How to Build a Killer Body I

Build a killer body with free weights and suspension straps with this old school meets new school workout.

You may have noticed one of the latest additions in your gym — those cool-looking yellow and black straps, likely from TRX International, hanging in certain sections of the training facility. Perhaps even one of your friends has a similar kit in his home gym. If you haven’t seen this gear yet, trust us, you soon will. The fitness world is witnessing the growth of suspension training, or more broadly, bodyweight leverage training, which has been increasingly used by professional sports teams in recent years and is now infiltrating the training environments of everyday gym heads like us.

According to surveys conducted by both the IDEA Health & Fitness Association and the American Council on Exercise, bodyweight leverage training will be one of the top programming trends among trainers in 2012. And there are good reasons for the explosion in the growth of this training technique: It’s a simple, versatile and very effective method for adding a new challenge to your workouts. Plus, the tools of suspension training make a nice addition to your home gym and, because they’re portable, they can easily accommodate an active guy’s lifestyle. Says, Bill Sonnemaker, MS, PES, CES, CSCS and founder of Catalyst Fitness in Atlanta, “What makes this equipment so accessible is its portability, whether at a commercial gym, personal training studio, home gym, camping trip or hotel room. It can be easily set up and used.”


Although you can get in a great workout exclusively using suspension equipment, a case can easily be made for getting a more rounded and comprehensive workout by combining suspension work with traditional workouts that use barbells, dumbbells, machines and so on. The best way to launch into suspension training without feeling like you’re a free-weight Benedict Arnold is to incorporate suspension moves into a classic push-pull free-weight regimen. And that’s what the new Reps! has created here exclusively for you.


Put simply, suspension training is just how it sounds: You either hold onto the suspension handles or suspend your ankles inside the straps and work out. The inherent instability of the suspension straps creates an additional challenge for your muscles, engaging them in different ways than with free weights. Additionally, the suspension approach forces your body to move into many new positions with which it’s unfamiliar during exercise. Hence, new neural patterns of movement may be established as you enlist muscle fibers that aren’t often engaged with more standard forms of resistance training.
Adjusting the resistance load (that is, the difficulty of a suspension exercise) is a simple matter. When holding onto the handles, the lower your torso is to the ground, the more difficult the exercise becomes. So, by moving your feet in one direction from the suspension point, you can reduce the angle of the exercise and increase the resistance. By moving in the opposite direction, you can increase the angle and reduce the resistance.
In other words, the closer you are to standing vertically the less difficult the exercise is; and the more severe the angle you create with your body, the more resistance you deliver to the working muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments.


This dynamic workout involves single sets and paired sets. The paired sets are indicated by A) and B) in both the workout charts and exercise descriptions. Perform each exercise in a given paired set back-to-back with as little rest as needed (e.g., do 12–15 reps of suspension biceps curls immediately after doing 10–12 reps of suspension rear-delt flyes, resting only as long as it takes to transition from one movement to the next).
Pairing exercise sets in this manner increases workout intensity by reducing the time between certain movements, which helps you complete more high-quality exercise in less time. Plus, it also allows you to work a greater number of muscles during a given training session, and the more muscles you work, the greater amount of calories you’ll burn!


Workout A: Upper Body Pull Day


  1. CHIN-UP

(Hits lats, biceps)
Using a shoulder-width or wider overhand grip, hang from a chinning bar, legs extended beneath you. You can cross your ankles and keep a slight bend in your knees. Slowly pull yourself up toward the bar until your chin has moved beyond its plane. Lower yourself slowly.


(Hits upper lats, mid-upper back)
Grasp a pair of dumbbells and bend forward at the waist until the torso forms a 45-degree angle or so. As your arms hang full, maintain a natural arch in the lower back. Retract your scapulae and pull up the dumbbells at an angle toward your sides, stopping when the dumbbells arrive at the plane of your navel. Slowly return to the hanging position.


(Hits trapezius, upper-mid back)
Grasp a pair of dumbbells, allowing them to hang at your sides. Pull your shoulders toward your ears as much as possible, pausing at the top briefly, and then return dumbbells slowly to the hanging position.



(Hits lats, rhomboids, biceps)
Set-Up: Grasp handles with your palms facing inward. Your body should be facing forward, in the direction of the suspension device anchor point. Slowly lean back with your body in a straight line from head to toe, forming the angle of difficulty of your choice. Your elbows should remain straight and extended in front of your shoulders.

Action: Pull your torso up toward your hands by bending at your elbows — essentially you’re doing a suspended rowing motion. Pause at the top for 1–2 seconds before returning to the starting position by extending your arms again. That’s one rep!

Coaching Tips:

Touch the inside of your wrists to your bottom ribs at each row to ensure a full range of motion.

Keep your body in a straight line and don’t lead with your hips when pulling yourself up.



(Hits posterior deltoids)
Set-Up: With your palms facing each other as you grasp the handles and your body facing the anchor point of the suspension device, lean back until your body reaches the angle of your choice with the ground. Keep your body in a straight line from head to toes (i.e., don’t pooch your glutes rearward while bending at the waist). Your arms should be extended in front of your shoulders.

Action: Without bending your elbows, first retract your scapulae and then open your arms out to your sides to form a “T” with your upper torso. At the top of each rep, your arms and torso should fall on the same plane. Pause briefly, then control your arms back to the extended position. Repeat.

Coaching Tips:

To increase the difficulty, create a more severe angle between your body and the ground. Adjust the length of the straps accordingly.

Keep your palms facing the anchor point of the suspension device throughout the exercise.

Keep your arms at shoulder height or slightly higher, never below the shoulders.



(Hits biceps)
Set-Up: Your palms should face the ceiling and your body face the anchor point of the suspension device. Hold onto the handles — with palms facing up — and lean back with your body in a straight line from head to toe until the body assumes the angle you’ve chosen relative to the type of load you want on your arms. Your arms should be extended in front of your shoulders.

Action: Bending only at your elbows, perform a biceps curl, pulling yourself up so that the handles touch your forehead. Slowly, reverse the action. That’s one rep!

Coaching Tips:

Keep your body straight throughout the set.

To increase the difficulty, start the exercise from a more severe angle, which would bring your body closer to the ground.




(Hits biceps, with emphasis on short, or inner, head)

Standing erect, grasp a pair of dumbbells and allow them to hang along the sides of your thighs, palms facing in. Keeping your elbows tucked against your torso as best as possible, curl both dumbbells toward your shoulders. As the dumbbells clear your thighs supinate your wrists so that your palms face upward. Move each arm in an arc slightly toward the outside of its respective target shoulder as you contract the biceps muscles. Stop the motion just short of the point at which you feel the tension lessen in the biceps, squeezing hard for a second or two. Slowly lower to the start position.




In addition to assorted home-brew options one can make (just Google “homemade suspension training systems”), there’s been an explosion of suspension-training devices available to the consumer, spanning a wide-range of price points (the more expensive the product, the greater the number of accessories). Here are just a few options to consider.