Do It Yourself

DIY Suspension Training System: How To Stay Fit In The Field



If you've been honing your emergency preparedness skills, but neglecting your physical fitness, maybe it's time to build a suspension training system.

Suspension Training System: The Perfect Way to Multi-Task

Working on emergency preparedness skills can get quite overwhelming at times. There's a lot of new material to learn… And we still need to brush up and maintain current skills. The sense of urgency is also continually tapping on our shoulder. When we factor in family commitments and our jobs, time management becomes the prevalent task at hand.

One of the ways that I have learned to deal with time restraints is to multi-task. I look for ways and methods to compound multiple skill building components into one basic mission. Some examples would be going for a hike and combining map and compass skills along the way. Or… While out on a day trek, I bring my backpacking stove with me so that I can practice cooking and fire-building skills.

When it comes to my Natural Training Center (NTC) Members, I use the multi-tasking method to not only manage time more efficiently, but also as a source of motivation. Everyone has certain skill-sets that we find a chore when it’s time to practice them. For some, it may be cooking… While for others, it may be hiking. However, if we strive to be fully prepared, even the skills that we find monotonous need to be drilled.

It’s no secret that I spend a fair amount of time working on my physical preparedness. If I had to pull one skill-set that many in the preparedness community would rather avoid, it would be physical fitness. But the truth is that most, if not all, feel that a good physical fitness level is a must if we hope to bode well during a crisis. After decades of working with varied demographics on their preparedness, I found a way to:

Give Them What They Want, Mixed In With What They Need…

The ability to be able to pull one's weight during a survival situation is not only a metaphor… In our case, it’s literal! Climbing a tree, navigating through an overhanging cliff or pulling a sled across a frozen body of water… The muscle groups involved in the “pull-up” movement are needed. Unfortunately, most of our population cannot perform even one correct pull-up. Luckily, there are many ways to build the body up in order to perform multiple pull ups.

But Those Fancy Suspension Training Systems Are Expensive!

There are many good exercises to build up your pull-up movement. But one of the best ways that I have found, especially for the beginner or beginning-again, is using suspension training systems and methodology. I’m sure that you've seen the fluorescent colored cables that can be strapped to a pull-up bar. This enables the user to keep part of their body connected to the floor while performing a pull-up. In turn, this makes the pull-up much easier, as the users won't be pulling their full weight.

This enables more repetitions to be performed, which builds up the muscle groups needed for performing pull-ups. As the user progresses over time, less resistance will be applied with the aid of the suspension training system. Eventually, with continued practice, full un-assisted pull ups can be performed. The caveat here is not only the time required for the training, but also the price of these systems. The standard suspension training systems found in most homes and gyms cost well over $100. I’m certainly not stating that these contraptions do not warrant the price tag.  However, it's a relatively hefty price for even a motivated fitness person. Just imagine the turn-off for the “unmotivated.”

Here Is Where My Multi-Tasking Comes Into Play…

My NTC Members tend to enjoy pioneering. At our basecamp, we build gateway entrances, tripods for dutch oven cooking, and hang our NTC and American Flags to tall, lashed poles. This certainly helps to build our team spirit and teamwork… But it also helps to solidify their pioneering skill-sets. Pioneering requires a versatile knowledge in knots and ropework (lashing). By building various projects, members need to think outside the box and decide on the best way to implement their ropework. Choosing the right lash or knot for the job is imperative. Much of it can only be learned through experience.

Now, when it comes to performing pull-ups, most of my members want to do well. They're not as motivated about pull ups as they are about practicing their various lashings. So I decided to multi-task their mission and use their pioneering skills to build a suspension training system at our basecamp. It’s amazing how excited the participants get about their mission even though the end result is a “workout.” 🙂

The process for building a field expedient suspension training system is fairly simple. It requires very little material so you can build multiple stations, depending on the size of your group. It can also be used with minimal impact to the environment, which abides by the Leave No Trace principle.

These are the steps that I use in order to build a simple, field expedient suspension training system, for beginning to advanced pulling up movements:

Find Two Parallel Trees:

Generally, we have few issues finding two trees that are parallel to each other at basecamp. Ideally, they would be approximately 4-6’ apart from each other. Keep in mind that it's always easier if the trees have a circumference that's not too large. The wider the tree, the more rope that you will require.

Find A Cross Branch Or Tree Limb:

Find a branch that's not rotted and would easily hold the heaviest person in your group’s body weight. Think about the two trees and one branch making a capital letter “H.” The two parallel trees are the left and right of the “H,” while the branch crosses the middle forming the letter “H.” Keep in mind that your cross branch will need to be a bit longer than the edge of your parallel trees. This will give you extra space for your ropework.

The cross branch needs to be placed at the height of the tallest persons’ head. This will ensure that everyone in your group can benefit from the suspension training system.

Lash The Left Side:

Depending on the size and weight of the cross branch being utilized, you may need two members on the project. One member is used just to stabilize the cross branch in place. Usually, one person holding while the other does the ropework is sufficient. If you are attempting this project solo, you can use another vertical piece of wood as a prop for the cross branch.

The person doing the ropework will need to to lash the cross branch to the left tree using square lashing. Once the lashing is done, you can wrap any extra rope around the cross branch. Cutting rope is something that we want to avoid unless it’s a must. Avoid cutting your rope by frapping the excess rope around the cross branch.

Lash The Right Side:

Perform the same sequence on the right side of the tree. This should be an easier task for whomever is assisting the person performing the lashing. Since the structure of the suspension training system is halfway done at this point, there's much less weight that needs to be supported. Once the square lashing is finished on the right hand side, your base structure is done.

At this point, you have a great pull up bar that can be used for fitness or anything else that you can get use out of.

Making Your Grips:

Making Your Grips

In order to use your system for suspension training, you are going to need something to pull on. The contraption that you make will need to be adjusted depending on the exercise being performed. For this system, I am focussing on assisted pull-ups. So basically, we want to attach two hand holds to the cross branch. By utilizing them for support, the user can sit back at the waist and use the system to pull themselves up to a standing position.

In order to make these grips, we need to use some more of our rope. Once again, the length of rope will depend on the exercise and the user’s height. For a pull-up assisting setup, I use approximately three feet of rope for each grip. I tie a square knot which joins both ends of the rope. I then take the rope and place the center of it over the cross branch. This will form two bites, which gives a bit more surface room for gripping. Thicker rope is preferred so that you can get a good grip without the rope cutting into your hands. You can also use towels, clothing, gloves or anything else that will add padding and comfort to the exercise.

Performing The Exercise:

Now that the suspension system is complete, it's time for physical training!

With this particular setup, I have our NTC Members perform various repetitions of the following movement:

  • Stand tall from top of your head to your tailbone
  • Place your hands in each handle and grip
  • Sit back at your hips, bending your knees
  • Extend your arms keeping your elbows tracking your ribs
  • Keep your shoulders rolled back and integrated into your body
  • Pull yourself back up to a tall position at approximately 45 degrees

You can perform multiple sets of 10 repetitions or any other protocol that you feel comfortable with.


Watch Coach Helder build a quick, easy, and cost effective suspension training system:

Bottom Line:

suspension training system

This is just one simple example of the use of a suspension training system. Really, there are countless exercises and applications for suspension training. Whether you're a beginner or an expert, there are amazing attributes that can be built utilizing suspension training. But just like most skills, when not performed correctly, injury can occur. Get a good coach and get your movement checked out before you begin a serious training regimen. This holds true whether you're home, at the gym, or in the field.

Keep in mind that during a SHTF scenario, physical fitness will still be required. You and everyone in your group will want to maintain their health as well as their physical preparedness. Being able to build a suspension training system may be a viable choice for you, depending on your situation. Not only will you enhance your physical preparedness but you will also bring valuable pioneering skills into continual refinement.

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What exercises have you done with your own homemade system? Leave a comment below and share!

Want to learn more do-it-yourself tricks? Check out this article on how to make a knife from an old wrench!

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  1. Coach Helder

    June 11, 2017 at 10:43 AM

    If you have any questions or comments about the suspension system, please post them here.

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