TRX vs. weightlifting: which is better?
I came here to the American College of Sports Medicine’s Annual meeting hoping to get answers to such questions. This is the premiere wonkfest for exercise experts, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Researchers here presented the only head-to-head comparison I have been able to find of the two approaches. The results? Each approach seems to have its advantages, and neither one is clearly superior.
TRX Suspension Training
For some years now, suspension training — a system of ropes allowing users to lift their body weight in various configurations — has become increasingly popular. TRX is probably the best-known and most widely marketed version of suspension training.
Also read: TRX vs. traditional bodyweight exercises
(Strictly speaking, it is a form of weightlifting, since you lift your body weight. But for the purposes of this article I’m using “weightlifting” to mean pumping iron.)
In theory TRX might be more effective for preventing sports injuries than lifting weights on machines because it is more “functional;” it exercises groups of muscles rather than isolating individual ones.
So researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin wanted to compare TRX vs. weightlifting (what they’d called “traditional resistance training.”)
For their purposes, traditional resistance training meant bench presses, back squat, lunges, YTW benches, single leg/stiff leg dead lift, triceps extension, plank pose, hamstring curl, and isometric side hold.
The TRX exercises were suspension versions of the chest press, lunge, two-arm row, squat, YTW, single leg/stiff leg dead lift, triceps extension, hamstring curl, front plank and isometric side hold with pallof press.
Here’s an example of YTW traditional weight lifting from Primal Conquest.
Here’s an example of YTW done on TRX straps by Mainwayfitness
The TRX vs. Weightlifting Face Off
The researchers began by taking various measurements of the bodies of 54 adults. Then they asked these volunteers to lift the maximum weight they could for five repetitions on a bench press, five repetitions in a squat and so on to measure the strength of various muscle groups.
Next they randomly assigned half the volunteers to do TRX workouts and half to do traditional resistance training for seven weeks. They compared the difference between younger folks, (19 to 25 years old) and older folks (44 to 65 years old). And finally they performed the same measurements again to see if one group got bigger changes in strength than the other.
They answer depended on which body part they looked at, and the age of the participants. Here are some examples:
Percent Improvement in Strength
|Lower Body||Abdominal Flexor||Back Extensor||Side Bridge Left||Side Bridge Right|
|Younger Adults: TRX||13.1||80.5||31.1||6.1||15.1|
|Younger Adults: Traditional Weightlifting||26.5||52.9||9.4||26.1||15.6|
|Older Adults: TRX||29.3||13.6||66.1||32.2||16.4|
|Older Adults: Traditional Weightlifing||27.5||-2.3||61.7||20.4||20.9|
Overall, the TRX group did better by a few more of the strength measures than the traditional resistance training group.
You have to take these results with a grain of salt, though. First, there’s no such things as one “traditional” resistance training program. Everyone does different things in a weight room. Changing the number of reps in one program or the other might shift the results.
Then of course you have to bear in mind the caveats that always apply: this is only one study, and a fairly small one, so it’s not definitive.
But I’m inclined to agree with the researchers who wrote that TRX “could prove useful to individuals looking for more training options to gain both core endurance and muscular strength simultaneously and [enhance] the diversity of exercise choices.”
Diversity is important in overcoming boredom, which is one of the biggest reasons people give up their exercise regimens. If hanging from straps helps with that, I’m all for it.
Featured photo: “TRX” by USAG Livorno PAO
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