The biggest thing I ever learnt was that a muscle doesn’t know if you’re holding a dumbbell or a TRX handle. All it knows is the tension you can place upon through a range of motion.
Lockdown exploded this topic. I began to receive a lot of questions asking “is it possible to build muscle with a TRX?” In my opinion and experience, yes! It’s absolutely possible to build muscle with a TRX.
Now of course you’d expect me to say that being the TRX Traveller. Here’s how you can build muscle with a TRX effectively…
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In this post...
A ‘wrong’ thing I see is people ‘just moving’ with a TRX
And that’s the first thing I teach people via my Programs – Don’t ‘just move’ when you’re using a TRX.
Think about the exact muscle you want to isolate and focus purely on contracting that muscle.
It’s focusing on the contraction of the muscle that causes the movement, not the movement that causes the contraction.
It’s about taking a step back and understanding a TRX is just a tool, like a dumbbell or a gym machine is a tool. It’s possible to create the same amount of tension and load on the body with gravity and a TRX.
The difference, however, is in the mindset.
With TRX training I close my eyes
I believe a large benefit of TRX training is being able to do it in your own space and in your own time.
You’re not going to have someone ask you:
“Can I use that bench?”
“Are you finished with that weight?”
These moments can be distracting and frustrating and pull us out of focus. There are times when I’m training with a TRX, that I actually close my eyes.
I’ll be working through a set and then I’ll close my eyes and go into this almost meditative state. I feel my muscle working. I can visualise and see in my minds-eye how my muscles lengthen and contract as I’m using the TRX to workout.
It feels awesome. I come away and I’m like:
“Well, I don’t know where I’ve been for the last hour, but I’ve got one hell of a pump and yeah! My mind is clear!
It’s thinking about how to isolate a muscle
I spent a lot of my 20s life living inside a gym
I really believed I had to be in one all the time to achieve any level of fitness. To just look good. I’m not a pro-athlete, I’m not a bodybuilder, I just want to feel healthier. I want to look good.
However, it turned into an unhealthy psychological reliance on gyms. I believed I had to have a gym in my life at all times and be close to one at all times. This led to a whole host of confining beliefs, such as:
“I can’t travel anywhere that doesn’t have a gym”
“I can’t be away from a gym for more than a few days”
Quite limiting thoughts, right?
It’s been 6 years now since I ever stepped foot inside a gym. And my body and mind have never been better. It wasn’t until I was in my own space, on my own time with a TRX and focused on mastering internal muscle-centric technique, that my body really transformed.
My mind too – using my body to master my mind.
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The BIG physique transforming possibilities of TRX training comes from being able to use it to actually isolate muscle areas.
I see a lot of people doing TRX Y’s, which is a great example. I say:
“Well, what are you trying to do? What are you trying to target with the TRX Y?”
“I don’t know, maybe a bit of my shoulders, a bit my back”
There’s no one specific muscle focus. It’s a shared load across multiple muscles.
I see them retracting their shoulders as they’re doing TRX Y’s. So I say to them:
“Well if you think about it, if you’re retracting your shoulder blades as you’re doing a TRX Y exercise… How do you retract your shoulder blades? You have to engage your back muscles to pull the shoulder blades back.
So how about trying to do the TRX Y exercise with your shoulders protracted, so you round your shoulders and pull them forward. What does that do?”
That takes out all the back muscles. So now when you do a TRX Y and stay in a protracted position, all the tension is placed on just the rear and middle shoulder muscle.
No shared load, which means more load on just the shoulder muscles = more muscular fatigue = more muscle breakdown = better muscle development.
That’s a way of isolating just the shoulders with that exercise. These principles and techniques apply to all TRX exercises if you want to do them to actually transform your physique.
It’s about seeing the TRX as a tool to be able to isolate muscles. Just like how you would see someone in a gym using one dumbbell and movement to target a specific muscle.
This is when it then gets into areas of real bodybuilding? Essentially sculpting the body.
Incorporating playful TRX exercise is key to results
It’s also being playful with the TRX.
It’s very easy to sit with dumbbells and decide to curl and make sure you can keep the elbows at your side.
When you’re hanging from TRX it’s a little bit more difficult to keep the arms at the sides. So, how can I isolate the bicep?
Do I pull them into my stomach?
I can’t go fully down to extend my bicep, I can maybe only go to 3/4 extension so how am I going to target the lower part of the bicep? Otherwise known as the lower end of the muscles strength curve.
Well, how about if I do a one-arm curl where I’m hanging and I go side on. Then I can really extend my bicep!
In this side on position, I can really focus on curling right up and engaging at the top and at the bottom end of the bicep. I can twist at the wrist at the top too. To hit the bicep peak.
So there are multiple ways to emulate exercise with a TRX, exactly the same way as if you were lifting dumbbells. It’s just about getting a bit creative and thinking:
“How can I effectively work this muscle through a full range of motion?”
That’s exactly what I personally do to achieve my fitness goals anywhere. And it’s what I teach in my TRX Programs – I call it, Gaining Fitness Freedom!
Why do people think you HAVE TO be in a gym to build muscle?
Over the years I studied ferociously from people like Ben Pulaski, who I think is incredible. He’s almost like a bodybuilder turned yoga teacher, the way he talks about muscles and the mind – How you can target and isolate muscles with intention.
Elisia Gowans is another fantastic female bodybuilder who’s incredibly skilled. I see and absorb what they have to say with what they do in the gym.
I think to myself:
“How now can I apply those principles to work with a TRX?”
Why does it have to be only in a gym with weights that you can increase muscle size and bodybuild?
The TRX is just the tool, it’s all about the intention, the thought and making the connection that stimulates the growth.
That was when everything changed for me
When you’re on a beach in Mexico or in the middle of a mountain range in Patagonia. You realise:
I haven’t got any weights that I can just add to a squat bar.
So what do I do?
Well, I have to really focus on feeling the muscle contract. I have to really focus on feeling the muscle work. And that’s what changed for me, it made me take a step back and I really internalised myself.
When I was using the TRX I really studied my individual biomechanics when I used the TRX. I looked at how I could position myself to isolate and contract individual muscles powerfully.
How I could place them under different tension with different angles.
Compared to when I was in a gym
In a gym my focus was:
I want to lift that heavyweight because I want to look good. That ‘bro style’ lifting.
My only rational thought of progression was to add more weight.
I got so distracted by the people in the gym as well…
There’s always a bigger fish, there’s always a better-looking fish, and there’s always a stronger fish.
It wasn’t until I was in my own space doing my own TRX thing away from the gym vibe, that my physique and mindset changed.
Because my focus didn’t drift. It became solely on me. It became internalised on one thought for an extended period of time. It became meditation.
The biggest benefit is that TRX training is meditation
An additional benefit of building muscle with a TRX, is the meditative state you can train yourself to be in.
It’s possible. In your own space, in your own time and with internal focus. Your mind desn’t stray to anything else other than your body.
Or if it does, you can practice bringing it back. Placing the mind inside the muscle.
And it feels amazing!
Arnie would talk about mindful muscle connection, its internal feeling. But what you don’t actually hear him talk about is that when he was in the gyms, they were dead, they were really quiet.
The only guys that really went into the gyms were proper bodybuilders. It was their era that exploded it and everyone started going into gyms.
Everyone started to try and bodybuild so it got much harder to internally focus, to almost meditate.
Frank Zane talks so much about meditation and being in his own space in his own zone. He was in his own frame of mind when he was working out.
I think he spent two hours doing side to side crunches on a chair once, in the gym.
You can see he’s just in this zone, but you look at the space in the gym! There are two people there and they’re professionals and in their own zone too.
You try and do two hours of crunches in the gym now and someone’s going to kick you straight off a bench after five minutes!
So there is this huge benefit to TRX training, in my opinion, a huge benefit of being able to exercise in your own space, your own time and when you want.
It’s just the same as when you study in my opinion. if you’re studying you need quietness as you need to focus. The same can be said for building healthy, lean and functional muscle.
You need to focus your mindseye on how the muscle feels when it contracts.
The constant variation with TRX training that leads to results
I have love the creativity you can get with the TRX workouts.
Because it’s just endless:
- The slight intensity variation from moving your feet, which elicits a different angle of movement on the muscle
- Combine that with different strap lengths to target different strength curves of the muscle. And you’ve got a mass of variation.
So you’re constantly incorporating a tiny difference of intensity on the muscle. Constantly keeping it challenged and varied.
Body sculpting with a TRX by targeting weak points
I’ve been training with a TRX all over the world as I write this (2020). At least it could be argued that I’vemanageed to maintain my muscle.
However, I Personally think I’ve added muscle because I can see differences in my physique.
This is mainly because I’ve got to a stage now where I work on programs that look at weak points on people and how to bring up those tweaks points with TRX suspension training.
I approach my TRX suspension training and Program development with a bodybuilding style.
Where are my weak points?
Right, how can I use a TRX to target just that specific muscle area weak point?
Just that outer quad…
..Or how can I target just the bicep peak. The upper end of the strength curve on the bicep.
I love dissecting the body and looking at ways to enhance it with TRX suspension training.
In conclusion, can you build muscle with a TRX?
Yes! I hope my passionate ramble has persuaded you?
Again, I’m not a bodybuilder and by no means a stage athlete or anything like that.
I just have a huge passion for being able to exercise and achieve my own fitness goals anywhere.
And I have a huge passion in helping other people experience that as well. To have the eye-opener that I did.
I honestly believe TRX training is life-changing
I was so anchored to a gym before I discovered the TRX and now I’m barely anchored to anywhere.
I live out of a backpack when I can. But that might change soon and maybe I’ll settle a bit more here in London. It’s such a fantastic city.
But wherever I am, one thing will never change – I will never go back to a gym again and I will always just use TRX suspension training to achieve my fitness goals. I call it Fitness Freedom!
If you’ve got any comments or debates? I’d love to debate this more and discuss it more so please leave some comments below.
If you want to know more about me? And how passionate I am about TRX training and helping people achieve their fitness goals with my TRX Programs (I also have reistance band workout programs too) – you can learn more here.
Adam, TRX Traveller
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