance apart, and arms holding straps while reaching forward with a little slack in the straps.
Exercise: Step backward with the left leg in to a back lunge, with toes and the ball of the foot landing behind in
line with the left hip. Simultaneously, bend both elbows past the waist in a rowing motion, elbows pointed down close to sides. Step to start position while reaching the arms straight forward. Complete one set on each leg or alternate legs each time.
Tips: Staying vertical in the torso is difficult. The lower trapezius is recruited to focus on driving the elbows downward. That recruitment of scapular stabilization allows a longer and deeper range of motion in the lunge. On the return, there is momentum in the change of direction from the straps being stretched in the opposite direction. The anterior core will need to engage to keep the torso vertical and not let the upper body pull forward ahead of the lower body. This is balance recovery.
- Hold the row position and perform the lunge only, which reduces the level of coordination.
- Alternate lunging legs performed with one arm rows (unilateral – arm on same side as the lunging leg) challenges the torso to prevent rotation.
- Alternate lunging legs performed with one arm rows (contralateral – arm opposite of the lunging leg) adds coordination of moving arms and legs.
There are an unlimited variety of exercises, ranging from simple to compound, along with multiple benefits, from functional to athletic to rehabilitative. With the variety of uses, and the many benefits for all populations, this is a powerful training tool for use with clients and patients. In addition, as instructors and therapists, this efficient tool will allow you to develop
power, agility, strength, and cardio endurance in a short period of time for your own personal workout.
*Look for the StretchTension – Aquatic Suspension Manual and DVD by Anne Pringle Burnell, with photos by Tom Frantz available Nov 1, 2017 at www.aqua pilates.net. n
Anne Pringle Burnell is a national presenter at conferences including IAFC, ATRI, National Council on Aging. She authored several articles and created the Peyow Aqua Pilates and Stronger Seniors programs. She holds certifications including ATRIC, CAFS, AI Chi, and she is an education provider for AEA, ATRI, ACE, AFAA/NASM, AquaStretch, and an Instructor Trainer for Stott Pilates,
Merrithew Health & Fitness. She teaches in Chicago at Galter Life Center, Swedish Covenant Hospital, Peninsula Hotel Chicago,
University of Illinois Chicago and private clients at her Pilates studio.
Ruth Sova, founder and president of the Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute, is the founder and past-president of AEA. Ruth is an international speaker and author on aquatic rehab, exercise and business. She is Gold Certified from ACE and has received awards from AHA, IDEA, and AEA. Ruth also received the first Presidential Sports Award in Water Exercise by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.