In 1997, Navy SEAL Randy Hetrick was on deployment and wanted to get in a solid workout. According to legend, he created his first version of the TRX suspension training system out of a jiu-jitsu belt and parachute webbing. Nowadays, you don’t need to know martial arts or have access to a parachute to reap the benefits of suspension training.
Today, TRX trainers are found in most commercial and home gyms. One reason is their portability and small space investment. Another is that TRX training exercises are easily scalable, making them accessible for lifters from beginners to advanced competitive athletes. The beauty of the TRX is that you can scale bodyweight exercises like push-ups and rows by simply altering your foot placement.
The closer your feet are to the anchor point, the more of your body weight that you lift. Step further away from the anchor point and you’ll move less of your body weight. No matter what level you’re at, you can likely find a placement or modification that works for you. Here, we’ll go into the 15 best TRX exercises for lifers at every experience level so you can incorporate this awesome exercise tool into your workouts.
Best TRX Exercises
When you’re looking to integrate TRX trainers into your program, knowing where to start is always helpful. Here are some TRX milestones to learn your way around the trainer.
- TRX Unilateral Kneeling Rollout
- TRX Pistol Squat
- TRX Moving Forearm Plank
- TRX Power Pull
- TRX Atomic Push-Up
Beginner TRX Variations
If you’re new to TRX and looking to add variety to your bodyweight exercises, these five variations will allow you to experience what the TRX can do for you. You’ll also be able to acclimatize to the uniqueness of this exercise tool.
Why Do It: The TRX IYT helps reinforce upright posture. It does so by strengthening the muscles surrounding your shoulders, particularly your upper traps and upward rotators. When these muscles get stretched and weakened, you may be more likely to experience shoulder stiffness and pain.
Coach’s Tip: Avoid shrugging your shoulders to the ears while pulling yourself up.
Muscles Trained: Rhomboids, middle and upper trapezius, scapula upward rotators, and rotator cuffs
Sets and Reps: Two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Why Do It: The standing hip drop trains the entire lateral side of your body, but it focuses on your external obliques — the sides of your core. If you have any weaknesses in your lateral core stability, this exercise will expose them and help you work on it.
Coach’s Tip: Drop your hips out till you feel a stretch in your lats. Use the TRX to help you stabilize and pull yourself back to the starting position.
Muscles Trained: Obliques, hip rotators, lats, and shoulders.
Sets and Reps: One to two sets of eight to 12 reps.
Why Do It: The barbell inverted row locks your grip into an over or under position. But with the TRX inverted row, you can go underhand, overhand, neutral, or anything in between. This is helpful if you have any wrist, elbow, or shoulder issues. The move builds the upper back strength necessary to perform big barbell lifts hard, heavy, and safely.
Coach’s Tip: Keeping your body in a straight line is essential, even if you’re performing a scaled version. You do this by squeezing your glutes throughout the move.
Muscles Trained: Upper back, posterior deltoids, biceps, forearms, and grip.
Sets and Reps: Three sets of eight to 15 reps.
Why Do It: The TRX hamstring curl is a bodyweight exercise made more difficult by the shifting of the straps. It trains your hamstrings to stabilize and flex your knees. This is a good exercise for runners because it mimics the uneven terrain road runners encounter while running.
Coach’s Tip: Actively push your heels down into the straps and engage your glutes to prevent your hips from sagging.
Muscles Trained: Glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Set and Reps: Two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Why Do It: This is a user-friendly plyometric exercise. Holding on to the TRX will take some of the impact out of your joints. You’ll be able to use your arms a little to gain greater height. The TRX jump squat will help to develop powerful legs for more explosive power and jumps. It’ll also help improve your conditioning while giving assistance to your muscles.
Coach’s Tip: Use a light grip on the TRX so the power mostly comes from your legs and not your upper body.
Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
Sets and Reps: Two to three sets of six to 10 reps.
Intermediate TRX Variations
When you’re ready to test your balance, stability, and core strength and you’ve got a better handle on the TRX, take these exercises out for a test drive.
Why Do It: Adding movement and instability to the front plank position will help you build greater core strength than the regular plank. The body saw also engages other secondary muscles such as the deltoids, glutes, and hip flexors. This makes the body saw more than just a core exercise.
Coach’s Tip: Go easy on the range of motion to begin with and progress once you build up more core strength.
Muscles Trained: Glutes, rectus abdominis, obliques, lower back, deltoids, and hip flexors.
Sets and Reps: One to two sets of 10 to 15 reps or 30 to 60 seconds.
Why Do It: The TRX trainer provides enough instability to make this hip extension variation a step up from the grounded version. With minimal assistance from your feet, your hips and hamstrings work hard to extend against the shifting straps. This also provides you with feedback if you’re not using your hips correctly and improves hip extension lockout strength.
Coach’s Tip: Press your heels down into the straps and be careful not to over arch the back during the entire exercise.
Muscles Trained: Glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Sets and Reps: Two to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Why Do It: The TRX side plank is a demanding exercise that requires complete core coordination because of the shifting straps. You’ll also need a lot of strength from the quadratus lumborum and obliques. Both of these muscles help strengthen your lower back. The move also strengthens your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, and abductors. These muscles play a role in strengthening the spine and pelvis area, potentially protecting it from injury.
Muscles Trained: Obliques, deltoids, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, and abductors.
Sets and Reps: One to two sets of 15 to 30 seconds on each side.
Why Do It: Ever wanted to do a single-arm push-up? This exercise will help because you can adjust your intensity easily with the TRX. It also helps improve imbalances between sides for better pushing strength and technique. You’ll strengthen your triceps, too, which is great for lockout strength in bench and overhead pressing.
Coach’s Tip: Adjust your intensity by moving your feet closer to the anchor point (harder) or further away (easier). Make sure you keep your body in a straight line when lowering and pressing.
Muscles Trained: Chest, front deltoid, and triceps.
Sets and Reps: Two to four sets six to 10 reps per side.
Why Do It: Moving through a reverse lunge with a TRX trainer suspending your back foot takes single-leg work to a different level. This requires high levels of stabilization and improves your balance and technique. It will result in more time under tension for better strength and hypertrophy gains. Training unilaterally also helps fight imbalances between sides.
Coach’s Tip: Keep a neutral spine by keeping your chest up and maintain a slight forward lean of your torso.
Muscles Trained: Quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets eight to 15 reps per side.
Advanced TRX Variations
When you’re ready to up your TRX game and even out imbalances between sides, these variations will physically and mentally test you.
Why Do It: The TRX kneeling rollout trains the anti-spinal extension muscles of your core — with a lot of shoulder stability, to boot. Performing the rollout unilaterally takes away the stability of training with two hands. You’ll be training your anti-rotation core strength as well, making this exercise even more difficult.
Coach’s Tip: Take time with your setup. Make sure the TRX straps are interlocked a few inches off the floor, with the strap over your shoulder and your arm straight.
Muscles Trained: Glutes, rectus abdominis, obliques, lower back, shoulders, and lats.
Sets and Reps: One to two sets of six to eight reps per side.
Why Do It: Using the TRX for assistance allows you to take balance and a good amount of strength out the equation while training the single-leg squat pattern. This movement will train your quads, hamstrings, and glutes in a joint-friendly option because the assistance from the TRX will put minimal stress on your spine. Plus, you’ll strengthen imbalances between sides using the TRX as assistance.
Coach’s Tip: Use a range of motion you can control and use the TRX as assistance as much as you need. Just make sure to keep it a lower body exercise instead of an upper body pull.
Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of eight to 12 reps per side.
Why Do It: This one is a double whammy core exercise. The TRX moving forearm plank will strengthen your anterior core and each forward reach of your forearm will train anti-rotational strength, too. Both are important to protect your spine from unwanted movement when you’re training hard and heavy. Plus, each reach will train your serratus anterior, an important muscle for shoulder health and mobility.
Coach’s Tip: Make sure not to arch your lower back or let your hips sag. Keeping your glutes engaged will help prevent this.
Muscles Trained: Rectus abdominis, obliques, lower back, glutes, and serratus anterior.
Sets and Reps: Two to four sets eight to12 reps per side.
Why Do It: The TRX power pull improves unilateral back strength combined with rotational strength and control. You’ll also take your upper back muscles through a wider range of motion, which helps improve your shoulder mobility and flexibility.
Coach’s Tip: This exercise has a lot of moving parts — so make sure you can perform a single-arm inverted row before tackling this one. Follow your non-working hand with your gaze, as this makes the rotational part of the exercise more effective.
Muscles Trained: Forearms, biceps, posterior deltoid, upper back, lats, and obliques.
Sets and Reps: Three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.
Why Do It: There are two parts to this exercise — the push-up and the knee tuck. When you combine both of them, you strengthen your core, hip flexors, and upper body. This will improve total-body coordination and will drive your heart rate sky high.
Coach’s Tip: Start slow until you get the hang of this exercise before you increase the pace. There may be a tendency for your hips to sag during the push-up, so keep your glutes engaged.
Muscles Trained: Hip flexors, rectus abdominis, glutes, chest, triceps, and anterior deltoids.
Set and Reps: Three to four sets of eight to 15 reps.
TRX Exercise Benefits
Training with the TRX will test your strength relative to your bodyweight. It will also challenge your stability because of the inherent instability of suspension training. Here are some other important benefits of using the TRX.
One of the best features of training with a TRX is that you can scale each exercise according to your needs and skill level. Perhaps you want to build up to performing a pistol squat — the TRX can offer you stability and strength assistance while getting you ready for the bigger move. On the other hand, you can also up the ante of regular bodyweight exercises — as with the TRX body saw — to give yourself more of a challenge when you’re ready.
You won’t turn to the TRX to secure a new one-rep max on its own. You just don’t train with this implement the same way you do with a barbell. That said, you will build greater levels of relative strength just by adjusting your intensity with the position of your feet. Using the TRX as an accessory tool will help build core and upper back strength while addressing strength imbalances between sides.
All of these benefits can translate into ironing out weak points that may be holding you back from maximizing your big barbell lifts. In that way, TRX exercises can indirectly improve your max lifts by helping you address other crucial aspects of your training.
TRX is easily transportable. You can set up in your home or outdoors, and you can quickly transition between exercises. This makes it great for upping your exercise intensity or for performing circuit training to improve your conditioning and endurance.
Because you don’t need a gym to do it — hotel room workout, anyone? — this is a training tool that can help you maintain muscle and strength while you’re on the road. Sometimes, that’s the best thing you can ask of a piece of workout equipment.
Improved Core and Unilateral Strength
For most movements, the TRX requires that you brace and stabilize your abs, obliques, and lower back to better leverage your bodyweight as resistance. In doing so, it allows you to train unilaterally with stability to further reinforce your core and side-to-side strength. The inherent instability of this training system lets you increase the challenge of regular bodyweight moves to increase core recruitment.
How to Program TRX Exercises
How you program TRX exercises in your programming depends on your experience level. If you’re just learning the TRX, you might perform moves like the TRX IYT as many two or three times per week. But with the more advanced moves, you might want to scale it back a bit to accommodate greater recovery needs.
When you’re using the TRX for the first time, it’s important to get a firm grasp of each move and to concentrate on good form. If you’re using barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells in your training, make sure you get your big strength movements done first to avoid pre-exhaustion.
Depending on the exercise, try performing one to three sets of eight to 15 reps after your main lifts of the day. If you’re not performing other big lifts — perhaps the TRX is your main training implement — you can incorporate more sets into your days.
Try supersetting different exercises to maximize effectiveness, such as the TRX standing hip drop and the TRX inverted row. Then, work toward gradually progressing the intensity of your exercises by changing your foot position.
For Intermediate and Advanced Lifters
As you progress in your training, you might reach a point where certain weaknesses and imbalances show up in your training. For instance, one side may lock out before the other when bench pressing. You might find yourself rotating to one side when you shouldn’t be.
Programming some more difficult TRX variations into your accessory programming will help shore up those weaknesses for greater levels of strength. Performing these once or twice a week for the recommended sets and reps will work well.
You can also perform scaled or more accessible TRX exercises to help prime your muscles during your warm-up. In that case, don’t feel the need to go as intensely as you would later in your workout. The idea is to help activate your muscles for your big lifts rather than pre-exhausting them.
TRX for All
No matter your experience level, there are likely ways you can incorporate TRX suspension trainers into your workout program. You might find yourself sliding inverted rows into your deadlift warm-up, or using TRX pistol squats to work your way up to the single-legged golden goose. Whatever you use the TRX for — whether it’s part of your bodyweight-only training or to supplement your barbell work — you can use this tool to become a better lifter all around.
Featured Image: BAZA Production / Shutterstock
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