If you’ve been to any decently equipped gyms in the past five years or so, it’s likely that you’ve seen those infamous black and yellow straps hanging from a high bar or a wall attachment. Those straps have quickly become one of the most widely used pieces of equipment on the market, and for good reason!
What I’m referring to is the “TRX Suspension Trainer.” Maybe you’ve seen and/or used one before, but if not it’s a pretty simple concept. Suspension training in general can be a great tool for developing well rounded athletes, and it just so happens that the TRX is probably the best product out there for it. However, keep it in mind that there are several other suspension trainers on the market that will work just as well for the exercises I’m about to outline here. I’ll admit that I’m totally biased toward the TRX specifically because it’s durable as heck and nearly effortless to adjust. It’s also easy to modify movements in order to make them appropriate for many different levels of fitness.
As with all other accessories in strength training, it’s important to remember that the TRX and other related products are simply just another tool for your toolbox. There are situations when it will be advantageous to use a suspension trainer and situations where it may not be necessary or effective. For me and my clients, I think pulling movements tend to work especially well with a suspension trainer and therefore I program them pretty frequently.
What I like most is that the straps allow the wrists to rotate freely from pronation (think overhead grip) to supination (think underhand grip). Although this is a subtle detail for pulling exercises, allowing the wrists to move freely just tends to feel better on the elbows and shoulders. Based off of feedback from my clients, that free rotation also helps people locate where they want to be feeling the tension from the exercise. In general, it’s not easy for beginners to get the mid-upper back and lats involved during both horizontal and pulling movements, but allowing rotation from the wrists seems to emphasize pulling through the back.
If you have trouble feeling your back muscles or tend to ONLY feel pulling movements in the biceps and forearms, this may be perfect for you!
Generally a good place to start if you’ve never used these straps before. Try to find a resistance that’s going to give you a relatively moderate challenge for about 10 to 15 repetitions. In the video I demonstrate a few reps at a steeper incline (more inverted position = more resistance) and then a few reps from a more vertical starting position.
TRX Assisted Pull-up
Similar to the standard TRX row, only we’re aiming to make this one more of a vertical pull. You want the straps to be hanging straight down, and you want to use your legs only just enough the make the exercise challenging but doable. I generally use sets of 8 with my clients and cue them to “pull the chest to the sky.”
TRX Single-Arm Row
This one is actually more of an anti-rotational core exercises than it is a horizontal pull, but you should still be getting some good lat activation out of it. Most importantly, don’t let that opposite shoulder drop! You must fight to keep your shoulders and belly button squared straight ahead throughout the full range of motion while maintaining good control. If you do it well, this should be challenging no matter how advanced your level of fitness may be.
TRX Decline Inverted Row
A simple progression from standard TRX inverted rows would be to elevate your feet thereby forcing you to lift more of your own body weight. The higher you elevate your feet, the more resistance you’ll need to pull against. In this case, I’m using a plyo box that actually raises my feet above my shoulders, making this a “decline” inverted row. My form here isn’t amazing either as I’d actually prefer to see the hips a little bit more extended, but it’s not that big of a deal.
TRX Wide Grip Pull-up
LOVE this variation. Definitely advanced, but if you can perform it well I think you’ll really like how hard it targets the lats and rear delts.
TRX L-Sit Pull-up
If you’re really hungry for a challenge, throw your legs out in front and hold em’ there. Need more?? Throw a 20 pound chain around your neck for even more fun 🙂
One more point: This is NOT an all-inclusive list!
There are dozens and dozens of pulling variations you can do with a TRX, but this is a pretty good handful to keep you satisfied for awhile. The standard TRX row and TRX assisted pull-up are exercises that I frequently go back to and use with my clients because they’re easy to modify and easy to perform well. Above all, I think you’ll appreciate these movements for their “joint friendliness” and simplicity.
And finally, don’t forget about all the other amazing pulls out there. I still love all types of cable rows/pulldowns as well as dumbbell, barbell, and landmine pulling variations. There is a time and place for all of those exercises, but in my experience, TRX pulls feel good, look good, and are easy to perform well by a broad variety of people. Take some time to experiment with these variations and I think you’ll probably agree!