Whether your goal is conditioning, stability, or to have great finishers to your bodybuilding workouts, the TRX is a tool that many people forget about.
The truth is, it works wonders for all of the above – especially if you’re not used to using it as a training system.
It forces you to use bodyweight, stabilizing muscles, and tap into your kinesthetic awareness in order to make any given movement successful, and it’s usually no walk in the park to boot.
The key, however, is to ensure that you’re using the right exercises at the right point of your programming.
There’s nothing worse than doing a movement that’s too advanced without the foundation to match. Adding instability by way of suspension training into the mix usually sets the stage for an issue.
Rule #1: Pull Before You Push
This is something you’ve probably heard me speak of before. I’m a big proponent of prioritizing pulling based movements to help set the shoulders and stabilize the rotator cuff. All four of your rotator cuff muscles originate on the scapulae (shoulder blades), so getting blood back there by way of upper back training is the smartest thing you can do to help promote a healthy shoulder joint.
Speaking of shoulder joints, you should be careful with instability work if you’re someone with a history of shoulder issues.
It’s best to respect this training modality as one that requires a foundation of strength and joint health first to receive the most benefits from it.
TRX Training: The Best Moves in the Game
So, let’s get started with some pulling exercises – simple enough. The TRX inverted row is a smart place to begin to receive the benefits mentioned in the subheading above. As a bonus, it trains the core and in many ways can be superior in utility to the standard barbell inverted row, due to the fact that a lifter can now change his elbow and wrist position as he goes through each rep (by turning his hands during).
That doesn’t sound like much, but many lifters with elbow problems or immobile wrists would welcome this capability, especially if they suffer from this chronic pain or immobility due to being big and muscular. It happens.
Here’s my friend Ben Bruno demonstrating one of the most graduated versions of a TRX row by doing 1.5 reps with the feet elevated.
To make things easier, you can plant the feet on the floor and angle your body closer to standing. This reduces the percentage of your body weight that you have to lift, which is good for beginners.
The push up is probably the next most commonly used movement in the suspension training system, as it’s readily accessible by many lifters. There’s not much to explain that you don’t already know: Keep the elbows tucked at an angle to the torso, and engage the core.
Since your hands aren’t in contact with solid ground and your body is at a slight angle, I like cueing my clients to aim slightly downward with their pressing force, as that will keep the stimulus on the chest and away from the shoulder joint.
As mentioned before, doing suspended movements as “finishers” or complements to a base movement is a great way to burn out the muscles during a bodybuilding session. Here’s an example of me doing just that by compound setting traditional bench press with suspended push-ups.
Like the TRX row, it’s useful to understand that the load you have to endure will be dictated by the “depth” you choose. The closer to parallel to the ground you make your body, the harder the movement becomes. Adapt accordingly.
A great choice for anti-extension core training is the TRX Body Saw. This is a movement that’s harder than it looks, especially when it comes to using good form. It also has the most direct application to a shoulder press pattern and overhead movements.
When a lifter has immobility at the shoulder joint or weak abdominals, as the arms move over the head, the lumbar spine will overarch to compensate. With body saws, this pattern is simulated horizontally.
The ability to brace the core and keep a neutral spine as you push your body away from the hands is a brutal core developer, but can also be very telling as far as what capabilities you actually possess where this skill is concerned.
On a similar note, shoulder health is put under an even closer microscope when adding TRX pikes to the mix. Pikes are well known as another core exercise, but few acknowledge how much they double as shoulder and T-Spine mobility tools, especially from a passive standpoint.
Inverting the body into a position where the elbows, shoulders, and hips are stacked on top of one another creates a passive way to get the arms overhead and in the right position. Most methods lifters will use to achieve this are active, meaning they have to move their hands in space.
Doing this passively can often result in more range of motion achieved, and can also encourage pain-free shoulder movement.
For the Big Dogs
If your strength, stability, and mobility are all on point and you’re looking for a real challenge to the total body, then you don’t have to look any further than the TRX single-leg burpee.
The movement requires hip mobility to place the foot in the right spot, and it requires anti-rotational core strength to hold a stable plank with one leg suspended. To stand back up, the movement mimics a single leg RDL pattern, which proves much more effective than it appears.
If you have difficulty with any of these skills, chances are you’ll lose balance, and not be able to plant your hands close to your feet on each rep. With that said, it’s also important not to panic if you want to make this movement possible.
Many people get preoccupied with the fact that one of their legs isn’t free, and they get shaky. Don’t let this happen. Breathe, and segment each rep into individual parts: Plant the hands, hold the plank, step back in, and stand up.
TRX training is not for the faint of heart – nor for the deconditioned.
If you’ve got some lifting experience under your belt and injuries aren’t your best friend, then this is a good choice to pepper into your training.
You’ll be glad you did, and so will your muscles. Time to build a little functional strength.