You don’t have to look far to find someone willing to debate the effectiveness of suspension training systems such as TRX versus traditional weight training.
The fitness field is full of strong opinions and case studies that lead many consumers on a winding road of competing views, with no resolved argument. And while more research is being done on the topic, it has proven difficult to encapsulate the entire idea of “weight training” and “suspension training” in small control groups doing specific exercises.
Put simply, these two modes of training are too complex and varied to say which is the overall winner.
One thing fitness professionals will agree on, however, is that everybody responds differently to exercise programs and fitness routines. What works marvelously for one person might fail miserably for another.
Finding the appropriate program for you right now comes down to your lifestyle, your priorities and your access to equipment.
In this article, we compare suspension training systems such as the popular TRX system with traditional weight training within the constraints of a few manageable and relatable priorities.
TRX along with other suspension trainer systems focus on functional strength, meaning exercises that are used in day-to-day life. This type of training is used by athletes that want to be strong in all aspects of a sport, not just in one movement or discipline. As part of functional fitness, a focus is put on flexibility, balance and endurance as well as strength. The results of muscle growth and maintenance using functional fitness have been proven time and time again through varying studies of all age groups young to old.
A large part of training functional strength is focusing on flexibility and balance, which can result in injury prevention and an overall healthier lifestyle. This is where TRX and suspension trainers have the upper hand on traditional weight training, with most exercises requiring core balance and strength.
For athletes whose aim is to build and maintain specific muscles, weight training allows for isolated exercise to do just that. For bodybuilders, powerlifters or athletes in a very specific niche, weight training is often necessary to target specific muscles. Targeted muscle training is also important as people get older, as physical activity becomes more diagnosed. For those suffering from past injuries or strength related problems, weight training allows them to focus their attention on the muscles most in need.
For many of us, exercise has to come secondary to making a living, raising a family or supporting our loved ones. Understandably, time and money both become a huge factor in our decisions. For this reason, suspension training systems such as TRX have gained popularity due to their affordability and portability, saving us both time and money. Gym memberships can be expensive, as can weight training equipment to fit out a home gym.
For those who travel for work or business, maintaining any sort of exercise can be difficult. Portability of suspension trainers provides many with a mobile option of staying fit.
Staying motivated to keep working towards your goals is at the core of a successful exercise routine. When it comes to motivation, there are some pros and cons to each type of training.
Suspension Training (TRX):
With the TRX system, creativity is limitless. With hundreds of online resources to revamp your routine, and a system set up to be invigorating and motivating, it’s hard to get bored. Add to this the fact that you can take it anywhere and you have some serious motivational advantages. However, for those who use suspension training as an alternative to the gym or workout community, they could be demotivated by solitary workouts.
Many weight trainers enjoy the gym community and the accountability it provides. Workouts are sometimes (not always) longer and more specific, and there is a science to targeting each muscle. Progress can often be tracked easily through body fat measurements and muscle circumference, spurring on motivation. However, workouts are often limited to the gym as equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells and squat racks are hard to move to the park. For beginners, weight training at the gym can often be intimidating, causing them to give up.
Lifestyle & Ageing
People’s workout routines change over time, and along with them their priorities. At a young age, we may engage more heavily in strength training to keep up the aesthetics of youth. With our metabolism working in full gear, we can focus on toning and building muscle. Those of us that have gone through our “gym rat” phase understand these motivations well.
As we begin to age and our lifestyle and priorities change, we need to adjust our exercise along with them. As a parent, you may not have the time to invest in a gym membership- but you will want to be able to keep up with your kid. Functional training begins to take over as it is more conducive to limited time and varied locations. Fast-forward 20 years and you may have specific muscles that need work due to ageing and senescence, and your physio may order a series of weight training exercises to build a targeted group.
Suspension (TRX) training vs. Weight Training Verdict
We love calisthenics. We love portability, functional training and flexibility. But we also have a large amount of respect for weight training programs that target specific goals.
Research has shown us that there is no consistent difference between weight training and suspension training over time. (Study 1, Study 2). This is largely in part to the fact that individuals vary heavily in their physical and mental approach to exercise, regardless of how many controls are implemented. Factors such as age, lifestyle, genetics and motivation all play an integral role.
We recommend to discover for yourself what type of training fits your needs and don’t be frustrated when those needs change. Better yet, incorporate aspects of both suspension training and weight training into your routine to maximize benefits. If you haven’t tried the TRX system, mould it into your current routine and track the progress. You might just find the balance you have been looking for.