I don’t often post about training, mainly because I feel that there are so many resources online for training routines and exercise descriptions and recommendations, and why would you think mine are any better?
However, I have been playing around in the gym a lot more lately, and I’ve realised that I actually have quite a strict process for deciding which exercises to include and which ones to leave out, both when seeing them online and when trying them out in the flesh. So I thought it might be useful to those of you out there who are confident enough to train on your own, but maybe a little unsure when it comes to designing your own programmes.
I’m a big fan of learning to control your own body, rather than necessarily focussing on shifting a certain amount of weight. For one, if you can’t control your own body weight, why would you want to try and lift more than your body weight? For another, it is much more conducing to long-term health and fitness: developing core strength and balance so you are less likely to fall awkwardly and hurt yourself; seeing how you can shift your body slightly in one direction or another, to make a movement more efficient; learning where your limits are when there is no dumbbell to blame and nowhere to hide from the pain (by pain, obviously, I mean the “good” kind of pain).
Having said that, bodyweight work can get very boring very quickly. Not because you run out of exercises or challenges – ohhh no – but because there is no distraction from the discomfort. No weights to focus on moving, no finish line to focus on reaching. It’s just you and your own body, and it hurts so much more to know that you have nobody but yourself to blame.
There’s still about a million different push-ups that I have yet to master, lower-body circuits to get more explosive with, and of course I can always try to add more pull-ups to a set. But there’s only so much mental beating I can take, only so many times I can tell myself “You will do this”. So while I take a break, I am playing with a new toy, hoping that once I master the skills involved in that, everything else will feel that little bit easier.
This new toy is known as the TRX (hence the awful post title – I do apologise, sort of) Suspension Trainer (just be glad I didn’t include some sort of terrible pun around “suspense”). I don’t normally go in for trendy equipment in my training, but what I love about the TRX is that it enables you to “train movements, not muscle“. After all, does it matter how strong or how big, or how lean, your muscles are if you can’t control them in exactly the way you want in everyday life?
I could go on about the benefits of the TRX, but you can read up about it on their website. They’re trying to sell it whereas I’m not, so they’ll do a way better job of talking about its multitude of benefits. Indeed, there are certain exercises I won’t be doing on the TRX, so let’s talk about picking and choosing.
Test #1 – Risk vs Reward
There’s no point doing one fantastic rep of an exercise if you lose control, injure yourself in some big or small way, and are unable to complete the rest of your session. So if I can feel the same benefits – that is to say, the same challenge – from another exercise, I’ll probably stick with that.
Test #2 – Muscle or Movement
As the mission statement of the suspension trainer says, it’s all about training movement rather than muscle. So if your goal – overall or for one exercise – is hypertrophy and maximum strength, the TRX isn’t really going help. Of course, it will help develop overall strength, and you can certainly focus that strength down to a muscle group, but because it’s going to challenge your core and not involve any added weight, you’re never going to lift as much as you would doing an isolation exercise.
Test #3 – Speed or Control
Because TRX-based exercises require the engagement of the core and control of the hips, I wouldn’t really want to use it for any speed-based or plyometric exercises. I know that there are videos out there of people doing TRX burpees, but I think that is missing the point both of a burpee and the TRX. Sure, you are certainly making the burpee more difficult, but are you making it more effective at doing what it’s supposed to do?
Think about it. The aim of plyometric exercise is to develop explosive strength – that is, a combination of speed and power. Performing an exercise on an unstable surface or using unstable equipment like a suspension trainer will always be slower, as it challenges the body’s efficiency by making it control the movement in a number of planes simultaneously. So if you want to get faster and more explosive, you want to practice being as fast and explosive as possible, and the last thing you want to do is put something in between you and your best effort. You don’t see sprinters running in MBTs, do you?
Of course, to challenge yourself for overall fitness, nothing wrong with playing around with these exercises, but I’d prefer to do my slow and controlled work on the TRX, followed by a speed-based circuit in which I have nothing to blame for slowing me down.
With all that in mind, these are some of my favourite TRX exercises:
Unfortunately, there are way more ways to do these wrong than there are to do them right – as was evidenced my difficulty in finding good videos online. My intention was to film myself or Ben doing some of these exercises, but I’m not much of a “camera in the gym” kind of girl.
Still, I hope this little insight into my training these days has been useful. I’m certainly enjoying playing around whilst I wait to go back to grappling, and I am definitely getting back to where I was a few months ago, before I started neglecting my strength and conditioning.
I’d love to hear how other people pick exercises to do, and what other exercises people are enjoying at the moment, so leave me a comment and let me know!