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Improve Core Stability. Improve Stamina. Maximize Performance

By John Serafano, Exercise Applications Specialist,
Training Mask Research and Development

Part I: Introduction: Building on the strengths of Suspension Training via RRT.

There are a number of positives that can be garnered from suspension training. We will be zeroing in on two of these benefits in this article. See Below.

  • Suspension training (i.e. TRX) allows you the benefit of being able to focus on the posterior muscles (i.e. back of your trunk, arms, and legs) of the body. These muscles are typically neglected because the majority of human movement is forward focused. A forward orientation causes an imbalance in favor of the anterior muscles (i.e. front of the trunk, arms, and legs). Suspension training negates this by creating a momentum fulcrum above the body which makes it much easier to focus on the posterior musculature.
  • Using suspension based exercise methods minimizes the role the lower extremities play in stabilization. Our legs are typically something we take for granted, so it becomes very easy to overlook the role they play in stabilization. TRX based training techniques reduce the influence our legs play in stabilizing our movement. This redistributes the load to the upper extremities, and the core muscles of the trunk. If core stabilization is a primary goal (which it almost always is...) suspension training is a great means of achieving that goal.

We will be addressing three key exercise avenues that address the fundamentals in the most efficient means possible, these avenues include:

  1. Core stabilization with multiple points of contact
  2. Anterior (muscles on front of body) trunk emphasis with upper extremity utilization
  3. Posterior (muscles on back of body) trunk emphasis -hybrid-

A collection of exercises that address these areas will be highlighted in the following sections in greater detail. Each exercise sequence was selected to address the strengths of suspension training in a simple clear format. Suspension training is one of the most effective ways to improve core strength which makes it a great companion for RRT. The core and inspiratory muscles work so closely with one another that it is difficult to isolate one in favor of the other. The best approach is to use the synergistic relationship before us to our advantage.

Part II: DRT Progressive Warm-Up

DRT (Diaphragmatic Respiratory Training) Pre Warm-Up

One of the best ways to prime our respiratory breathing muscles pre activity, is by performing a DRT (Diaphragmatic Respiratory Training) warm up progression. This will be accomplished via a clear two step process. The first segment will be DRT in hook lying (lying flat on back with knees bent). We are trying to maximize motor unit recruitment in the inspiratory muscles by isolating them in a posture that does not take very much energy to maintain. This will make it much easier to isolate the primary inspiratory muscles specifically (you can also add resistance with the Training Mask).

(Diaphragmatic Respiratory Training is the terminology the Training Mask R&D team uses to define exercises that isolate the inspiratory breathing muscles)

Segment One: Diaphragmatic Breathing in Hook Lying Position

Description: Assume the position in the photo below. Make sure that you place your hands on your stomach so that you can insure that you are achieving diaphragm activation. A good diaphragmatic breath should cause your abdomen to rise as your chest cavity inflates. If your chest cavity inflates but your abdomen does not rise, it is a good sign that you are activating the secondary respiratory muscles first. 

Protocol: We are going to be performing diaphragmatic breaths for approximately 3 minutes to reinforce the proprioceptive input to our brains while we are activating the primary respiratory muscles. Use the breathing cadence of Inhale: 1...2...3...4...Exhale: 5...6...7...8...9...10. At this tempo you will be breathing at 6 breaths per minute. Perform 3 cycles of 6 breaths.

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RRT Component (Training Mask)

If you have a Training Mask available to you, use the 6,000 feet resistance setting (See Above). The 6,000 feet resistance setting is the set of caps with two holes showing. When we are in a position where isolation of the inspiratory muscles is the goal, we can use a higher air resistance/elevation setting because we are better equipped to focus on our breathing exclusively.

Segment Two: Mild Aerobic Full Body Warm-Up

Description/Protocol: Choose a mild form of full body activity such as a brisk walk on a treadmill, elliptical, or rowing machine. Using the PE chart below as a guide, do a 15 minute warm-up at a PE of 4/10. The reason we did the DRT protocol in the previous segment was so we could gain some proprioceptive (the name of the feedback the brain gets from our body when we move) carryover into our full body warm-up phase. Try to maintain deep rhythmic breathing throughout the entire warm-up with exhales that are around 2.5 times longer than each inhalation.

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RRT Component (Training Mask)

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If you have a Training Mask available to you, use the 3,000 feet resistance setting. The 3,000 feet resistance setting is the set of caps with four holes showing. Our goal isn't to restrict airflow to a significant degree here because our task is to stay below a 5/10 on the Perceived Exertion Scale. The mask will provide you with a proprioceptive component that will cue you to take deep rhythmic breaths (because it resists airflow when you inspire...this allows the brain time to process what the sensation of  a good inspiration is supposed to feel like).

Part III: The Suspension Training RRT Workout Plan

Exercise One: Standard Suspended Plank With Optional Progression

Description/Protocol: The plank is a tried and true method for achieving a harmonious co-contraction of the anterior/posterior muscles of the trunk, and lower extremities. One of the reasons that it is so effective is the plank positions has multiple points of contact between our body, and the surface we are supporting ourselves on. Performing a suspended plank permits us to maintain the benefits of the plank while we increase the difficulty of the activity. Assume a plank position with your ankles in the straps of your suspension device of choice. The name of the game here is to maintain a sound plank position for an extended period of time. Start by trying to maintain a good plank for one minute. Eventually, we want to be able to sustain a biomechanically correct plank for 3-5 minutes. Remember, start slow, be patient, and don't sacrifice quality for quantity.  Progression: To add an increased element of difficulty to this exercise, put your elbows into the suspension apparatus instead of your lower extremities. This will increase the demands on the core in a significant but controlled manner.

RRT Component: The simplicity of this exercise is going to work into our favor because it allows us to put a strong emphasis on our breathing. Focus on taking deep, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breaths with a tempo of Inhale...1001...1002...1003...Relax...Exhale...1004...1005...1006...1007. Maintain this breathing cadence throughout the entire activity. Use a timer to cue yourself that the work-set has ended.

RRT Component Ctd: Set your Training Mask to the 6,000 feet resistance/elevation setting. We are using a moderate airflow resistance so that we can focus on inspiratory muscle endurance, and strength at the same time. A moderate resistance allows us to apply an adequate load to work the fast twitch, and slow twitch muscle fibers of the primary inspiratory muscles (i.e. diaphragm and intercostals)

(See Following Illustrated Example.)

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Exercise Two: Lower Extremity Suspended Push-Up

Description/Protocol: The lower extremity suspended push up, and plank have a lot in common. Most of the core stabilization benefits of the suspended plank carry over into the suspended push up. To begin the suspended push up, place your feet into the stirrup of your suspension device. Next, assume a push up position. Perform 4-5 sets of 15-25 pushups. The tempo of this exercise will be paced to the RRT breathing protocol in the following section.

RRT Component: Begin the push-up by taking a deep diaphragmatic breath in the upright position (or starting point of exercise). Perform this breath at a cadence of Inhale...1001...1002...1003...Exhale...1004...1005...1006...1007. Maintaining optimum core recruitment and form will be much easier if you take the time to execute the 'centering' breath mentioned above before you start the work set. After your centering breath, Inhale down into the low point of the push-up position at an inhale count of...1001...1002...1003. Exhale through the 'push' part of the push-up to the starting position at...1004...1005...1006. Make sure you expel roughly 50% of your total lung volume on the start of the exhale. This will facilitate your core muscles to isometrically contract more forcefully.

RRT Component Ctd...

Set your Training Mask to the 9,000 feet elevation/resistance setting. We are using the highest resistance to maximize the loads on the inspiratory muscles. Using high tension is ideal when the total time under tension during the set is reduced (i.e. 15 reps instead of 3 minutes of continuous repetitions).

(See Following Illustrated Example)

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Exercise Three: Suspended Dynamic Scapular Stabilization Activity

Description/Protocol: One of the primary benefits of suspension training is how it allows us to distribute tension to the muscles on the front, and back of our bodies evenly. The last exercise takes advantage of this by using a hybrid progression sequence which is designed to combine two fundamental scapular stabilization concepts (middle lat. row and rear delt fly). We are going to start with the more stable of the two activities...the middle lat row. Use the illustration on the next page as your guideline for the starting position. Slowly lengthen your arms and drift backwards until your arms are fully extended. Next, pull yourself back to the start position with the same speed that you used to reach the midpoint of the exercise. The key here is that you want to pull yourself upward as hard as you can while maintaining a controlled pace back to the start position. This will insure you activate more motor units per unit of time...
More motor units = More power.

The final part of the exercise sequence is the rear delt fly. Once again reference the illustration on the following page to insure you are in a biomechanically sound posture before you start this phase of the exercise. Start the exercise with your arms extended. Next open up your arms and move them away from your body (think arms away and around your torso). Make sure both the opening of your arms part of the exercise, and the lowering into the start position maintain the same tempo. The RRT component will go into the pacing of the exercise in more detail. Lastly, we are going to cover the chaining of the two exercise segments. Perform one lat row, then one rear delt fly. Alternate between the two movements performing a total of 5 repetitions on each motion. Shoot for 3-4 sets of  5 x 5 (5 x 5 meaning 5 rows, and 5 flyes).

RRT Component: The respiratory element of this exercise is going to focus on a shorter, and more controlled breathing methodology. We are going to take shallower breaths using our inspiratory muscles in isometric bursts. This will allow us to keep the thoracic pressure (air in our lungs) higher. The advantage of higher thoracic pressure is that it takes some of the load of the core muscles. Time each inhalation with the pulling motions of each exercise segment, and the exhalations with each lowering phase of each segment. Inhalations should be at...1001...1002...1003, and Exhalations at...1004...1005...1006. Try to keep 50% of the air in your lungs through the entire exercise (to maintain thoracic pressure).

RRT Component Ctd...

Set your training mask to the 3,000 feet elevation/resistance setting. A lower resistance load is warranted here because we want to keep the inspiratory muscles under tension without over taxing them. 

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Summary:

This article is designed to present you with a basic framework by which you can create your own suspension training / RRT workouts. RRT and suspension training go hand in hand because of the synergistic relationship between the core muscles, and the inspiratory muscles. Good luck, and thanks for reading from the Training Mask R&D team.

References:

Duron, B. (1973). Postural and ventilatory functions of intercostal muscles. Acta neurobiol. exp, 33(355-380), 149a.

McGill, S. M., Cannon, J., & Andersen, J. T. (2014). Analysis of Pushing Exercises: Muscle Activity and Spine Load While Contrasting Techniques on Stable Surfaces With a Labile Suspension Strap Training System. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(1), 105-116.

Kibele, A., & Behm, D. G. (2009). Seven weeks of instability and traditional resistance training effects on strength, balance and functional performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(9), 2443-2450.