TRX Suspension Training – is it for you?
If you want to get strong, lean, increase your mobility, challenge cardiovascular fitness, increase metabolic rate, reduce body fat, become functionally fit and get into the best shape you were ever in, then YES – it is.
TRX is short for Total Body Resistance Exercise – and it does EXACTLY what it says on the tin. Gravity is your resistance, to adjust the level of work is done you simply move your anchor points which are either hands or feet. Stability is the challenge (one end of you is in the straps)
TRX Suspension training is the sort of training you can NEVER outgrow – there is no end to how far you can take it or the variety of directions (for sport) and is by far the most versatile piece of equipment I have worked with in my 22yrs as a trainer. To make a normal body resistance exercise harder or easier you change your anchor points on the floor, angle of the body to the floor, length of lever…. but by adding an unstable and very adaptable end point (the straps) it opens up more possibilities and the only restrictions are where to hang it, and your strength. The beauty of it is you can simplify and start light – its all about physics and instability and whether you apply more…or less of it. Depending on where you place your hands or feet in relation to your anchor strap – it can be made easier (even to rehab levels) or harder depending on your strength. Every exercise is a plank shape to engage the core (or part of, if the hip is supposed to hinge) but what makes it effective is the need to hold the correct shape against gravity.
Its great fun! You get to hang out of the ceiling in straps!
A word to the wise
Due to the unstable nature of the suspension straps, you have to engage muscles way more than you ever did on dry land to stabilise your body, and while you might “feel fine” at the time, sometimes in spite of advice from the trainer to go easier at the start – the temptation is to go for it like a PRO and then wonder why your body seizes up afterwards.
If you have done other training before, a common error is to assume that training disciplines will transfer, and while this is true to some extent, it is much wiser to allow your body to evolve into suspension work rather than leap in at the deep end and regret later – no matter how fit you are.
TRX uses ALL CORE ALL THE TIME – ALL EXERCISES
Let’s take the plank by way of example – correctly done its a very effective exercise. Feet and hands on floor makes it possible to create a tight frame to engage a straight line of pressure from heels of hands (or forearms if you prefer), hinging through the shoulders, power down through core, hips and knees fully engaged and down to the feet. Easy to control because it is a closed kinetic chain – both ends on the floor. This is a taut line of pressure from A to B, hands to feet.
- Chest, shoulders, upper back and a myriad of stabilising muscles just to hold your shoulder blades in the right spot
- Transversus abdominus, Obliques and deep spinal muscles to maintain lumbar spine alignment and prevent sag between ribs and pelvis
- Glutes, quads and lower legs to keep the body straight through the hip to prevent the hip drop – and you wonder why you sweat holding a plank!
However, break the plank (ie lift your hips a couple of inches), the focus changes on the shoulder/chest and the core is deactivated somewhat and the efficiency of the exercise is decreased as a core exercise.
Take that plank – and stand it up to perform a row or a press with the straps – you are working every muscle you owned to stabilise the full body from ears to ankles, stabilise the shoulders as before including your core to keep your body straight. Kink your hips back and see how it changes the quality of core engagement.
Take that plank and put it in the straps. On your knees, toes in.
This is where it gets more interesting – Suddenly this exercise has a life of its own because one end of your previously fixed kinetic chain is now floating! And the other end (your shoulders) has to control the position, and your core has to stop any swinging or sagging between ribs and pelvis, your legs are still doing what your legs do in a plank but they are on 2 straps that can swing and separate. (and word of warning – your hips feel heavier)
Well now…..playtime. Who remembers these things?
The slinky – compress it end to end and it stays straight, allow it to open out and it gets sloppy and sinks down. With your feet in the straps it is necessary to engage more in the shoulder girdle and core in particular. If you do not properly engage here, as a result of the lack of floor contact on the feet, the shoulder blades will rise up toward the ears, the connection will be gone as the spine and hips will open up and you will suffer the “slinky effect” between ribs and hips and the whole back will sag. Not pretty.
To avoid this is simple! Imagine you are squeezing your armpits into your waist or pulling your shoulders down toward your bottom.
To get a feel for this try it at your kitchen counter, push away from it to slightly separate your shoulder blades and widen your back- then apply pressure with your hands downward into the counter to feel your side back muscles – latissimus dorsi (or if you like – your back boobs!)
Maintain that and now pull your tummy in as if someone was pointing a camera at you.
This engagement will help keep your upper body stable later when your feet are up in the straps.
- On all fours, maintain an open chest and a wide back and squeeze shoulders down toward hips to activate the chest and latissimus dorsi.
- Make sure your lower back is in neutral and core is engaged (think pelvis connected to ribs by threads you don’t want to break) – flex your ankles by pulling your toes toward your nose (this helps to engage up through the quads and keep hips level to prevent the sag to the floor when up in the straps)
- Exhale with INTENT and straighten the legs in the straps. Tip to straighten your body ! push feet down slightly with very straight legs and clench your backside so you have hard-ass apples not soggy apple-sauce.
- Keep the squeeze at the armpits, imagine you are tucking your pelvis slightly under your ribs, clench your backside and straighten knees to keep your hips straight! This will result in a stronger straighter position
Get feedback on your alignment or perform by a mirror. First time you do this you think the world has come to an end, but this too will pass
You will …want … more.
And there is so much more.
Personally I always check that clients can perform a strong plank on the floor and also to perform a plank with slow alternating knee lift without rotation or hinging of the body before going next or near this exercise. This is a good indication as to if they have the upper body strength or core stability to cope with one leg lifting and prevention of back sag before going full monty.
First time up in the straps you might only hold it for 2 seconds and wish you were dead, and all because of the level of engagement necessary for stabilisation. When your body learns that this is ok (usually by the next session, your plank will be stronger) you can try the TRX crunch which involves all of the above and pulling the knees to the chest and returning to plank again.
First time TRX crunching – you might only manage 2….don’t feel bad.
Its always a work in progress, but ALWAYS with the correct form and strength will follow. All of this makes you realise how many muscles you weren’t using before and how much you could do! The world is now your oyster.
I use TRX combined with my Pilates eye for alignment and control, and focus on quality rather than quantity for the way to results.
I advise go lighter with good form rather than heavier and do damage. I limit my participants to 4 people for group sessions for maximum results, session content is ever changing to keep the body guessing and I mix in other functional training equipment for variety and for the craic.
The aim is to make it affordable, accessible and more importantly, sustainable and ever evolving. If you can only achieve 1 session in the week of any activity for a limited time, then the results are limited also. Sessions can be arranged in pairs if preferred or there is the PT 1-1 approach. (all by appointment)
Some of my regulars swear by a combination of TRX and Pilates during the week to create the ideal human. Pilates Matwork can be learned in sessions under my evil eye and practiced any time, anywhere and several times a week without the need for expensive equipment, all you need is a good mat and a piece of floor.
If you have decided to try TRX, remember to check the credentials of your trainer, remember the number of people who will be in the session will decide how much care and attention you receive and correcting your position even by an inch can make a big difference to your form.
Let the world go hang!