If you’d like to take your cross-training to the next level, you might want to consider using a suspension trainer. This is one tool that can be used to modify a huge variety of exercises to be either easier or more difficult. Plus, it’s great for working on flexibility, and if you like working out at home, you can simply set it up in a doorway (or hang it from an anchor, if you happen to have one) and store it in a small corner of your closet when it’s not in use.
Here’s what you need to know to get started:
How to Set it Up
Every brand may come with different instructions, but generally, you have two options for anchoring your suspension trainer. You can use a door anchor, which you place over the door in a sturdy doorway before closing the door and pulling the anchor taut, thereby giving yourself an anchor point at the height of the door. (If possible, choose a door that opens away from you—and lock it—for increased safety.) Or, if there’s a sturdy object around which you can wrap the anchor that’s higher or gives you more space to move (like a tree, monkey bars, a fixed pull-up bar), this might be preferable. Wrap the anchor around that object and either pull it through itself (if it has a loop) or use an included carabiner to lock it in place. Ideally, you want the anchor point to be 7-9 feet off the ground.
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Then, based on the exercise you’re about to do, adjust the length of the strap. There are four basic lengths: Mid-length (used for many standing exercises), mid-calf (for most ground exercises), fully shortened (think of rowing), and fully lengthened (used in pressing).
Now, you’re ready to get sweaty.
How to Use it
When using a suspension trainer for any exercise, you’re forced to engage your core. That makes it perfect for runners, because without a strong, engaged core, your form falls apart as you fatigue. This also creates an excessive torso rotation, an unstable pelvis, and/or uncontrolled arms, not to mention the fact that without strong rear torso muscles, you’re likely to hunch forward, which makes breathing properly an arduous task.
We’ll get into more specific workouts in the near future, but to start, here are a few basic movements that will help you build confidence and skill with the suspension trainer. You may find that some of these are much more challenging than they would be on the ground, so don’t worry if you need to go with a lower rep count than you normally would. Never sacrifice good form in order to get in more reps.
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Suspension Push-Up: Adjust straps to mid-calf and place toes in handles. Lie on the floor and turn so that you’re face down facing away from the anchor, then press yourself up into a push-up before slowly returning to the ground (or an inch away from it, if you’re able to hover). You’ll notice that, with your feet in the straps, you’re forced to keep your entire core (thighs through torso) engaged to mitigate the instability your raised feet create. If the push-up itself is too challenging at first, just hold a plank for 30-90 seconds, then lower yourself to the ground.
Suspension Row: Adjust straps to fully lengthened (if space permits—if not, shorter is acceptable) and stand facing the anchor with a handle in each hand, with palms facing each other. You can do high, mid, or low rows by adjusting where you hold your hands. Slowly lean back so that you’re at approximately 45 degrees (you can make this easier or harder by moving your feet closer to the anchor or farther away), then engage your back muscles (not your biceps) to pull yourself back up. These are the same muscles that help you remain upright when your body is exhausted, and that’s key to being able to breathe easily.
Suspension Hamstring Curl to Hip Press: Adjust straps to mid-calf, sit on floor, facing the anchor, and place your heels in the handles. Lie back and extend your arms to the sides – the closer they are to your body, the more difficult the move will be, so adjust accordingly. Press heels into the handles to slowly lift your hips off the floor a few inches without bending your spine. Then, press your hips up toward the ceiling. Reverse, bringing hips down until your spine is back to neutral and extend your legs straight.
It doesn’t take long to work your full body if you incorporate pressing and pulling movements using your upper and lower body. Aim for 5-10 reps of each of these, 2-4 times through as you build strength. Feel free to make slight changes to your hand and foot position to see how it affects you—then watch that strength work translate to a stronger run.
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