Globally over’ 60’s represent a larger percentage of the population than ever before. The National Institute on Aging estimates that 25% of the US population will be older adults by 2030. Within the health and fitness industry it will be vital to have exercise programs and equipment that caters for this emerging market. Does suspension training provide older adults suitable exercise?

Many older adults will have health conditions that will limit their balance, flexibility or strength. Suspension training focuses on bodyweight exercises to improve balance and flexibility and develop core stability and strength. It is a highly effective and safe exercise for people with less mobility and have a high risk of falling.

The suspension trainer is a unique exercise tool, but when first introduced fitness professionals struggled to understand its mechanics. So you can understand how it might not be that appealing for a senior who may have not exercised for a long time!

The key to getting the most out of your suspension training is to get direction from training pro, ideally someone with a TRX certification. They will not only demonstrate how to use the device but how to progress and regress exercises. 

Notwithstanding this post will cover research done in the area, benefits for older adults and suitable suspension training exercises for adults.

Research on Suspension Training for Older Adults

There has been a number of studies that have looked at suspension training usage among older adults.The observations and results have been very positive. One study followed 11 participants aged 60 and older on a 12-week TRX training program. 3 times per week participants performed 7 appropriate suspension training exercises, focusing on balance, flexibility, gait and strength

Over a third of participants saw a decline in musculoskeletal pain. 10 out of 11 participants wanted to continue TRX training after the program.

Scientific Analysis

Dr. Christian Thompson has published a number of scientific reports covering exercise programming for older adults. He conducted an internal TRX study which followed 12 participants aged 75+ for 8 weeks. The group was split in half, one half serving as a control group. 

The other participants trained for 60 minutes twice a week performing dynamic balance, gait, mobility and strength TRX exercises. The exercises in the study included were the TRX overhead squat, mid row and chest press. The research has been peer-reviewed by the American College of Sports Medicine.

suspension training for older adults

To measure the effectiveness of the TRX exercises, participants performed a number of physical therapy exercises before and after the eight-week training period. The tests were the Functional Reach, 30 second Chair Stand and Timed Up and Go tests. 

The exercise group saw major improvements in Anterior reach displacement compared to the control group. This is a strong indicator that suspension training exercises can lead to improvements in functional fitness. Further studies by Dr. Thompson compared spinal compression while doing TRX rows and push-up. 

The initial results indicated that suspension training is a safe means for older adults to improve core strength.

Balance, Stability and Flexibility

Suspension training can also help tackle one of the biggest fears for seniors; falls. Improving balance and stability is a difficult exercise for older adults to undertake. Apart from some functional exercises and yoga there are not really any other training exercises where you can focus on improving your balance and stability.

 Most of them you actually need good balance and stability to do them in the first place! Using a suspension trainer older adults can try balance and stability exercises with less fear of falling down and getting injured. It works as an excellent spotting tool when doing balance, mobility and strength exercises.

Older adults gain more confidence once they have learnt the basics of using a suspension trainer. They can then progress to single leg exercises with balance pads, BOSUs and half foam rollers. The suspension trainer will work as a dynamic point of stability. This ensures full activation in the balancing leg, through the ankle, knee, hip and spine.

Use It or Lose It

It is very important to maintain flexibility as you get older. Decreased flexibility is a common reason why many of us reduce our physical activity as we feel we can’t perform the activities we used to do. However, this kind of self-limitation can lead to an even greater loss of function.

Our bodies operate under the principle of “Use It or Lose It.” You will lose strength and flexibility if you are not using your muscles and taking them through a full range of motion. It also ensures you maintain their length.

Suspension training exercises are great for mobilising joints to enable improvement in flexibility. The combination of the anchor point and straps allow you to hang and use gravity to elongate tissues. Additionally the dynamic nature of suspension trainers allows you to focus on any tight areas of your whole body.

Exercise Adjustments, Intensity and Versatility 

One of the biggest reasons why suspension trainers have become so popular as a training device is its versatility. You can perform so many upper, lower and full body exercises. You can easily make adjustments to many popular exercises so it is suitable for anyone no matter the levels of fitness. 

So for older adults with compromised lower body strength and inferior joints a suspension trainer makes exercise more achievable. The tool allows older adults to feel a range of motion that they may have not experienced for a long time. 

Changing the intensity of exercise is possible by varying body angles and moving the centre of gravity. This results in more load being transferred to the suspension trainer and the participant is called upon to generate more force.

suspension training for older adults

Suspension Training Exercises for Older Adults

As stated early the suspension trainer can be used to perform many upper, lower and full body exercises. By using the suspension trainer to adapt popular exercises, older adults are able to do them and experience real benefits. Below are a number of suspension training exercises and how they have been adapted for older adults.

Squats

The squat is a dynamic strength training exercise that requires several muscles in your upper and lower body to work together simultaneously. Many older adults have limited range of motion which limits flexibility and strength. Consequently this makes squats a difficult exercise to perform.

Using a suspension trainer and a chair makes squats possible for older adults to do. The straps are used to assist the in standing up element of the squat. The chair provides reassurance in the downward element. As long as good form is maintained throughout the movement it should be comfortable to achieve a decent depth in the squat.

With the suspension trainer you can do variations like with single-leg and transverse squats. On the other hand alternate with a row, calf raise or overhead reach.

Lunges

Lunges help you strengthen your lower body, increase core strength and muscle tissue. It is a great exercise as it can be adapted to any fitness level. A variation that older adults can do while using a suspension trainer is the side-to-side lunge. It provides an opportunity to work in the less practised frontal plane

The exercise will improve balance and stability. It targets the hamstrings, gluteus maximus and quadriceps. Furthermore you will see increased mobility in the hip and knee joints. 

To perform the side-to-side lunge correctly, grip the handles and maintain tension on the strap. Keep elbows close to the body throughout the exercise. Concentrate on hinging slightly forward at the hips, keeping the spine long and driving through the mid-foot on the bent leg side to transition to the other side.

Planks

Planks are one of the most effective bodyweight exercises you can do. Actually if you only have time to practice one exercise per day, plank would be the one. It is great for increasing strength for the whole body, especially in the core. Regularly doing planks will reduce back pain and improve posture and balance. 

 For older adults who have difficulty getting up and down from the floor the standing plank is ideal. The standing plank can be manipulated in a number of ways to ensure that it is effective and comfortable for the participant. For example if the participant has wrist issues, slip forearms through the candles to lessen the pressure on the wrists.

Suspension Training is For Everyone

It is not a stretch to say that "65 is the new 45", it is the reality. The impact of the global ageing population is that less of us will be retiring at 65. It is more likely that many of us will still want to lead a full and active lives at 65 and over. 

Diet and exercise are the key components to being able to stay active and healthy for longer. Suspension training is a great exercise as it is suitable for all fitness levels. It helps provides a safe environment for older adults to do exercises that will improve dynamic balance, joint mobility and strength and stability.

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