TRX Gave Me the Core I Always Wanted

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TRX Gave Me the Core I Always Wanted

iStock/Emir Memedovski

They were just a couple of yellow-and-black nylon straps with two handles at the end, but I was still very intimidated by them. I had endured a previous (rigorous) encounter with them at my old gym that ended with nothing more than a bruised ego and a resolve to get better at those pesky straps, otherwise known as TRX Suspension Training.

Don't let its flimsy appearance fool you like it did me: TRX (Total body Resistance eXercise) is a one killer workout.

Which is why when I learned my new gym offered TRX classes, I immediately signed up. As much as I was daunted by the idea of it -- gravity and my own body weight will really sustain and improve my strength? -- I wanted to dominate TRX, or at least chisel out some super strong abs.

If you're curious about trying it for yourself, here's what I learned through my TRX training.

What Is It?

Made from high quality nylon that can hold up to 1,400 pounds, "It's a specialized form of suspension training that utilizes equipment developed by former U.S. Navy SEAL, Randy Hetrick," says Tiffany Smith, a certified personal trainer, and co-owner of SELF Fitness South Bay in L.A. and head fitness trainer at Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. "TRX helps improve mobility, flexibility, strength, endurance, power, core strength, and heart health."

How It Works

The concept is simple enough: you use the two straps with your feet or hands to partially suspend your body, then use your own body weight as resistance. Easy, right? Not quite. Factor in balance and coordination, plus the exercise at hand, and you've got a major sweat session going on before you know it.

"TRX makes gravity your resistance, so adjusting the level of difficulty is as easy as moving your hands or feet, and progression is limitless," says Smith. "So you are constantly challenging yourself in new ways and you avoid boredom."

The beauty of TRX is that it's an effective exercise tool for people of all levels of fitness and of all ages. "TRX is for everyone," says Smith. "A TRX workout can be simple or you can progress it to be more advanced. It’s so versatile that any level of fitness from beginner to athlete can use the TRX and adjust to their level of fitness."

The First Two Weeks

I attended two TRX classes per week. My first week of classes covered the basics like pushups, squats, rows, tricep extensions, and lunges. Remaining stationary is an option for most of the exercises, but, as the weeks progressed, my instructor liked to mix things up by adding in plyometric moves later, which increased the burn factor. A simple lunge soon turned into a one-legged lunge, which then progressed into one-legged lunge jumps.

Exercises would run about 45 seconds to 60 seconds, with 30-second rests between. I have a bad habit of not resting between sets, but by the end of that first set, I was begging for a reprieve.

At the end of my first session, I was exhausted and, literally, challenged to the core. Getting my balance and coordination just right was an adjustment for me -- proper form is key to the efficiency of TRX -- and, I'm gonna be honest, there was a lot of wobbling.

After two weeks and six classes, I noticed my core was tighter and definitely stronger than ever. For someone who's always prided herself on having a solid core, I was pleasantly surprised with the results, particularly since we weren't doing heavy ab workouts in class.

"Even while working your arms and legs, suspension training is constantly challenging your core because your body and gravity is your own resistance," explains Smith. "So it’s truly always a total body workout."

After Four Weeks

A month into my training and my core muscles were more engaged than ever before, and dare I say that I even had those bodybuilder ripples of a six-pack. They were subtle, but they were there(!!!).

It's not totally surprising then that a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in which researchers compared TRX exercises to more traditional versions of exercise, TRX outshone the others when it came to core muscles.

I found that something as simple as holding a regular plank was majorly difficult, and effective, in TRX. Smith agrees.

"My favorite go-to ab exercises are planks in the TRX," she says. "Placing your feet in the straps in a plank position and doing plank variations such as pike to plank, knee tuck, push-ups, side planks, and body saw. Your core will be on fire!"

Yes, it will. Trust me.

I also found that I had improved strength and mobility in a weakened shoulder that a regular workout of boxing and weight lifting couldn't help. This is because the TRX helps safely pull your body through a range of motion that might not be otherwise achievable through unloading bodyweight.

Other bonuses? Improved balance and coordination. My initial "wobbleness" has now subsided, and I am now equipped to move through the exercises with much more ease.

The Takeaway

It's been three months of regular TRX classes, and I can't imagine not including them in my regular workout from here on out. Not only do I feel stronger and more balanced in my body, but also I love how many exercises those two little straps can provide. There's a constant progression in the movements, which is what I ultimately crave from my workouts.

Then, of course, there are the muscles. I'm pretty lean and have a hard time "bulking up," but I'm convinced TRX has helped define and tone my body, from legs to abs to arms, more than ever before.

If you're interested in trying out TRX (which, I, obviously, recommend), then Smith recommends finding a professional personal trainer or instructor who's certified in TRX training to help you out in the beginning.

"I would suggest avoiding trying to figure it out yourself or watching online videos for the first time because a lot of times people will not have the form or will try a super advanced version of a TRX workout and either get hurt or feel discouraged," she says. "Take your time, have a trainer help, and progress slowly, keeping form and alignment in mind."

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