Most people believe lifting weights or extreme workouts is the only way to achieve results. TRX training is an exercise method shown to improve total body strength, stability, and cardiovascular health. This is done without traditional weight lifting, swinging kettlebells, or lifting semi-truck tires.
The TRX system was developed by a Navy Seal over 20 years ago and since has captured the attention of athletes, coaches, and trainers. It continues to grow as an effective program used by professional athletes, every branch of the military, Olympians, and gyms worldwide. Their social media is impressive, with over one million followers.
What is it about the TRX System that has made it popular among athletes and mainstream fitness enthusiasts as an effective workout? Learning about how it works will help answer that question and more.
What Is TRX?
TRX is short for total body resistance exercise and uses suspension training for a complete, full body workout.
According to the TRX website, suspension training is for everyone. It uses simple equipment and provides effective workouts. All you need is the TRX Suspension Trainer and your body weight.
The TRX Suspension Trainer is designed with heavy-duty straps, handles, foot cradles, and padding. The TRX signature products can range from $190 to $250 and include the following:
- TRX HOME2 – Endless bodyweight workouts you can do at home or on the road. Access to premium TRX application included with purchase.
- TRX PRO4 – Used by Olympians, pro athletes, and fitness fanatics. Most advanced and versatile suspension trainer designed for challenging bodyweight workouts. Includes adjustable foot cradles, textured rubber handles, and upgraded webbing.
- TRX TACTICAL – Built for the tactical professional and dedicated athlete. Toughest and most rugged suspension trainer made for use in any and all environmental conditions. The complete and challenging fitness regimen includes a 12-week conditioning program designed to prepare you for any mission.
- TRX RIP TRAINER – Challenging and versatile weighted bar and bungee system. Designed to improve balance, build rotational power, and increase stamina and core strength. Great workout for golfers, climbers, college athletes, or weekend warriors.
How It Works
Suspension training works by challenging your body in conditions of instability. This forces you to constantly engage your core to perform each exercise. It also helps improve your balance and overall strength.
You are suspended from an anchor point where bodyweight becomes your machine and gravity your resistance. Adjusting the level of difficulty per exercise is as easy as moving your hands or feet.
TRX suspension training uses a simplified approach based on seven basic movements: Push, pull, plank, rotate, hinge, lunge, and squat.
There are six basic TRX suspension body positions that incorporate the seven basic movements and include the following:
- SF – Stand facing anchor point (pulling/squat/rotate/hinge)
- SFA – Stand facing away from anchor point (pushing/lunge/rotate)
- SSW – Stand sideways to the anchor point (rotation/pulling)
- GF – Ground position facing anchor point (plank/pulling)
- GFA – Ground position facing away from anchor point (planks)
- GSW – Ground position sideways to the anchor point (planks/rotation)
Suspension training uses body weight and movement that stimulates neuromuscular responses to body position changes. For example, using an SF body position and lifting your body weight toward the anchor point with a pulling movement engages several muscle groups. Your core is engaged to balance the body while your back and biceps work to pull your body toward the anchor.
Your body is working hard integrating strength, mobility, and balance during one dynamic movement. This means you are able to maximize neuromuscular response for better workout benefits.
Because suspension training challenges so many muscle groups during an exercise session, it’s said to provide superior workout results.
TRX Suspension Training claims to be an effective workout program. A small scientific study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) indicated TRX training is a good alternative to traditional exercise modalities.1
The ACE study included 16 healthy men and women aged 21 to 71 years and physically active. The participants performed three, 60-minute TRX Suspension Training sessions per week for eight weeks. Research results showed significant decreases in the following areas:
- Waist circumference
- Body-fat percentage
- Resting systolic blood pressure
- Resting diastolic blood pressure
According to the ACE research, improvements were also made in cardiovascular and muscular fitness in only eight weeks. Combined with the balance and flexibility benefits, suspension training was said to have the potential to create a positive impact on an individual’s overall health.
Another study examined muscle activation during push-ups with different suspension training systems.2 Research volunteers included 29 young fit male college students who routinely used suspension training as part of their workout program.
Results showed all training systems effectively engaged the abdominal muscles. Greater activation of the traps, triceps, lumbar, and quadriceps was achieved with more unstable suspension devices like the TRX training product. However, the best deltoid and pectoralis (chest) muscle activation was achieved with more stable suspension training conditions.
Other research compared different levels of interval training using TRX lower-body exercises and impact on fall risk in healthy older adults.3 Participants included 82 men and women over 68 years of age. They were divided into three groups performing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or moderate intensity interval training (MIIT).
Both groups gained balance confidence but the HIIT participants using TRX lower body suspension training scored better regarding fear of falling, improved gait, and dynamic balance.
TRX training challenges several muscle groups during each exercise movement.
Your standard push-up for the chest also engages the core and other muscles during suspension training. Your center of gravity is always out of balance, leaving no choice but to engage your core, back, hips, and shoulders to stabilize the movement.
This means that performing regular exercises like squats, planks, and push-ups become more dynamic because other muscle groups are working to support the move.
TRX vs. Lifting Weights
Many people believe lifting weights is the only way to build muscle and strength. These same individuals find it hard to imagine that hanging on straps could offer the same results as traditional resistance training. You may be surprised to know both exercise methods appear to be great options to achieve these goals.
Studies have shown TRX training to be an effective way to build muscle, strength, improve stability, and cardiovascular health. It really comes down to exercise preference and what keeps you coming back for more workouts.
Research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine indicates TRX training produces similar muscle and strength adaptions as traditional weight lifting.4
The study was conducted on 36 healthy active men who exercised two to three times per week. Traditional circuit and weightlifting were compared to TRX and BOSU training for seven weeks. The following results were discovered:
- Jumping ability – greater increase in TRX training group compared to the traditional resistance training group.
- Back squat – leg strength increased by 13 percent in the TRX group compared to 12.6 percent in the traditional resistance training group.
- Bench press – one rep max strength increased by 4.7 percent in the TRX group compared to 4.4 percent in the traditional resistance training group.
Both TRX training and traditional weight lifting are shown to have positive benefits. What has been suggested is for athletes to apply TRX training as an option to further improve sports performance including gains in strength, power, and jumping capacity.
Many regular exercisers incorporate both traditional weight lifting and TRX training as part of their workout regimen. Alternating the training is said to be a good way to work your muscles in stable and unstable conditions.
Who It's For
TRX training includes adjustable suspension bands suitable for the novice exerciser to advanced athlete. This means the program can be modified to fit every fitness level.
The variety of exercises and progressions for each movement are endless, making TRX suspension training not only appealing but beneficial for everyone.
If you are a beginner and unfamiliar with exercise, it may be a good idea to work with a qualified personal trainer or certified TRX coach until you feel comfortable. Developing your weight lifting skills in a stable environment may be recommended before moving to the instability benefits of suspension training.
Pros and Cons
TRX Suspension Training continues to grow as a popular exercise method to gain strength and stability. As with any workout program, there will be likes and dislikes. It really comes down to personal choice and enjoyment of suspension training—you either love it or you don’t.
The following are consistent pros in favor of TRX training:
- Practical and effective
- Train inside or outdoors
- Progressive workouts
- Accommodates all fitness levels
- No gym membership required
- No heavy weights or exercise machines
- Portable suspension strap system
- Uses body weight and gravity for resistance
- Endless bodyweight workout routines
- Improves muscular strength and endurance
- Improves stability and balance
There are a few cons to using TRX training including:
- May not be the best start program for weaker individuals
- Beginners may require a qualified personal trainer or TRX coach
- Risk of injury with improper form and technique
- Better activation of the chest and deltoid muscle achieved in stable conditions
- Limited heavy leg workouts