In this series, fitness pros investigate how exercise trends measure up to the hype.
The TRX was originally used predominately as an individual training tool, but recently there has been an explosion of TRX-themed classes. These days, you can find the yellow and black straps suspended from gym ceilings across the country. If you are a GoodLife member, try the small group TRX classes, or try places such as Kondi in downtown Vancouver or Core Essentials in Halifax. I tried two TRX-themed classes: one with my mom (63) and long-term client Kate (30) at Elle Fitness and Social (580 King St. W.), and another at Blast Fitness (374 Dupont St.) with my best friend, Emily (32).
The TRX is a strap that loops through an anchor point; it has one handle and foot loop on each end. You use your own body weight and gravity to do variations on traditional exercises – everything from biceps curls to push-ups to lunges. By manipulating body positioning, most TRX exercises can be adapted to match any fitness level. Since you are always to some degree suspended, you have to use your core muscles proportionally more than when supported on a bench or weight machine.
I think Elle's website says it best: "TRX is all core all the time!"
My mom was particularly taken with the TRX. She loved that the exercises forced her to use her entire body, including her core, and that as she got stronger she could challenge herself by simply moving her feet. As a trainer, I love that since you can hook it anywhere – over a tree or into a door frame – once you own one, you will never have an excuse to skip a workout. It is a portable gym.
What to expect
The TRX is a piece of equipment, not a style of class, which means every class will be slightly different. The exercises themselves are somewhat standard – there are only so many things you can do with a strap – but the energy, number of people, atmosphere and additional "toys" used will differ from class to class. For example, at both Elle and Blast, we did "plank knee tucks" – imagine being in a plank with your feet suspended in foot straps, then bringing your knees into your chest – but in different ways. At Elle, we worked in groups of three to complete a circuit of plank tucks and two body-weight-only exercises. During this circuit, my mom leaned over to Kate and said, "Do you do this class often? This is HARD." At Blast, the knee tucks were combined with two other TRX core exercises. On our own, we cycled through the three exercises as many times as possible in five minutes.
I intentionally tried a class at both Elle and Blast because of how different the studios are. Elle is about peppy music and keeping workouts fun and interesting. Blast has a "hardcore" feel – the first thing you see when you walk in is AstroTurf and people pushing sleds and flipping tires. The classes are small, so you get more individualized attention.
There are positives and negatives to both the "fun" large group class and the more intense, smaller training environments. Where you should work out depends on what you want from a workout. For example, Emily thought, "Blast feels like a gym for athletes. I am not an athlete. I want my workouts to be fun. I want good music."
When it comes to working out, fun goes a long way. No one needs the disincentive of hating their workout. We all have enough reasons to skip training. My mom said despite the fact that she could "hardly move" after the class at Elle, she would absolutely go back. She found the teacher inspiring and felt as though she had "gone to a party."
The downside of large group classes is that it is almost inevitable that people will have sloppy form. No matter how hard the teacher works – and Michelle Epstein at Elle was working overtime to help everyone – large classes are just not the best venue for complicated TRX moves.
If you are concerned about form, the best way to use the TRX is in groups of 10 or fewer. In a small class, such as the one at Blast, you get individual attention. Even though Emily didn't love the class format at Blast – she wanted peppier music and more diverse exercises – she did appreciate that the teacher constantly monitored her form. She also said Blast felt like the "Buckley's cough syrup version of exercise. People who feel like they need to be punished to work out would love this style of class."
The point is not whether you should go to Blast or Elle, but that you persevere and find workouts that work for you. If you like "fun," try a class that constantly changes exercises and plays peppy music. If you like hardcore, find hardcore. If you don't like groups, invest in a TRX and train in your backyard. It is important to find a workout that you enjoy enough, and that is convenient enough, that you will do it on a regular basis. When it comes to working out, consistency is key.