The question is as old as strength training itself. Can you really get super strong and fit with just bodyweight training alone? The answer is a loud and clear YES! In fact, I’ve come to discover even more strength, muscle and athleticism through bodyweight training than I ever did with free weights and machines.
Part of the reason for this is the recent addition of suspension training to the exercise equipment toy box. Whereas bodyweight training was once considered a limited form of exercise, suspension straps give you access to hundreds of exercises ranging from the gentle and mild to the absolutely insane. Best of all, these exercises require just a couple of portable nylon straps that cost less than a pair of running shoes.
Suspension straps have become big business over the past 10 years. There’s been a large number of makes and models flooding the market, each with their own pros and cons. I myself have owned just about every version out there. During my journey through the world of strap training I’ve learned what I like and don’t like and I would love to share with you what I’ve learned and what to look for in a strap system.
Tip #1: Adjustment is Key
The most important thing to consider is the adjustability of the strap systems. More specifically, how much you can adjust the handles in both height and width. Ideally, you’ll want the luxury of moving your handles low enough for push ups and high enough for pull-ups. So roughly from just above the floor to a few feet overhead. You’ll also want to have a full range of adjustment in width. Some exercises are better with the handles anchored wide apart while some moves are best done close together and everywhere in between. The more adjustment you have, the more flexibility and options you have. The less adjustability, the more limitations you run into.
Tip #2: Consider Where and How Your System is Anchored
Almost all strap systems can be used with a closed doorway. While this is possibly the most common way to hang straps, I don’t believe it’s the most optimal. Ideally, you’ll want to find a place where you can hang your straps from an overhead beam or bar. This will give you the most flexibility on how you can position your body in relation to the anchor point.
It’s also important to consider how the anchor system is designed for an overhead mount. Some systems require that you can reach the anchor point to either attach or take down the straps. In this case you’ll have to make sure that beam is something you can reach. Other systems use a loop or daisy chain setup which allows you to sling it over an object that’s out of reach.
Tip #3: Handles Rotate
Some exercises are more comfortable and easier to do with handles that rotate easily. Some models have handles that rotate very easily while others might fight you a bit.
Tip #4: Foot Straps
Foot straps give you that extra bonus of being able to suspend your lower body. This opens up a whole plethora of exercise options to help you train muscles you didn’t even know you had!
Most systems have pretty simple foot straps. They just loop a nylon strap through the handles. It’s simple and it works. However some models have adjustable straps. No one’s foot size is the same, and some folks like to workout barefoot so if your shoes are an unusual size or you like to go sans-shoes then look for the adjustable kind.
Tip #5: Hard Rubber or Foam Handle
When in doubt, I highly recommend handles with a harder rubber handle as opposed to a soft foam. Harder rubber is more durable and they are a little easier on the grip.
Tip #6: Rings or Suspension Straps
Suspension straps and gymnastics rings are very similar in design. For many exercises, they are pretty much the same thing so at that point, it’s more about what you enjoy using. The advantage of rings is that they offer those anchor points and adjustments I mentioned earlier. Some people also like the solid feel of them, especially with rings made of wood.
Suspension straps have the advantage of rotating handles and foot cradles. These features make it much easier to do certain exercises such as with your feet suspended. It all comes down to what exercises you are looking to use the setup for.
Tip #7: Make Your Own
Many people will look at a set of straps and think, “Hell, I can make that out of some rope and PVC pipe.” There’s also no shortage of information online on how to make your own as well. There are advantages to building your own straps, namely cost and the pride of feeling like you’re a fitness equipment MacGyver.
The downside of making your own is that it’s harder to get that finished product that looks, feels and performs like a commercial model. You may have to sacrifice some adjustability and comfort for the cost savings. I myself, have built around 20 different versions of homemade suspension straps. While the finished product is something I prefer over any other model, I do have to admit that it’s cost me far more money, time and frustration than I would have spent just buying a commercially available system in the first place.
In the end, suspension straps are one of the best bangs-for-the-buck pieces of workout equipment around. They work great on their own and as a supplement to any training program. If you have any questions, hit me up and checkout my profile page at my link below.