Suspension Training (sometimes called TRX training for reasons that you will soon understand) has become very popular in the world of health and fitness. This type of training has been shown to be effective for muscle building, fat burning, and heart health. The equipment to get started can be found at most gyms or you can turn your own home into a gym quickly and easily since it just one piece of equipment. And if you get sick of being indoors (like I do) you can throw it into a bag and take it to a tree or to the park and train. They are so lightweight you can even pack them in a travel bag for a long plane or car trip.
The main piece of equipment that you need for suspension training is a suspension trainer. This is the device you suspend and use for your exercises. This device is often called a TRX strap or just a TRX for short(1). The only other thing you need is a place to anchor the suspension trainer, which can be found almost everywhere.
What is a Suspension Trainer?
A suspension trainer is a device that hangs (suspended) from a single anchor point, with straps that can be adjusted to different lengths (for different exercises), handles for your hands, and foot cradles to hold your feet. Don’t worry–you will only use one at a time, so either your feet or your hands will always be on the floor for support).
Often these are just called TRX. TRX is a registered trademark of Fitness Anywhere LLC. The owner/founder (and Navy Seal) Randy Hetrick invented the TRX system while on deployment to help himself and his team keep fit. This was the first “suspension trainer.” After retiring from the SEALs Randy got an MBA, kept working on the product, and built the company. TRX stands for Total Body Resistance Exercise.
Because TRX is the brand that made suspension training popular many people use the word TRX to describe any suspension trainer on the market (like Kleenex for tissues). But now many other companies make a similar product. Some of these knock-offs are high quality, some are not. When you aren’t buying them from TRX I would suggest you use a high quality knock-off.
Where Can You Find a Suspension Trainer?
They have become very popular as a piece of functional training equipment (and for good reason). Most commercial gyms will have an area where they are set up and many will have classes that include a trainer taking you through a workout. Many smaller training studios will have them as well.
But arguably the best place to find one is in your home. Or Car. Or Bookbag. This is because one of the biggest advantages of a suspension trainer is how portable it is. And it sets up quickly and easily. You can have one in your house that you set up on a door when you are ready for a workout (which will take less than 30 seconds), or you could take it to a tree in your backyard (or local park) where you can train.
You can get one anywhere for between $50 and $250, and using just one piece of equipment you have invested in a mobile gym.
How Do You Get Started?
Believe it or not the first step is not a workout. Before you can work out you need to know how to safely set up your equipment. You will be suspended from one anchor point so it is very important that the attachment is secure. Then you need to learn the 6 positions you will be performing exercises in and 4 skills used with the straps.
This might sound like a lot to learn but once you get it you’ve got it! And it is simpler and more intuitive than you think. Also, learning this at the beginning will save you TONS of time down the road, trust me! I used a suspension trainer for years before learning these and the amount of time I wasted was incredible. Not to mention the frustration I had when I made lots of unnecessary micro adjustments when setting up the straps for different exercises. You will have much more fun (and better workouts) if you invest a little bit of time learning at the beginning.
First you need to find an anchor point. Here are some examples:
First you will need a doorway anchor attachment for your suspension trainer. So make sure you order a model that comes with one or order it as well. I recommend everyone does this because if you ever travel with the suspension trainer doors are the easiest anchor points to find. It is also cheaper to get the doorway anchor as part of a bundle.
All you do is throw it over the door with the stopper on the other side and close it.
Then close it and attach the main carabiner. And you are ready to go!
If the door opens away from you the anchor should be placed in the middle of the door. If it opens toward you it should be as close to the hinges as possible. This minimizes the chance of something going wrong.
Outdoor Anchor Points
There are two types of outdoor anchor points: Vertical and Horizontal.
Vertical are things that go straight up such as the trunk of a tree or a pole (technically a door is a vertical anchor point, but because it needs a special attachment it has its own section above). You wrap the suspension anchor around the base, then snitch it down.
Horizontal anchor points include all things that are secure in the air, but with no base underneath. Such as a sturdy tree branch, a pull-up bar, monkey bars, or a ceiling attachment, etc. This is the best way to set up a suspension trainer, because you have more options for where you place yourself relative to the anchor point.
Whatever you use, the anchor point should be 7 to 9 feet high and strong enough to support your full body weight. Once the anchor loop is set up just clip your TRX to it and you are (almost) ready to get started.
THE SIX POSITIONS
Now you have the straps set up, you need to know your options for exercise positions. There are 6, divided into two easy-to-remember groups:
Standing Facing Away
Standing Facing Sideways
Ground Facing Away
Ground Facing Sideways
The way I teach this is you are either 1. Standing or 2. On the ground. Then you can either be facing the anchor, facing away from it, or sideways to it.
One last thing before you can get started…the 4 Skills to help you use the strap:
THE FOUR SKILLS
These are 4 skills that give you the ability to use the suspension trainer efficiently.
1 - Adjusting the suspension trainer
2 - Putting the suspension trainer into single-hand mode
3 - Getting your heels into the foot cradles
4 - Getting your toes into the foot cradles
When you get more advanced there is a bonus one, Toes in while standing. But as a beginner you don’t need to worry about it right now.
ADJUSTING THE SUSPENSION TRAINER
There are 5 lengths that you will be using while working with the Suspension Trainer. This is one of the most important things to learn. This is because the way the strap is designed you could theoretically set the straps up to an infinite number of lengths. When I first started using the straps this is what I did, guessing based on the exercises and then making multiple adjustments until I found something that worked. You don’t need to do that, as someone has already figured out which of the 5 lengths is best for each exercise so you can quickly get it to the length you need. This is one of the most valuable things I learned when I earned my TRX qualification.
On a TRX strap there are markers to find the correct lengths super fast. Some off-brands have the same marks, others don’t. Some have different marks for different reasons (or just to copy the design). It is hard to know until you are holding (and using) the straps. The markers are one of the advantages of buying the brand name (though more expensive) TRX straps.
The first thing to know about adjustments is that when you make the strap longer you do both sides simultaneously (by pulling both tabs at once), and when you make it shorter you do it one at a time. The five lengths are:
Mid-length - The adjustment tabs in the middle, in line with the marker
Shortened - The adjustment tabs all the way at the top
Over-shortened - Straps pulled through like elephant ears to make it extra short
Fully lengthened - Adjustment tabs as far down the straps as they can go
Mid-Calf - The handle right below your knee so that the foot cradle hangs at mid-calf
Single-hand mode lets you grab the suspension trainer with only one hand while having the other strap out of the way and locked into place. Having it locked will prevent the strap from slipping through while there is only pressure on one side of the strap.
On really old TRX models (and to this day many off-brands) you can pull the strap with the handle right through the anchor lock. This can be dangerous, so you should always get in the habit of using single-hand mode to be safe.
While newer TRX models have a locking loop that prevents it from slipping through if you are using only one handle, the other side dangles in an uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) way. So I recommend learning to go to single-arm mode quickly. If you need help check out this video.
Heels in Cradles
The proper way to get your heels in the cradle makes getting to the ground facing position quick and safe. First you sit on your butt with your legs in front of you facing the strap. Grab the strap with the thumbs and first finger. Roll back (controlled) and place your heels in the cradles. Check out this video to see how it is done.
Toes in Cradles
There are a variety of ways that you can do this. The standard way is similar to heels in cradles. Instead of putting your heels in the cradles you will put the cradles over the toes. Then, maintain light tension and roll over and you will be in position. Check out this video to see it done.
Once you are more comfortable with this position you will just place your toes in while already on the ground facing away.
There is a very special way you reference exercises when suspension training. This is to make sure you have all the information you need to do it correctly. That formula is called NAPS-MR. This stands for:
Obviously “Name” is what the exercise is called. “Start” is a verbal description of your start position. “Movement" is the movement itself, and “Return" is how you will return to the starting position for the next rep.
The “Adjustment" and “Position” relate to your 4 Skills. You need to be able to quickly, and consistently, get to the start position. You don’t want to have to experiment with random lengths or be tired and mess up a transition moving your feet into the strap to get in position. The adjustment will always be one of the 5 listed above and the position will always be one of the 6 listed above.
The adjustment might contain an additional instruction such as “single hand mode.” In general, when you are ground facing you will be using heels in the cradles and when you are ground facing away you will usually be toes in the cradle. Learn the 4 skills above and you will always be able to follow along.
So when you see the exercise TRX Crunch, Mid-Calf, Ground Facing Away you will be able to get ready fast and efficiently.
This opens up the TRX training library. You can now find workouts through TRX training (who has a great app) or on YouTube.
Or you could search for a qualified and experienced coach online or at your local gym.
And if you take some time to learn you can get to the point where you can build your own workouts.
That funny looking yellow strap isn’t something you grab and pull on. It is a well designed tool that you can use to get fit, and it offers the convenience of being able to do workouts in many places.
Take the time to learn how to use the tool correctly and it will help you learn to use your body correctly.
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1 - Full disclosure: my qualification in suspension training comes from Fitness Anywhere, the company that invented and owns the TRX system as well as invented and trademarked the term suspension training.