Advanced training with strength straps

by Donal Carr

As a personal trainer I have always been open to new ideas and products, and as a CHEK practitioner I have looked at a holistic approach which, for me, means all parts coming to one. The first time I saw Aaron McKenzies’ strength straps I was very interested in how they worked, the benefits he was achieving with his clients and how they helped with his own shoulder injury. After Aaron had written an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on the strength straps, he started manufacturing the ‘ultimate instrument’. Like all good ideas around the world, he wasn’t the only person coming up with this one. The difference between the ultimate instrument and other strap-based equipment is that it does not vary from the original design of the Roman rings (1847), and uses two anchor points rather than one, which keeps the line of force and places less stress on the shoulder mechanics. The strength straps allow the user to use their own body weight, or a percentage of it, to do mostly closed chain exercises for the upper and lower body, the most challenging of which can only be performed on this piece of equipment.

By applying our vast understanding and indepth knowledge of the human training with strength straps body and how it works to this strength training equipment, Aaron and I developed a system that educates fitness professionals on how to screen and assess their clients; design programs; correct posture and create a functional strength program that will achieve the client’s goals. One of the most important factors when using this equipment is understanding the line of force and joint biomechanics.

Regarding the line of force (or line of pull) of the load, it is important to consider its vector or direction, i.e., is the force going through the joint or acting on the joint? In a row, for example, if the biomechanics of the joint are misaligned or the line of resistance is not optimal (too high or too low), we will not have the integration with the spine, scapular, glenoid and humerus which allows for optimal transfer of loads. If a compensation is apparent, the load needs to be repositioned or reduced, until the nervous system and all muscular strength is developed. The joint should maintain an optimal instantaneous axis of rotation.

It is essential when prescribing exercises that you understand the influencing variables, i.e., joint mechanics, ground force reaction, gravity and momentum. In addition to these variables, you also have to understand the client’s variables; their goals, their level of fitness and the level at which they are currently training.

Once all of these factors have been considered, you can set about working with your client to hit their targets.

Of course, all fitness equipment has its pros and cons. One of the challenges of this piece is that you have to be able to use your body functionally, efficiently and have the optimal axis of rotation in your joints to achieve advanced exercises.

As the ultimate instrument replicates the Roman rings, which is one of the most advanced gymnastic events performed in the Olympics (most notably the ‘iron cross’ move in which both arms are extended straight out from the sides of the body while suspended in mid air), it is something that needs to be worked up to over a period of years before it is mastered. Due to the advanced nature of strength training using this apparatus, the necessity for a comprehensive program strategy to accompany every strength strap is clear.

The following are some of my favourite more advanced exercises, and some basic ones that my clients like to use on a regular basis.


1. Supine two -arm row (photos 1-4)
The height of the straps and placement of your feet will dictate the intensity or level of resistance. It is a good idea to position straps at belly button height. As you assume the supine position it is recommended you assess your clients’ grip strength before attempting this exercise. It is also important that they can maintain a neutral spine and core activation. Advanced options are also shown here, with a one-leg variation and a one-arm/one-leg variation.

2. Prone two -arm press (photos 5-7)
The height of the straps and placement of your feet will dictate the intensity or level of resistance. It is recommended that you start with the positioning of the straps at around waist level. Stabilisation of the core and shoulder joint is essential here. As you can see from the photograph, the line of force and the straps are directly in line with the shoulder. If the straps were anchored closer together, it would have a totally different effect on the body, potentially compromising the shoulder joint. It is best to have the straps anchored at shoulder width. Advanced options include progressing to a one-arm or one-leg position move.

3. Prone fly (photos 8-9)
This is an advanced exercise and should only be attempted once the first two exercises above have been perfected. It is also recommended that a wide anchor is used on both straps. This exercise is very demanding on the whole body and requires a lot of
strength when done with a low height position of the handles, so start high and progress slowly.

4. Supine hip extension , knee flexion (photos 10-12)
Place the handles at knee height and place the heels in the foot straps with the balls of the feet positioned on the handles. This exercise will work the back extensor chain and is a must for all clients that are weak in the lower back, hamstring and glutes. For a more
advanced option, this exercise can also be performed with one leg.

5. Forward swing (photos 13-14)
Start with the handles positioned at knee height. This exercise is performed exactly the same way as a forward ball roll and is best performed with the trainer using a dowel rod to ensure postural alignment. Clients will vary in core stability and strength and therefore may not achieve a fully extended position, as you can see in the photograph. If your client loses core stability and alignment, reduce the range of motion to where they can achieve perfect form.

6. Prone jack -knife (photos 15-17)
Again, the height of the strap will indicate the level of resistance and load through the body. The use of a dowel rod for postural alignment is essential when teaching your client this exercise. After they have perfected two legs, they can move onto onelegged prone jack-knife.

To find out more about Strength Straps – The Ultimate Instrument go to For information on full-day 5 CEC
workshops covering the exercises in this article, e-mail


Donal Carr

An internationally experienced presenter, CHEK Level 4 practitioner and GRAVITY master trainer, Donal has over 17 years industry experience and is head of PT training and development for Fitness First Australia. He runs his own CHEK/GRAVITY business in Sydney where he helps clients to achieve their goals with a holistic approach to post rehab and sports conditioning. For more information, e-mail