Today I attended a TRX suspension trainer course. I learned a lot. I hurt a lot. And if you’ve ever used a TRX, you know that (good) hurt is often a byproduct of it. That’s what makes it so good – it’s a challenge, unlike anything else you’ve ever done. And we all know that challenge is good. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you will yield the same results. A challenge is a new stimulus which leads to adaptation which then leads to different results.
Enter the TRX. What is the TRX? Exhibit A: TRX (yellow strappy things supsended from ceiling).
TRX was created by a Navy Seal who needed to keep fit and trained on a mission. Increasing in popularity, right now you hear people talking about it – from other bloggers to celebrities to coaches. It’s not a gimmick, and in fact it’s been around since 2004. Right now it is catching on in fitness and chances are you’ve seen one around your gym. It’s not only for elite athletes or the super fit. It is for anyone interested in improving their strength.
I was introduced to the TRX last year by a physical therapist. They suggested I incorporate it into my strength training to build more swim specific and core strength. I purchased one online through Fitness Anywhere and Chris installed it in our basement ceiling beams. From there, I performed TRX exercises twice a week, nothing sophisticated, just following the moves on the two laminated training routines that came with it.
It only took a few months before I felt a difference. Last year I took over 5 seconds off my base swim pace. Not only that, but I had more repeatability in that pace over longer distances. Along with a few tweaks to my stroke, the only other change was incorporating the TRX. It made sense – the TRX exercises specifically targeted my upper body and core strength. And if you want to swim faster, you need upper body strength and core strength. Especially if you are a woman who took up swimming later in life, it is more difficult for you to develop the specific strength required for more powerful swimming. A bunch of lat pull downs with a weight bar won’t cut it. And I’ll tell you why…
Think about it – how many sports are performed while seated? Other than binge drinking (true, it is a sport, in fact many of my athletes claim to have been D-1 binge drinkers in college on their intake form), there are three ‘seated’ sports: horseback riding, cycling and rowing. The other ____ sports (too many sports to count – and yes, even curling is included here) are performed while standing or moving.
Why, then, perform strength training while seated? And if you follow a traditional strength training approach, chances are you are seated on a chair doing chest presses or lat pull downs or seated rows. When you are seated, you require very little stabilization and core strength to perform the move correctly. You can usually anchor yourself with your feet or brace yourself against kneepads. Not only that but you are usually isolating one muscle. But how much of swimming is performed with an isolated muscle? Do you only use your lats when swimming? Proper swimming involves engaging the lats but also involves rotation from the core, kicking from the glutes and following through with the triceps.
That’s a lot of muscles – and who has time to isolate each one of those muscles as with traditional strength training?
The TRX therefore works a variety of muscles at the same time. Not only that but it works the muscles in all dimensions or planes; transverse, sagital and frontal. How is this important to triathletes? If you are like most triathletes, you work only in a plane moving forward. For years I felt like I was swimming backwards but this is not really possible. Point is that the more planes you can involve in your strength training, the more well-rounded and strong you will be. Sagital plane involves going forward and back, frontal plane involves moving laterally and the transverse plane involves rotation. Few other pieces of equipment allow you to train multiple dimensions at the same time. Bottom line: the TRX is a great tool for improving full body strength. For requiring your body to do the work – all of the work – that it takes to stabilize and strengthen.
How does the TRX engage the whole body? It relies on gravity to change your center of balance and then requires your muscles to engage in every exercise to stabilize and balance the body again. With functional movements and dynamic positions, the TRX develops your strength beyond what a stationary or weighted exercise can do. Remember, the key to beneficial strength training is to involve as much tissue as possible to maximize the depletion of muscle energy which then promotes the utilization of fat during repletion. It is this process that increases lean muscle mass and decreases fat.
So, does the TRX work? Currently, 10 of my athletes are using the TRX. And I’ve noticed a few things. Their swimming has improved. In the past 2 months, DK took 7 seconds per 100 off of her swim test base pace. We have not made significant changes to her swim stroke. We just incorporated the TRX. Coincidence? Maybe but then how do you explain the others who have also experienced similar breakthroughs with the only change being the addition of the TRX? While I don’t believe there is much magic in sport, I do believe there are specific tools (ie., Power Tap, TRX) that can help you train more effectively which leads to more progress. This is not magic, just incorporating useful tools into a logical training plan.
Jennifer has talked about her experience with the TRX this year on her website. When I noticed a course a TRX trainer course in Chicago, I suggested we sign up. We attended a day-long course in the city with many others – some were personal trainers while others were just fitness enthusiasts who wanted to know more. If you have the time, I highly suggest the course because it was a practical, hands-on approach to how to use (and better use) the TRX.
We got into pairs (I chose Jennifer but she told me I didn’t really have a choice). Exhibit B: Jennifer in her kitschy Lululemon top.
In the course, we went through several hours worth of exercises. There’s nothing like learning hands-on. Here is Jennifer attempting a multi-planar lunge.
Take your traditional lunge and mix it up TRX style and you get a “lunge matrix” or a series of lunges you can do in front of, behind and across your body.
Now, being nearly 5 months pregnant, I still use the TRX for strength training at least once a week. After using it for over a year, you’d think I’d be proficient at it or even bored by now. Not the case! I was challenged with many new moves today and progressions for my current moves. By 3 pm, I was pretty sure I was bonking and would not be able to raise my arms above my head for several days.
As the instructor went through pages of exercises, I realized I had barely scratched the surface of using this tool. How versatile is the TRX? Check it out. In this position, you can do Suspending Hip Abduction, Suspending Prone Planks, Suspended Push-Ups, Suspended Atomic Push-Ups or how about a Suspended Crunch.
And that is how you do a crunch when pregnant!
At one point, pregnancy did beat me. Here I am backing out of one move because I felt like if I did any more of it I would probably give birth right there on the floor.
That is my “I think I felt my uterus in my throat” look on my face.
Honestly, though, there are only a few things I cannot do with the TRX while pregnant. In fact, it is one of the few ways I can still work my core. Anything supine is out – so normal crunches, stability ball work and some pilates are out. But give me some planks with the TRX and it’s like doing 50 crunches while pressing up a medicine ball. It’s effective and for the most part – it is safe.
Believe me, I’m not a big fan of flavor of the month gimmicks. I honestly feel this product is a secret weapon for those who use it. It develops strength and stability unlike any other piece of equipment I’ve seen.
Not only that, but it’s economical and portable. Economical because you don’t need to stock your basement with weights, balls, and bands to create a home gym. You need only a sturdy door or high ceiling to anchor the TRX. Portable because you can take it on the road, anchor it to a hotel room door and there you go – you have your cardiovascular and strength training workout with you (and it weighs under 3 lbs). No pool while traveling? No problem – just do a series of swimmer’s pulls or seated lat pulls. No strength training this week? Use if for flexibility and mobility. Feel like you’ve mastered the TRX-specific moves? Add a kettlebell or medicine ball. Want the work to be more cardiovascular, do reps for 1 minute at an up-tempo. How about adding explosive power by lunging with a hop. The variations and progressions are endless.
Curious to learn more? To find out more about prices and products for the TRX, click here: Fitness Anywhere. Check out the forums, too, to find new workout routines if you already have a TRX. Also, if you are interested in learning more about how to work with a TRX, feel free to contact me with any questions or I’d be happy to meet locally to show you more.