Know Before You Go: Your TRX Cheat Sheet

If you’re working on your summer six-pack, it's time to try suspension training.

You may have seen TRX bands laying around the gym—considering them briefly before grabbing a pair of dumbbells.

But it may be time to stop passing them over. The suspension system is among the pieces of fitness equipment that have skyrocketed to popularity as fitness enthusiasts look for ways to supercharge their workout in the shortest amount of time. And TRX training is popping up on gym schedules across the country, with an entire hour dedicated to the training method.

The suspension system, invented by a former U.S. Navy SEAL, quickly became a favorite among military personnel, professional athletes, and personal trainers. And its ability to provide a total body workout (and the potential to perform 300 different exercises) in any space (the gym, the park, and even your bedroom) has made it extremely popular not only in gyms, but for in-home workouts as well.

And if you’re working on your six-pack for summer, it’s time to give the TRX bands a try: A study in Human Movement Science found that doing a suspended pushup using TRX bands activated the abdominals 184 percent more than a standard pushup. And another study found that when it came to core muscle activation, the TRX outperformed the standard pushup and bench press.

“The TRX, which stands for Total Resistance eXercise, is a functional piece of equipment that allows you to work out your entire body by working against your own body weight,” explained Ray Wallace, trainer at YG Studios. “TRX classes vary, but I also use battle ropes, sandbells, gliders and extra high intensity intervals for strength training and conditioning.”

With summer around the corner, now might be the time to give the method a try. Here’s what you need to know:

The Benefits of Suspension Training

“The major draw to TRX is the opportunity to improve core strength, joint and muscular stability,” said Wallace. “Working out with the TRX has amazing benefits including improved strength, flexibility, balance and joint stability.”

Suspension training exercises allow motion in three dimensions which is an effective method for upping the intensity of workouts, keeping your muscles guessing, and seeing results faster.

A study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that TRX bands are just as efficient as traditional weight training at building muscle, strength, and improving performance (like jumping higher).

And depending on the structure of the class you take, there can be a cardio component as well. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Science indicated that a suspension training workout with a 30 second to 60 second work to rest ratio provides at least a moderate-intensity cardiovascular workout, while some data suggested a higher intensity workout is achieved.

Meet the Instructor First

“Before taking any class, make sure to take some time to meet the instructor so you can let them know you are brand new to the TRX,” said Wallace. “They will be able to give you some key pointers about movements and the flow of the class. It’s always good knowing a little about what to expect!”

The TRX equipment has a main band; on the bottom there’s a main carabineer and a stabilizing loop where another band is locked forming a V with handles on the bottom.

The system requires a stable anchor of some sort. Think: a door frame, a weight machine or pull-up bar at the gym, or monkey bars, a tree, or a chain-link fence outdoors. The only requirement is that it’s high enough (seven to nine feet) and can bear your full weight.

Depending on the exercise you’re performing, you will either grab the handles with your hands or place your feet inside of them. As the “suspension” system implies, a part of your body will hover above the ground (as in push-ups with your feet in the handles) or you will push towards or pull away from them using the resistance created with your body weight.

What to Expect in Class

Wallace runs us through the typical structure of his class: You’ll begin with a one-song warm up that targets muscles by mimicking movements that you will do during the actual workout. “My class has stations and sections that target upper, lower, cardio and core. Or in some cases multi-muscle movement exercises as well,” said Wallace. “Each station runs on time, typically 30 to 60 seconds; Moving on to each movement one by one, over 2 to 3 rounds.” He then incorporates a cardio component with moves like mountain climbers, jumping jacks, burpees and others that elevate the heart rate. To cool down, you will stretch using the TRX as well as your own bodyweight.

Throughout the class “most people can expect to feel muscles working together as one unit; This induces the cardio aspect, heavy breathing and core and joint stability,” said Wallace.

You’re in Control, So Modify When Necessary

Workouts using the TRX system are intense—but they don’t have to be. That’s up to you.

Because of that flexibility, all fitness levels are welcome:  “There’s no need to be a fitness junkie to play with the TRX,” said Wallace. “Most levels can use it because there are many modifications and levels of intensity for all movements. These modalities will help you become not only stronger, but more confident when using the TRX alone or in a group setting.”

That being said, it’s important to pay attention to your form, and ask the instructor for clarification if you need it. Since the movements really engage the core, they can put pressure on your back if done improperly.

“Everyone should be aware of their lower back curving to excess when doing core and floor movements,” said Wallace. Also be sure to “position hands to avoid achy wrists, and in standing movements, elevate your neck and trapezius muscles.”

Build Strength Over Time

The great thing about TRX is that since it relies on your own body weight and gravity, you can increase and decrease resistance by changing your body position, which makes it easy to tailor each exercise to your own ability. It not only can take people at their peak physical fitness to the next level, but recent studies have shown that the program can also provide benefit to older populations who utilize the system to build strength. And many medical professionals are using TRX in their practices for rehabilitation, added Wallace.

For example: the chest press is performed by placing your hands in the straps and walking your feet backwards so that you’re body is on a diagonal facing the floor, and you are using your body weight as resistance. The further back you move your feet, the more body weight and resistance you will be working with.

If you’re still working on building upper body strength, simply walk your feet closer to the bands, which will have your body in a more upright position, resulting in less resistance. The same modification can be made for exercises like bicep curls, rows and flys.

“We use the TRX almost everyday. It’s all about having a good program,” said Wallace. “Like any other workout routine, you should have at least 1 to 2 days rest.”

Give the training a try—you may just turn that dad bod around by summer.