Suspension 101 Notes
I recently read yet another note about a rope injury in suspension, this time due to poor upline management and it occurred to me that I have never written down my notes on upline management and suspension.
I mean, I’ve taught suspension for years but have never actually written it all down in one place, so here it goes.
Suspension is not the goal of rope. If you don’t want to be suspended or to suspend, that’s great. It’s very high risk and takes practice so if it’s not for you, cool, sit back and enjoy the show and pick up the knowledge you can and apply where it is useful to you and leave it at that.
Yes, you can do it if you want to. I’ve taught some people in 2 hours, others have taken years. The difference being the base knowledge they bring to the discussion. So you may have to self evaluate if you’re ready to try to learn suspension. If it helps - try this rigger self assessment - it’s a self quiz. If you score in the intermediate range then you’re probably ready to give it a go with help in a group, that’s how I started. Note this START WITH A GROUP, spotters are life savers.
I strongly recommend starting with an arms free chest harness because arms in chest harnesses are much riskier. I know the TK is the fashionable harness in all the pictures but you’re just learning, start off with a simple sideways suspension with a gunslinger or a nice doll hishi supportive chest tie you can’t fall out of or cause wrist drop with. You’ll get to the fancy harness types if you want to but relax, work up to it. You can even do a simple swiss seat tie and get your first upline in before including the chest at all.
Remember, it’s about brains not brawn. Anyone can be suspended of any body type and any strength if you use your head. Suspension is about pivoting weight around your initial fixed point, not dead lifting light weight showy acrobats (though that is fun too).
Do what I call the luggage test. Pick your partner up in whatever harness you’ve tied using your hands and see what happens and how it feels. If it really hurts, stop, do the harness again or do a different harness. You don’t need to suspend 6 feet in the air to start, you can come 1” off the ground and that’s a suspension. Start low and slow and work your way up.
Lift in phases and let down in phases. In most cases, especially when you’re starting out, lift and lock off the chest first, the hips and legs second then the feet. Release and let down the feet first, the hips and legs second and the chest last. If you release the chest while the feet are still tied you’ll drop your person on their head and that’s very dangerous.
Learn your hanger ties or use climbing clips in your tie. If you lift from the bight or center of the rope every time it’ll wear through your rope and can snap. Speaking of wearing through your rope….
Inspect your rope before you use it for suspension and if it’s warn, get new rope already. I replace my suspension kit about once every two years at minimum. More often back when I was doing demo’s more often.
Learn proper lock offs of your uplines. There are a variety of methods but my favorite is a belay hitch followed by two half hitches. The belay hitch keeps the half hitches from over tightening and the two half hitches will not let loose if jammed up to the belay hitch.
Loop your uplines in the same direction so they do not cross and bind up. Crossing lines jam and worse, wear and snap. So as you loop your uplines for the lift, do so in one direction only.
Avoid multiple up lines crossing each other. I find having a divided ring or multiple climbing clips work well at separating your uplines. Crossing ropes jam and wear.
Do not break the plane of whatever rig you are working with. IE stay inside your rig. If you do break the plane then you can flip your rig and your partner.
Learn the difference between a static force, a dynamic force and a shock force, especially if you intend to do transitions in suspension. I’ve seen small bodied bottom bend or break seemingly unbreakable rigs because they’re SWINGING (weeeee - THUD!).