When the fitness directors from four YMCA branches struggle through a workout routine, you know it's pretty intense. That was the case when the directors got together at the Andover Y branch last month to be introduced to TRX Suspension Training. As Ben Hopkins, a chiseled trainer from California, led them through a series of exercises, the fitness directors — all in good physical shape themselves — strained, grunted, sweated and joked about the difficulty.
"You can tell your core's involved, for sure," Casey Garten, fitness director at the East Y, said afterward. "It's tough."
The YMCA is hoping its members will embrace the challenges of TRX, which it's in the process of rolling out at its eight branches.
Genesis Health Clubs — the Wichita area's second-biggest provider of exercise facilities — is also pitching TRX to its members, which would seem to indicate that suspension training has made believers out of local fitness gurus.
Preston Petersen, corporate personal training director for Genesis, noted that the concept of suspension training isn't new. He's used versions of it for 10 years at Genesis. But regarding TRX, which is trademarked by a San Francisco company, he said, "They've done a very good job of perfecting the device itself as far as making it versatile and adjustable and making sure everything is safe."
The simple device, as Petersen referred to it, consists of two adjustable nylon straps with handles that are hung from an overhead bar. Participants perform each exercise with either their hands or feet through the handles, which generally increases the difficulty. For instance, doing a push-up with your feet suspended through the handles requires you to work your leg, rear, core and back muscles as well as your chest.
"Everything from your fingertips to your feet is engaging at some capacity," Petersen said.
He contrasted that with traditional weight-lifting, in which the goal is usually to isolate and work one muscle or muscle group at a time. Working multiple muscles can help people get a complete workout in less time, Petersen said.
Hundreds of exercises have been devised or adapted for the TRX straps. Most use only the participant's body weight and gravity, although some utilize light dumbbells or other equipment.
25-30 exercises per session
TRX has an interesting history. It was invented by a Navy Seal, Randy Hetrick, as a portable exercise device that members of the military could use almost anywhere. Endorsements have come from people like Drew Brees, who led the New Orleans Saints to last year's NFL championship. Since production started in 2005, the device has mostly been sold to individuals along with a video instruction guide, but it's now making its way into health clubs.
The Y and Genesis are offering TRX to members through personal trainers working with one to four people at a time, with sessions for larger groups envisioned in the future.
Participants might run through 20 to 25 exercises during a session, at a pace quick enough to provide an anaerobic workout. As strenuous as a TRX workout can be, Petersen and Garten emphasized that the routines can be adjusted for people who are just starting an exercise program as well. For example, performing a pull-up on the straps at a 45-degree angle with your feet on the floor is easier than a traditional overheard pull-up. The TRX workout's emphasis on improving balance also makes it ideal for beginners.
"My experience with the TRX so far is it's just a very versatile machine," Garten said. "It's good for all fitness levels, whether you're an elite athlete or somebody who's just getting started."
TRX is part of a fitness industry trend toward body-weight workouts, aerobic-anaerobic combinations and "functional" exercises, the latter being defined as workouts that prepare people for real everyday situations.
During the same week that Y instructors were receiving TRX training, a California exercise expert named Patrick Goudeau was showing them new exercises to use in the Y's popular body design group classes. Those instructors, in turn, have been introducing the new moves to members.
In one move, participants swing a light dumbbell like a baseball bat; the move works the core, back, shoulder, leg and arm muscles. In another, participants hold themselves in a "plank" while performing one-arm rows with a light dumbbell, working the back, chest, shoulder and core muscles. In a third, they alternate lunges with leg kicks to work their leg muscles while raising their heartbeat.
"Body design is really a class that's designed to incorporate functional training," said Laura Gilmore, a group class instructor and personal trainer at the Y. "Athletes have been using it for years, and now we're getting to the point where we're using it in group exercise settings as well."
Explaining its usefulness in everyday life, Gilmore said, "We might need to pick up a child and balance while we reach for something else. We're training our bodies to function."
Despite their effectiveness, body design classes have not drawn nearly as many men as women, which Gilmore says is probably a holdover from the earlier era of step aerobics.
"A lot of men haven't really experienced it," she said. "We just need to get them educated that the body design class we offer is not choreography, it truly is hard-core training. There are instructors that know how to push not just females but males as well. This is not your typical aerobics of the 1980s."
Goudeau also led members and instructors through a session he called "obstacle course" that left many gasping. It consisted of 13 stations set up around a basketball court that required a whole lot of jumping, crawling, squatting, running, pulling and balancing, with little or no rest between.
The Y is not yet offering an obstacle course class yet, but Gilmore said personal trainers will use some of Goudeau's ideas with their clients.
Genesis has been using a similar obstacle course approach in its group "Amp" class. The class appeals to people who want to maximize their workouts in an hour, Petersen said.
"It's functional training, mobility, stability, cardio and strength," he said, comparing it to a workout that might include yoga, weight-lifting and running on a treadmill, all in 55 minutes.