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Sling Systems

A long-standing exercise philosophy considered the body to be a collection of parts: one move or machine to isolate the chest, another for the back, yet another for the calves, and so on.

These days, experts see beyond the divide-and-conquer approach to fitness. “Movement isn’t isolated,” says Life Time master personal trainer Billy Anderson, NASM-CPT, PES, CES. “It’s integrated and connected.”

Groups of muscles, he says, work together to produce harmonious, full-body movements, such as running, jumping, and climbing.

Facilitating these movements are about a dozen sling subsystems — trains of muscle and connective tissue that crisscross the body like racing stripes. There are four primary slings:

  • The deep longitudinal subsystem (DLS) runs vertically along your back and works as you walk.
  • The anterior oblique subsystem (AOS) runs diagonally across the front of your torso and helps you pull down and across your body.
  • The posterior oblique subsystem (POS) follows the same path as the AOS across the back of your torso and is designed for lifting and rotating.
  • The lateral subsystem (LS), the smaller muscles around your pelvis and groin, aids single-leg movements and balancing.

“Once you understand the basics,” Anderson says, “you’ll see how you’re using these slings in everyday life.” (Learn more about sling systems at “Why You Should Activate Your Sling System“.)

That’s the main point of this approach: to help you develop and hone physical skills that are directly transferable from the gym to your real life — movements like twisting, bending, and balancing.

This workout was developed by Anderson and Minneapolis-based physical therapist Erika Mundinger, DPT, OCS, CIMT. It’s designed to build strength, burn fat, and leave you moving and feeling better — in less time than your typical workout. “Since you’re training so many muscles at once, you don’t have to train as long,” says Mundinger.

Isolation moves have their place, particularly if you’re rehabbing an injury or just beginning your fitness journey. But when you’re healthy, “go global,” Mundinger recommends. Integrate your sling systems and let your body become more than the sum of its parts.

The Workout

Warm up with five minutes of easy cardio, light dynamic stretching, or calisthenics. Then perform the following movements in sequence, focusing on excellent form. Stop each set as soon as your form starts to break down.

On exercises listed with just a number, perform what is called a straight set: Repeat two or three sets of just that movement.

On exercises marked with a number and a letter, perform supersets, alternating between the two exercises as a pair until you have completed the total number of sets. On exercises 1A and 1B, for example, do a set of eight to 12 renegade rows on each side, followed by a set of 10 to 15 cable lifts on each side, then repeat until you have completed two or three sets of each. Rest before performing supersets of 2A and 2B in the same fashion.

Perform this workout once or twice each week, doing cardio, mobility, or another full-body strength workout on the other days.

1A. Renegade Row (AOS)

  • Assume a wide high-plank position, with your right hand planted on the floor and your left hand holding a light dumbbell.
  • Keeping your core engaged and your hips and shoulders squared to the floor, pull the dumbbell off the floor. Keep your pulling elbow close to your body and draw your shoulder blades down and back.
  • Reverse the movement, touching the dumbbell to the floor.

Sets and Reps: Do two or three sets of 8 to 12 reps per side.

1B. Cable Lift (POS)

  • Attach a rope to the pulley on a cable column and set the pulley to its lowest position. Pull one end of the rope attachment through the eyehole so that it forms one long rope.
  • Take an overhand grip on the ends of the rope with both hands.
  • Assume a wide, athletic stance with the column on your right and the rope held at waist height, parallel to the floor.
  • Keeping your back flat, hinge at the hips while allowing the rope to rotate your upper body slightly to the right.
  • In one smooth movement, stand and rotate to your left, and lift the rope across your body and overhead.
  • Slowly reverse the movement and repeat.

Sets and Reps: Do two or three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.

2A. Bear-Crawl Bag Pull (POS)

  • Place a sandbag or other lightweight object on the gym floor and assume a bear crawl position over it: hands on the floor directly under your shoulders, arms straight, back straight, knees bent, balls of your feet on the floor.
  • With your right hand, slide the sandbag forward several inches.
  • Coordinating the action of your left hand with your right foot (and your right hand with your left foot), crawl forward a few steps until the sandbag is between your feet.
  • Slide the bag forward several inches with your left hand.
  • Repeat the movement, alternating hands.

Sets and Reps: Do two or three sets of 10 steps per side (alternating).

2B. Side Plank With Leg Raise (LS)

  • Lie on your right side and press up into a side-plank position, with your right elbow, forearm, and foot on the floor, and your body forming a straight line, head to heels with your upper back, glutes, and heels against a wall.
  • Keeping your legs straight, squeeze your glutes, flex your left foot, and lift your leg straight into the air. (You can set up in front of a wall and use your left heel against the wall as a guide to maintain proper positioning.)
  • Pause, slowly lower your leg, and repeat.
  • Too hard? Drop the right knee to the floor for added support, or perform the move lying flat on the floor on your side.

Sets and Reps: Do two or three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.

3. Single-Leg Windmill (DLS)

  • Stand on your right foot, bend your right knee slightly, and extend your arms directly out to your sides into a “T” position.
  • Slowly bend forward, rotate to your right, and touch your right foot with your left hand as your right hand reaches upward behind you.
  • Slowly reverse the movement, come back to standing upright on your right foot, and repeat for reps on the right foot before switching to your left.

Sets and Reps: Do two or three sets of 8 to 10 reps per side.

Photography by: Kelly Loverud; Styling: Pam Brand; Model: Michael Mueller

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