Suspension training (which you might know as TRX) has become a mainstay at gyms all over—and for good reason. It's a super effective way to torch your whole body, build strength, and get your heart beating, using just your own bodyweight. (Yeah, you can do that without a TRX too.) But, up until recently, there was little scientific evidence that actually demonstrated its effectiveness.
The American Council on Exercise wanted proof once and for all, so it commissioned a study of 16 healthy men and women (from 21 to 71 years old) to look at the long-term effects of TRX training. People did a 60-minute TRX class three times a week for eight weeks, and had various physical fitness and health markers measured both before and after the program.
First off, people burned about 400 calories per session (which is the top of the ACE's workout energy expenditure goal for a typical workout). Second, there were significant decreases in waist circumference, body fat percentage, and resting blood pressure. Third, people improved their muscle strength and endurance, including significant improvemens in leg press, bench press, curl-up, and push-up tests. All of the results combined suggest that long-term adherence to a suspension training program is likely to decrease your likelihood of cardiovascular disease. (Plus, you can do it anywhere! Here's how to set up a TRX in a tree.)
Things to keep in mind: the TRX class they completed included intervals of non-TRX exercises like ladder agility drills and kettlebell swings, so you could argue that the results came from the overall strength-plus-cardio conditioning nature of the workout. Also, with only 16 people, the study didn't didn't span a huge population.
Regardless, if you've been avoiding the suspension trainers or classes at the gym because you wondered, "is TRX effective?" The answer is a resounding yes.
True, some people have criticized suspension training because 1) there's a maximum weight for you to lift/pull/push, etc. vs. traditional weight lifting, where you can build up to hundreds of pounds, and 2) it requires a lot of core strength and balance, which might lead to injury without the proper instruction, says Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D. and ACE Chief Science Officer.
But neither of these are good reasons to skip suspension; "For a person who doesn't have experience and doesn't know how to modify the amount of body weight they're responsible for in an exercise, they can have some difficulty performing the exercise correctly," says Bryant. But working with a qualified trainer can prevent that—just don't go experimenting with crazy stuff on the TRX without having a fitness baseline. And taking your time on a TRX to build those skills can have great benefits: "Anything where you're forced to handle your bodyweight in space is beneficial in enhancing one's functional capability, including balance and core stability" says Bryant. (You can even use a suspension trainer to help you nail tricky yoga poses.)
For the hard-core weight lifters who think it will be too easy, think again. When it comes to challenging your muscles with weight, you can tweak to meet your physical abilities: "It does allow you a lot of variety in terms of changing the intensity of the exercise," he says. "By simply changing body position, you're responsible for increasing or decreasing proportions of your bodyweight against gravity." Don't believe us? Just try some TRX burpees, and get back to us.
What are you waiting for? Get hanging with suspension training: try these 7 Tone-All-Over TRX Moves to start.