Suspending Disbelief

By Mike Carlson | May 13, 2014

The words “fitness invention” usually summon images of gleaming chrome machines or maybe a new iPhone app. But one of the most popular devices to enter the fitness marketplace in the last few years is the TRX Suspension Trainer. This simple device is about as high-tech as a jump rope but has proven so versatile that new exercises are constantly being invented. It’s also proving to be irreplaceable in the fitness regimens of pro athletes, celebrities and busy professionals.

The TRX Suspension Trainer was invented by former Navy SEAL Randy Hetrick as a way of staying fit when deployed in remote and primitive locations. The prototype was made out of two Brazilian jiu-jitsu belts he hand-sewed together. The appeal of the TRX was originally based on its portability. You can throw it over a fence, pull-up bar or tree branch and get a great workout. But these days, TRXs can be found permanently hanging in world-class gyms and athletic-training centers. 

“I love using the TRX with meathead gym guys or even pro MMA fighters who haven’t tried it before,” says Doug Balzarini, CSCS, a TRX-certified trainer and strength coach who is based in San Diego and has worked with dozens of professional athletes. “They think if they’re not benching or squatting with a lot of weight, then they won’t be challenged. But you show them a few exercises with just their bodyweight and they see how they can get a great workout.”

Fitting It In: Balzarini likes to program the TRX into the weight-training workouts of his clients but also sees the value in a TRX-only session. Either way, it’s an amazing and seamless adjunct to a resistance-training program. “A lot of guys need something exactly like the TRX to complement their weight training,” he says. “Because of the core integration, it’s going to activate some muscles that may not be activated when they’re doing machine curls or banging out some reps on the bench press.”

Mini-Circuit: If you’re stuck at home or in a hotel room, 25 to 30 minutes on a TRX can provide an incredibly intense and efficient workout. Balzarini recommends five minutes of a movement-based warm-up (jumping jacks, mountain climbers, etc.) and then a circuit of what he calls “pillar moves”: a row, a press, a squat, a rotational movement (like the TRX Power Pull) and a hip hinge (try the TRX Hip Press). “Do each one for 10 to 15 reps, then rest for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat that in a circuit for five rounds. You get your strength training, and the circuit challenges your cardio, as well,” Balzarini says. 

The Desert-Island Move: Balzarini and other expert trainers agree that the Atomic Push-Up is a leading candidate for the TRX move that delivers the broadest training stimulus — or at least hurts the most. To perform the Atomic Push-Up, get into a plank position with your feet in the stirrups, suspended a few inches off the floor. Bend your elbows to execute a push-up, but as you return to the top, bring your knees into your chest. Extend your legs to return to the start position. That’s one rep. 

Start Slow: YouTube is full of TRX videos, showing off tricky yet difficult exercises. They look tempting, but Balzarini advises sticking with the basics until you achieve a certain fluency with the TRX. “Find a qualified trainer and get a couple of sessions so you have a core competency before getting into the more advanced stuff,” he says.

About the Author

Mike Carlson