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Hanging tough, training smart with TRX

If I were shipwrecked on a desert island and could only take one piece of exercise kit with me the TRX would be it – providing, of course, I had a palm tree on which to anchor it. It’s functional, effective and incredibly portable. I’ve used it at the gym, in the park and even on the top deck of the Queen Mary 2.

TRX, which stands for Total Resistance Exercise, is a form of suspension training. It was created by a US Navy SEAL as a means of maintaining peak physical fitness while on operations. It’s a simple concept, utilising gravity and bodyweight to provide an effective and functional workout that develops power, strength, flexibility, balance.

Most gym machines allow the body to move in only a very limited way, focusing on one muscle group, one plane of movement. TRX treats the body as a whole, working multiple muscles and joints through multi-planar movements. Because of the inherent instability of the straps, the user is also forced to engage their core regardless of which exercise they’re performing.

I discovered TRX training back in 2010 and was one of the first fitness professionals in Australia to become an accredited TRX trainer. At the time I was working as a personal trainer in Fremantle, where most of my sessions took place outdoors. Imagine my delight on discovering a piece of equipment that gave my clients access to dozens of fantastic exercises but only weighed a couple of pounds and fitted easily into my bag.

There are more than 300 TRX exercises which can be modified to suit all ages and fitness levels. You adjust the intensity simply by walking towards (harder) or away from (easier) the anchor point. Exercises are performed in a range of positions, both standing and lying on the ground so its easy to move from exercise to another, for example, going straight from a chest press to a row simply by walking from in front of to behind the anchor point.

Because you don’t need to change the weight or move to another machine, TRX workouts are incredibly efficient. In America, TRX is used extensively throughout the military and is a favourite of elite athletes looking to improve their performance but the scalability of the exercises means that anyone can have a go and experience the benefits.

Let’s look at some squat progressions. A beginner will find that holding onto the straps helps them both in terms of alignment and balance, increasing the range and efficiency of their movement. Even someone with an injury who finds squats difficult, may be able to work around it by splitting the load between their lower and upper bodies. Once a person has mastered the basics, they can move onto the next level, either adding plyometrics, performing a single leg squat or even combining the two. From there, they could let go of the handles and suspend one foot in the foot cradles, increasing the balance challenge. To make it even more difficult, they could stand to the side of the anchor point to add a rotational element. There are dozens of variations which means it’s almost impossible to get bored.

But there’s more to TRX than just strength training. It’s also a brilliant tool for developing flexibility and mobility which, in turn, lead to more efficient performance, better posture and a reduced risk of injury.

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