Suspension training is not a new phenomena. In fact there is evidence which suggests it has spanned the ages. Archaeologists for example have findings which show the ancient Andeans, among other cultures, used ropes to do resistance exercise. Presumably, for as long as there have been ropes and hooks, there have been forms of suspension training in use. Today there are multiple trainers on the market—the INKA Flexx, aeroSling elite, etc. Probably the most common though, at least in the states, is the TRX Suspension Trainer. I often incorporate suspension training into my workouts, and I have used a number of trainers. Since TRX is arguably the most popular, I offer both a summary and my subjective evaluation of it in the following text. Additionally, I show a YouTube tutorial I found on how to build your own suspension trainer should you want a less expensive alternative.
Summary of the TRX Suspension Trainer System
The TRX trainer is a cluster of high-strength nylon straps, adjusters, and carabineers that have been put together to form a singular piece of exercise equipment. It is designed to attach to a high hanging bar, hook, or tree branch—even a door top. Once you securely attach it to something you can do myriad exercises by suspending yourself via its hand grips or foot rests. TRX was developed by former navy seal Randy Hetrick, and brought to market in 2005. It is sold by Fitness Anywhere of which Randy is the CEO. You can buy a number of different suspension trainer combination packs on the Fitness Anywhere website—the most popular undoubtedly being the roughly $200 Pro Pack. The Pro Pack includes one trainer, 40 and 65 minute workouts on DVD, and a workout guidebook.
My Subjective Evaluation of TRX Suspension Training
There are really two distinct things to evaluate—suspension training itself, and the TRX Suspension Trainer. Speaking to the former, I will say I am a big advocate. There is a reason that athletes who frequently suspend themselves—gymnasts, aerialists, etc.—look the way they do. Virtually every suspension training exercise you can conceive will heavily tax your core. To the uninitiated who smugly rip out 100 crunches every day … try switching them out for suspended knee tucks sometime. It will leave you feeling about as good as someone feels after taking Tae Bo into a street fight. The first time I ever touched a trainer I vaingloriously decided I would attempt a set of fully suspended (my hands on one trainer, my feet on another) push-ups. I was in good shape; at the drop of a hat I could rip out fifty standard push-ups in under a minute. Nonetheless, my attempt turned out to be an endeavor in self-humiliation. I wobbled like a 2AM pedestrian in the French Quarter. My abdominal girdle felt like the base of an in-operation punch press. I was a mess. Suffice it to say, suspension training blasts your core and challenges your balance; it is for these reasons that I strongly recommend people incorporate it into their workout repertoires.
At large, suspension training is generally lauded. It has seen some criticism though. For example, Fabio Comana, a research scientist for the American Council on Exercise, says suspension training may be helpful to well-conditioned athletes and gym-goers, but that it is potentially dangerous for the less fit. “A segment of the population doesn’t have the joint integrity and the ability to stabilise their entire body when doing this,” he says. I agree with Mr. Comana to an extent, but I find his statement a bit too blanketed. Sure, there are certain exercises—fully suspended push-ups for example—that are potentially dangerous to the less fit, or to those with joint issues. But there are also a number of suspension exercises that pose little threat—at least no greater threat than what their non-suspension counterpart exercises pose. I would point to suspension overhead triceps extensions; in my opinion they are equal in safety to—if not safer than—dumbbell triceps extensions.
What do I think of the TRX Suspension trainer? I think it is a great piece of equipment. It is heavy-duty, well made, beautifully packaged, and the workout DVD included in the TRX Pro Pack is nicely produced and easy to follow. I believe you really cannot go wrong purchasing any of the TRX combinations. The only counterargument to doing so in my opinion is price. At around $200 for the basic TRX package, it is expensive. A good replica trainer can be made for under $30 (see below for a how to). I realize a home-brewed knockoff does not compare apples to apples with a TRX given that the TRX comes with a purchase guarantee, workout DVDs, and a workout guidebook. A compelling case could probably be made, however, that these items are not worth an extra $170 to a some people—particularly with the pervasive amount of helpful suspension training workout videos you can find on YouTube. Still, $200 for an all-encompassing workout system that comes with a guarantee, and that can be used anywhere—at home, at a park, in a hotel room, etc.—is a great value. Very few workout systems are as adaptable, and as mobile as a TRX Suspension trainer. I recommend it!
A Tutorial on How to Build Your Own Suspension Trainer