They Get a Lift From Their Workouts
Like Bosu balls, Bongo boards, and DynaFlex resistance bands, TRX and another similar product, Inkaflexx, are the latest novelty workout tools making their way from the gym bags of professional trainers, athletes, military members, and celebrities to those of the merely fitness-minded, like Schaefer, a Marblehead artist and mother of two.
Suspension straps have many pluses: They take up little room; don't cost a bundle ($150); and work out the entire body: arms, legs, and that Holy Grail of fitness, the core.
What's more, suspension training offers something different. With legs or hands hooked into the straps, users get to channel their favorite Cirque du Soleil acrobats. Inka classes, offered at Equinox gyms in Boston, New York, Darien, Conn., and Los Angeles, pipe in Andean flute music to create an otherworldly workout atmosphere.
Suspension training first came on the scene in January 2005, when Fitness Anywhere of San Francisco introduced the TRX. Founded by Navy SEAL-turned-entrepreneur Randy Hetrick (after he initially stitched together a training harness and a few lengths of parachute webbing with boat repair tools), Fitness Anywhere has devised more than 300 TRX exercises and sells instructional videos touting core strength and military fitness.
TRX classes are offered in 5,000 clubs across the country, including Energy Fitness Gym in Newton and the Jewish Community Center in Stoughton. Its trademark straps are currently being used by the almost all professional sports leagues and the NCAA, as well as by every branch of the US military, the company says.
Whether it's due to its novelty, versatility, or affordability, suspension training is on the rise. Kathie Davis, executive director of trade group IDEA Health & Fitness Association, and host of an annual convention for 5,000 fitness professionals held last week in Las Vegas, noted that all of its TRX classes sold out in advance.
Proponents of both systems say that when properly set up and executed, suspension training can help prevent injuries and be used for injury rehab and physical therapy.
Whereas traditional weight training typically works one muscle at a time and can lead to overuse injury, suspension training allows for multiple planes of motion and works multiple muscles and joints simultaneously. The result is a workout that improves both so-called functional and core strength - and a body less likely to become injured.
After six months of attending weekly TRX classes at Select Fitness Wellness Center in Marblehead, birthday girl Cathy Schaefer thought it would be handy to have the system in her home. "I like it because it's slower-paced, and yet you get an amazing workout. Instead of just jumping around a lot, you're really targeting areas and isolating muscle groups," she says. Designed to be attached to everything from door jams to tree limbs, the TRX resides comfortably in her home-based art studio, slung over a rafter.
Since its arrival, both Schaefer's husband and son have become fans. "It's made me more fit and faster," notes Alec Schaefer, 11, a soccer devotee. "On the field, I am able to push people off harder," he says. "I like the fact that it only uses his own body weight for resistance, since I've often heard that it's not advisable for kids to lift weights," adds his mom.
Marti Shea, 44, president and owner of Select Fitness, was immediately attracted to TRX's "fitness anywhere" capabilities, its ease of use, and the fun factor. "Kids love it and make up new exercises like the crab walk on your back into a suspending rowing position," she says.
The gym offers several TRX classes for adults and children throughout the year. By hanging 10 sets of straps from 15-foot-high metal ceiling trusses, Shea and her staffers convert a sunny, bamboo-floor yoga studio into a TRX sport-specific training center within minutes.
Shea also encourages her trainers to play around with TRX and tailor it to the needs of their individual clients. Trainer Chris Collins has a 77-year-old client with ankle and knee issues hold onto the TRX straps while doing squats. Intern Tim Starwood is developing a routine for a stroke patient who has balance issues since he only has the use of one side of his body.
Amy Annese, 32, enjoys the novelty TRX brings to her workout regime. She questions whether it's for everyone, though. "If you're a couch potato, wanting to exercise," she cautions, "it's probably not for you."