As a (mainly) road cyclist, I often think that I might be missing out on exercising some of the key muscle groups in my body. Sure, my glutes and upper leg muscles are in good shape but, when you take a look at a diagram of the muscular system, you realize just how many muscles there are in addition to those few. Apparently, there’s around 639 in total in the human body. Most of these I’m fairly certain aren’t getting a workout as I pedal and there’s a danger that I’m going to develop the classic roadie ‘T-Rex’ look – you know big powerful legs paired with a scrawny, withered and hunched-over upper body.
Hear me ROAR!
This has all been on my mind recently for three reasons: Firstly, I read Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman. It’s a frankly mind-blowing book that explains that we’re going about the whole exercise thing all wrong: we’re not moving ENOUGH of our muscles and, even when we are, we’re not moving them OFTEN enough.
Secondly, having looked at my own day-to-day activity, I can see how it’s failing to properly exercise my body in so many ways. I swap between mainly cycling (working out my legs and glutes, but not much else) to sitting at a desk typing (working out…not many of my muscles at all). It’s beginning to look like ending up with a T-Rex style body might the best-case scenario for me. And we know what happened to all the T-Rexes. Gulp.
Thirdly, TRX said, “Do you want to test out some of our kit?”
You’ll likely have heard of TRX as their suspension trainer systems have become a regular feature in many commercial gyms and their classes are often booked solid for weeks. Following COVID lockdown closures of gyms for long periods, many people have decided to get themselves a TRX system so that they can continue their workouts at home. And the beauty of the TRX system for home use is that it’s just so portable and packable. We’ll get on to the specifics of the Move system in a moment (this is the version that I’ve been trying out), but this kit is so small that it will fit on one upturned hand, doesn’t need you to invest in other bulky and heavy gym equipment (like weightlifting plates, for example) and won’t even require you to wear a tanktop for your workouts that says “BEAST MODE: ON”. Phew.
TRX have a large range of exercise gear in their range to choose from – way beyond just their original suspension training strap system – so, if you’re wondering where to start, then check out the following suggestions for some of my favorite items of TRX gear. I’ve got rundown of what each piece is used for along with a few of the exercises I like to do with them. Bear in mind that I’m neither a health professional, nor a qualified fitness instructor (nor, on many days, a competent adult). If you’re unsure about any of the exercises or haven’t done a press up since your school days, then get yourself checked out by your doctor before you start. Okay?
The TRX gear I’ve been testing
I’ve been using four different pieces of TRX kit: TRX Move system, 30 lbs Slam Ball, 30 ft Battle Rope, and the AbCycle. I picked these particular items because I felt that they’d give me the opportunity to work out the biggest range of muscles in my body – the Slam Ball for example is great for core exercises (such as the dreaded ‘Russian Twist’). Or, lift it up from the floor and finish with it raised over your head and you’ll work everything from your leg muscles to your hands, plus all the muscles in between. Oh, and you can also take the ball for a walk – sounds crazy, looks crazy, but is very effective – I’ll talk more on this in a moment.
Let’s take a look at the kit I’ve been trying out.
The Move system is the base model in the TRX range and comes with all the essentials that you need to get started. The box includes the Move suspension trainer (the handles and straps), suspension anchor (used for wrapping over a roof beam or stout tree trunk), door anchor, mesh storage bag, and user guide / exercise poster.
If you’ve never used TRX before, then in essence it’s bodyweight training that’s easily portable (packed in its own mesh pouch, it weighs only 1lb 7oz (661g) and packs into a space of around 8”x5.5”x4” (20x14x10cm)). And, portability really is the key word here, because the size of the Move system makes it so easy to take it with you anywhere you go. I’ve used this plenty at home, but I’ve also taken it out for a little mid-hike training in the countryside and on some business trips.
One aspect to be aware of is that you need to anchor the straps to something solid – this can either be a vertical surface (e.g. a wall) or a horizontal surface (e.g. the ceiling). Initially I thought that this was going to be a challenge (my wife isn’t all that keen on my drilling holes in the lounge wall to fit a sturdy hook) but, since getting the Move system I’ve found that there are actually many places where you can attach the straps to:
– Hook the door anchor over the top or bottom of a door (ideally a door that only opens away from you). Close the door firmly and attach the training straps with the fitted carabiner
– Wrap the suspension anchor over a roof beam in the garage
– Hang the anchor from a sturdy tree branch
– Fit the anchor around a lamppost or strong railing
TRX have a number of different anchoring mechanisms available (as well as the Suspension anchor and Door anchor that come with the Move system). One of my favorites is the Invizi-Mount, which is a wall fixing for your suspension trainer that’s cunningly disguised as a picture mount. Fix the Invizi-Mount to the wall and hook on a framed photo of Arnie or a motivational quote. When you want to do a workout, just unhook the picture and put it to one side, then hook the carabiner from your suspension trainer onto it and you’re ready to go. Clever.
My favorite exercises:
There is a LOT that you can do with the suspension trainer system and TRX have on-demand videos available for a small monthly fee where they teach all the moves and take you through guided workouts. You can also find plenty of free workouts available on YouTube.
For me, the exercises that I find myself doing most with the system revolve around three basic moves. These being push, pull and plank. Push is where you have your feet on the floor, hands on the TRX handles, and you essentially perform a press up. The angle of your body relative to the floor determines how much of your bodyweight is being supported by your arms (and therefore how difficult the move is). A pull is the opposite of the press, where you’re pulling with your hands up towards the fixing point. Plank involves holding a press up position with your feet off the floor and held in the TRX handles (a little like stirrups). The beauty of the TRX system in all of these (and what makes it so good IMHO) is the wobble. By that I mean, your body will be wobbling much more when you do a push/pull/plank with the TRX than without and this will force your body to engage more muscles. More muscle engagement equals a better workout.
I’ve been testing out the Slam Ball in the 30 lbs / 13.6 kg size. This is the heaviest in a set of seven balls, starting at 6 lbs / 2.72 kg. Unlike a dumbbell, where you can get a strong grip on the handle, the slam ball forces you to hold it between two hands and, the heavier it is and the more tired you get, the more you have to push your hands together to keep a hold of it. This is tough(!) but is great because it engages all the muscles from your shoulders to your hands as you squeeze the ball.
My favorite exercises:
There’s a lot that you can do with a slam ball and it works well either training by yourself or with a partner. One of my favorite exercises when I’m working with a partner is to do crunches, where you come up, throw the ball to your partner, who then goes down to the floor, crunches back up and throws the ball back to you. Start off with a lighter ball as this exercise can get very tiring very quickly!
For solo workouts, try this: Imagine a combo where you start with a squat thrust (holding the ball on the ground in front of you), finish in a crouch, then pick the ball up and hold against your chest, blast up from the ground and finish with the ball high over your head with arms outstretched. Repeat. If you can.
Or, sit on the floor (the easy bit), lift up your feet and hold them in the air, holding the ball, twist your torso and arms round to the left, then back to the middle and round to the right. That’s one rep and you’ve just completed your first ‘Russian Twist’.
Something else I’ve tried – and I’d preface this by saying that you probably need to do this in a secluded location away from other people – is to take the ball out for a walk. Um…what? It’s something that Katy Bowman has mentioned previously (though she was suggesting carrying a heavy stone). Walking is a fantastic exercise by itself, especially when you combine it with rough and random terrain. When you add in a load like the slam ball that you carry with your hands it really magnifies the benefit. It’s an asymmetric load (you have to carry it on one side or the other, so your core muscles get a good workout) and because you need to keep swapping the ball from side to side as you walk along, it gives your hands, arms and shoulders lots of exercise. But, like I said, best to do this one away from other people.
Battle ropes are essentially a long thick rope with a rubber grip at each end – the TRX one I’ve been using is 30 ft long (9m) and weighs 15 lbs (7kg), there’s also a longer 50 ft (15m) rope. You use it by anchoring the midpoint to a wall or post, holding the two ends and waving these up and down or left to right. Sounds easy? Waggling a rope up and down for a few minutes couldn’t be all that difficult I thought. Turns out though that even lifting it across to the gym mat takes some effort and after a few seconds of waving the ends around you discover muscles that you didn’t even know existed. This is great (albeit painful) as it means it’s working new muscles.
As with the suspension trainers you need to have something solid to attach the rope midpoint to as you’ll generate quite a lot of force when you use it. It can also be heavy to carry around (although that’s really the point) and bulky to store. Those downsides aside this is a great tool for moving new muscles and moving all your muscles in different ways. And, if there’s a better way of banishing those T-Rex style arms for good, I don’t know what it is.
My favorite exercises:
A couple of the most ‘enjoyable’ ways I’ve found so far of using the battle rope are:
Creating a sine wave style ripple along the rope by alternating raising and lowering each rope end. You have to do this at a fast tempo to create that ripple, and this gets very hard very quickly. Keep a a strong body shape for this with feet flat on the floor, upper legs parallel to the floor, and a flat back. Bonus points for smiling.
Also, try squats with the battle rope over your shoulders (they get progressively harder the more you stand up and therefore gather more of the heavy rope up off the ground). Sounds strange. Feels tough.
The AbCycle is a bar with a wheel at each end. As the name suggests, this is essentially a training device for your abdominal muscles, but it also works your lower back muscles, arms and shoulders. I’ve got a description of the exercise I generally do with this below. One of the tricks with it (which makes it much tougher and turns it into something like a plank) is to hold the hold the position for a second or two when you’re at full extension with the AbCycle at the furthest point from your knees and your nose at the closest point to the floor. Enjoy.
My favorite exercises:
Kneel on the floor and hold the AbCycle with both hands. Push the bar away from you until you are at your full extension and still with only your knees and toes on the ground. Hold for a beat and then slowly pull the bar back to your knees. The advanced version of this exercise is to do it standing up – though this requires more flexibility (and strength) than I currently have!
I’ve been impressed by the TRX gear that I’ve been trying out. It’s all solidly made – as you’d expect from a company that was created by a Navy SEAL commander. It’s also extremely well thought out – the suspension training systems in particular are a fantastic way of training ‘on the road’, whether that be a business trip, vacation, covert mission, or all three at the same time.
With climate change, pandemics, and everything else that’s happening in the world right now, it’s unclear whether extinction might be on the cards for humanity, like it was for T-Rex back in the day. What is clear though is, if I am on the way out, I’ll be going out with big guns and killer abs.