Suspension straps have many advantages; they can be a great bodyweight + gravity workout, exercises involve stabiliser muscles and engage the ‘core’, workouts can be quick, they are versatile, portable, the workout guide has clear directions, they fit in a bag, etc.. I have also found the following to limit the TRX/Suspension strap user and have subsequently not embraced these as whole-heartedly as many in the fitness industry have, claiming them to be all you will ever need for a complete workout. Fads and talking in absolutes just doesn’t gel with me. The only reason why I felt the need to crush them ever so slightly in this post is because I have never seen it done yet.
Suspension training utilises the exerciser’s weight plus the force of gravity. A certain level of strength and joint stability is required to keep the body moving with perfect technical form and perfect form in general is a rarity.
If a person is really heavy and not necessarily very strong, they will need to position their body at an angle closer to vertical which completely changes the amount and direction of loading for the muscles. For example, if you cannot do a bodyweight inverted row with your torso at almost horizontal (quite advanced), you will need to position your torso at an angle closer to 45 degrees to ensure you are not jerking yourself aggressively to the top of the pull with each rep. This is ok, but it completely changes the muscle fibres used. If you begin the inverted bodyweight pull with your torso at 45 degrees, the direction of the pull ends up with the torso very close to vertical which then deloads the pulling muscles almost 100%. So instead of getting a horizontal pull from start to finish, engaging the pulling muscles throughout the movement, you get a sub-contraction of the pulling muscles at the start, and then an almost deload at the end. My illustrations below (perfectly proportioned human body in stick form), demonstrate an advanced exerciser (image 1) performing the pull/inverted row exercise, followed by a beginner, a heavier or a less strong exerciser, or a person less able to stabilise their joints and keep good form whilst performing the movement (image 2).
Image 1. In the above picture, the body stays horizontal and pulling muscles are worked throughout the movement.
Image 2. In this second picture, limitations such as a heavy bodyweight, inadequate strength for bodyweight, biomechanical issues (eg, shoulder, neck, back problems) or stability problems will limit the ability to keep the body horizontal.
This same principle applies for other exercises such as the bodyweight suspended push-up, jack-knife, pike, hamstring curl, bicep curl, single leg squat, tricep press, flyes and other movements that may be creatively added to the workout.
I do think the TRX can be an good tool to add to your gym, convenient for outdoor training and great for travel. I just don’t think that it is the be-all and end-all in terms of an overall body conditioning tool and believe it has some strong limitations. I have seen some pretty shonky exercise forms on the TRX and find that I can only use it for select clients. I would certainly involve suspension training as part of an overall training program, if it fits the client or athlete, yet would not throw away the traditional lifts, the barbells, the dumbbells and many other old-school methods as each exercise has it’s pro’s and con’s and can be selected appropriately for superior conditioning.