Welcome to my first designed program. After years of reviewing other people’s programs, I’m here with something of my own. Suspension Training Push-Pull-Legs. If you’ve been following me, you may remember my reviews of Suspension Training in general and one of TRX’s programs for suspension training. After finding suspension training itself to be a good stop gap until gyms in my area are allowed to re-open on account of the covid-19 pandemic, but finding the programs packaged with the purchase of a TRX to be a little lacking, I decided to design something to fit my needs.
While I thought about “reviewing” my own program, I’d rather not bog down this write up with my personal thoughts much. This is a how to, so let’s get into it.
What is Suspension Training Push-Pull-Legs?
In an attempt to develop something for suspension training that feels more like a muscle building program, I took three months worth of suspension training and combined it with over four years of program lifting to develop this routine to do during shelter-at home orders during the covid-19 pandemic. I decided to mimic some push-pull-legs (PPL) type programming because A) I enjoyed doing PPL during my year of powerbuilding and B) it doesn’t look like anyone had developed a PPL program for suspension training and so I decided to fill that void.
After designing it for myself and enjoying, I thought I may as well share.
The primary goal here is to spend each day working out just a handful of muscle groups in order to overload them and hopefully get into hypertrophy range. Most suspension training workouts I found are big on cardio and full body work. Those workouts that were targeted were often very short. And most programs I tried were only three days a week. We’re fixing all of those “problems,” with the trade off being your heart rate won’t quite spike like it normally does in typical suspension workouts and, to be honest, it’s way more monotonous.
That said, suspension training is still calisthenics and probably won’t get you huge. But it can work on getting you strong, hitting a lot of stabilization muscles and general fitness. And if your diet is on point, you may get a low enough body fat to still look “shredded,” even if you’re not huge. For me personally, this program was a stop gap to keep me from losing too much progress as I stayed away from the gym.
This is a three days on, one day off program. During the rest day, I would recommend active recovery: do some cardio work. I personally put on a weighted vest (50 lbs) and did about a 35 minute walk. But you can do whatever cardio exercise you enjoy and can handle. The point is to be active a bit every day, not just workout days.
Each day is eight movements. Six movements are on the theme of day: Push, Pull or Legs. These are what I call standard movements. The two other movements are what I call intensity movements.
Standard movements Are all about that time under tension. For these movements, our focus is to be constantly working for every second. If a movement is too difficult to keep working the whole time, back off the intensity: move away/toward the anchor point and make it easier so you can just continuously work. The program is trying to get your targetted muscle groups for that day into the hypertrophy range for muscle growth.
Intensity movements Are the opposite. They are movements from the other two themes, e.g. on Push day, your intensity movements will be a pull and a legs. Get the most extreme angle you can handle and really push yourself. Because those muscle groups aren’t being focused on that day, you can really go hard on these. The point of these is to work on strength rather than getting into hypertrophy.
The program starts all movements in intervals of 45 seconds work, 20 seconds rest. All eight movements are done each day four times through. This might sound like a lot, but that’s the point. This is not a program to get in some movement to make your heart rate go up and feel like you got in your workout. This is a program to feel punishing and get some muscle growth going.
One mistake you can easily make in fitness is to miss out on progressive overload. By doing the same programs at the same difficulty over and over again, the body eventually gets enough strength to finish those programs and never advances further. Progressive overload is the term for slowly making your workouts more difficult so that you are constantly making progress.
Progressive overload is tough to achieve in suspension training because unless you’re marking on the ground exactly where you are standing for each movement, there’s no guarantee you’re doing the same intensity as the last time. So rather than use intensity, which is typically how weight lifting programs progress (e.g. increasing the weight), the progressive overload for this program is time. Every two weeks, I increased the the work intervals by five seconds. Every month, I increased the rest interval by five seconds to balance that out. This increase in time under tension is how we make progress.
That said, I wouldn’t go above 1 minute 30 seconds for working intervals because suspension training requires good form to avoid injury. Form is the first thing to go as we get tired, so while we’re trying to be intense, overdoing it just leads to injury and long bouts of recovery with no movement, and that’s not what we want at all. Once you get up to 1 minute, 30 seconds in the work interval and you still want to push harder you have a couple of options:
- Increase intensity to the max: make sure you are as far (or near) from the anchor point as possible. Some movements also employ the straps for balance, try to completely eliminate holding the straps.
- Sub in tougher movements: Some of these movements are easily subbed, e.g. low rows can become inverted rows. Chest press can become push-ups.
- Decrease Rest Time: You want to be careful with this, because while you can progressive overload via density, you want to make sure you are at max intensity and max time working first. Those are more important for muscle growth than density. Otherwise, you will make the workout into more of a cardio program than a strength building one.
I tried to use as many movements as possible that only needed a suspension trainer and nothing else. But, overhead press is such a great movement that’s tough to replicate in suspension training, so even if all you have is milk jugs filled with water or something, you should try to do those. However, if you must use your trainer for everything, replace those with clock press.
Day 1: Pull
Pulling movements tend to work the biceps, back and forearms in suspension training. Your intensity movements are triceps extension and squat.
- Single leg deadlift, right side: Stand facing the anchor point in an upright plank. Hands holding the straps straight down at your side. Bring your left knee up to a 90 degree angle, then lean forward, driving your left leg back and straightening it until your body forms a T shape, balancing on your right leg. Bring yourself back to the first position by pulling your torso back up using your glutes and right hamstring. Use the straps as little as possible, for balance support only.
- Single leg deadlift, left side: Same at the single leg deadlift right, just switching to the other side.
- Low Row: Stand facing the anchor point, hold the straps one in each hand, palms facing in. Lean back, until arms are fully extended out in front of you, body in a solid straight line from shoulders to feet. Slowly pull yourself forward by moving your hands to your ribcage, keeping your elbows tight to your body and not flaring outward. Lower yourself back down to starting position and repeat.
- Triceps Extension: Stand facing away from the anchor point. Straps over your shoulders, hold them straight in front of you, one in each hand. Lean forward, bring your hands to your temples, while holding a plank. Push back up with your hands and arms to the starting position. Repeat.
- Power Pull, right side: Facing the anchor point, grab both straps in your right hand. Lean back and turn your torso sideways, to your left, from the anchor point. Extend your left hand out straight, toward the ground. This is your start position. Pull yourself forward with your right arm and twist your torso to your right, so that at the top of the movement, your left shoulder is pointed at the anchor point. Repeat.
- Power Pull, left side: Same as Power Pull, right side, but switch hands and other left/right direcitons.
- Y Fly: Stand facing the anchor point, hold the straps one in each hand, palms down. Lean back, until arms are fully extended out in front of you, body in a solid straight line from shoulders to feet. Slowly pull yourself forward by moving your arms up over your head until your body has the shape of a Y. You should be far enough away from the anchor point that straps never lose tension. Lower yourself back down to starting position and repeat.
- Squat to Face Pull: Stand facing the anchor point, hold the straps one in each hand, palms down. Lean back, until arms are fully extended out in front of you, body in a solid straight line from shoulders to feet. You’re now in position to do the work. Move your glutes down as if sitting in an imaginary chair and then push back up to standing. Once standing, pull yourself forward with your arms at 90 degrees from your body, elbows flared out. Lean back and repeat the movement. Make sure you are far enough back that you never lose tension in the straps.
Day 2: Push
Push movements tend to hit the chest, triceps and shoulders in suspension training. Our intensity movements here are hip throw and front squat, try to push those to the maximum angle you can.
- Chest Press:Face away from the anchor point. Straps over your shoulders, hold them in both hands and extend them in front of you like Frankenstein. Holding a plank, lean forward, bending your arms and shoulders into a push-up like position. Push yourself back up using your chest and triceps. Repeat.
- Single Arm Overhead Press Left Side: Place your dumbbell/kettle bell/gallon jug in your left hand. Move the weight into the starting position: holding palm up over your shoulder. Standing completely still except for your arm and shoulder, raise it above your head in a straight line until you completely extend your left arm.
- Single Arm Overhead Press Right Side: Same as Overhead Press Left side, but switch hands.
- Hip Throw: Stand facing the anchor point, straps in hand. Hold the straps in a hammer grip and lean back, holding a plank with your body. With both hands, pull yourself back up and twist your torso, so as to lead with your hip pointed toward the anchor point. Lean back and repeat with the opposite hip leading.
- Incline Press: Facing the anchor point, put one foot in both TRX foot cradles. Get down on the ground and into a plank. If necessary, move away from the anchor point until your suspended foot is above your shoulders. You are now in position to do some inclined push-ups. To make this one really sizzle, move your non-suspended foot up in the air to join your suspended one. Then, increase the angle going further away from the anchor point until it really pushes you.
- Fallout: Face away from the anchor point, straps in hand over your shoulders, holding one in each hand. Put your hands straight forward like Frankenstein. Lean forward while raising both arms straight above your head, holding a plank the whole time. Once arms are fully extended above you, push your arms back down to straight in front of you like Frankenstein again. Repeat.
- Triceps Press: Stand facing away from the anchor point. Straps over your shoulders, hold them straight in front of you, one in each hand. Lean forward, bring your hands to your temples, while holding a plank. Push back up with your hands and arms to the starting position. Repeat.
- Front Squat: Stand facing away from the anchor point. Straps under your arm pits, held in a hammer grip. Walk yourself a little ways away from the anchor point, get up on the balls of your feet and lean forward in a plank position. This is the starting position. From here, bend your knees and hinge your hips to go down into a squat, never leaving the balls of your feet. Get your knees at about a 90 degree angle at the bottom. Then get back up into that leaning forward plank with your legs and glutes.
Day 3: Legs
What muscles get worked on legs day is more obvious than push or pull day. Our intensity work on legs day are the Atomic Push-up and Biceps Curl.
- Cross Balance Lunge Right Side: Stand facing the anchor point, straps one in each hand. Raise your left knee to about half way up in front of you. This is the starting position. Bending your right knee, keeping it from moving forward past your toes, while keeping your torso completely straight and upright. While bending the right knee, move your left knee behind your right leg. Push yourself back to the starting position with your right leg. Careful not to twist at the knee or ankle on your right leg.
- Cross Balance Lunge Left Side: Same right side, but switch legs
- Hamstring Curls: Facing the anchor point, get on your butt and put both feet in respective straps. Then lay on the ground on your back, such that your legs can be completely extended out. Raise your butt off the ground while bending your knees to a 90 degree angle. Extend your legs back out to straight and let your butt tap the ground. Repeat.
- Biceps Curl: Stand facing the anchor point, hold the straps one in each hand, palms facing up. Lean back, until arms are fully extended out in front of you, body in a solid straight line from shoulders to feet. Slowly pull yourself forward by moving your hands to temples in a curling motion. Lower yourself back down to starting position and repeat.
- Overhead Squat: Stand facing the anchor point, strap in each hand. Raise your arms straight above your head and move back from the anchor point such that the straps are taunt. Hinge with your hips and bend your knees down into a squat, keeping your arms raised above your head and the straps taunt. Make sure your knees track with your foot, but never go past your toes. Once at a 90 degree bend in your knee, push back up to standing with your legs and glutes, keeping your back straight and upright the whole time. Repeat.
- Sprinter’s Start Right Side: Stand facing away from the anchor point. Straps under your armpits, held in a hammer grip. Bend your right leg at the knee slightly and raise yourself up on to the ball of your foot, you will keep your right leg in roughly this position throughout the work out. For your left leg, begin by stretching it back behind you, bent at the glutes, but straight in the knee. This is the start position. Drive your left knee forward as if you are pushing off the ground to begin in a full sprint. Bring your left knee up to about a 45 degree angle in front of you. Repeat.
- Sprinter’s Start Right Side: Same as Sprinter’s Start Right Side, but reverse the legs.
- Atomic Push-up: Put your legs in the straps such that they will be straight when you are laying on your stomach. Move your body out away from the anchor point until you can get yourself into a fully extended plank position. Put your hands on the ground where you would to do a normal push-up, hold up your body in a plank. This is the start position. Do a push-up. After you get yourself back up to the top position, bring your knees forward and your hips up, as if doing an upside down crunch. Once you’ve got as far as you can go with this movement, go back to the starting position. Repeat.
This is no substitute for weight training, but it does make suspension training behave a little more like weight training rather than cardio. If you come at this from a suspension training background, you will feel tired, but in a few specific muscle groups rather than from your lungs being out of breath like most suspension programs. If you come at this from a weight training background, you’ll find the burn and pump don’t let in until the third or fourth round through as you wear yourself down through time under tension rather than heavy intensity.
It seems odd to design a program that’s mostly a stop gap, something to do when the real McCoy isn’t available. But all programs are temporary, this one just embraces that. Hopefully you can find it useful for when, for whatever reason, the gym isn’t available.