20 Questions for Randy Hetrick: The Brain Behind TRX Bandit™
More than 20 years ago, TRX® founder Randy Hetrick created the TRX Suspension Trainer™ out of necessity: he needed to maintain a pro-athlete level of fitness while deployed in remote locations around the world as a Navy SEAL. Randy’s had a few more stealth hits since the Straps came to market—perhaps you’ve tried the TRX® Xmount or seen his S-frame in a gym—but his latest invention is another tool destined to become ubiquitous in gyms and homes around the world: TRX Bandit™.
Lightweight, compact, and affordable, Bandit is a universal handle that works with most continuous loop Strength Bands. The most common complaint about strength bands is they can pinch, chafe, and tug on your skin when you work out. Bandit eliminates those issues with an easy-to-grip handle that lets you focus on your form.
“I really think now the perfect pairing is a Suspension Trainer and a set of Bandits and bands, Randy said. “You really have a very broadly useful and highly variable set of tools in those. With the Suspension Trainer, you get more static strength; the Suspension Trainer really is a proxy for heavy lifting. With the Bandit and the bands, you've got the opportunity to add speed and create power. It's dynamic resistance versus static resistance. When you put the two together, it's an incredibly versatile pairing.”
Resistance band training also presents challenges beyond what you might encounter with traditional weights. The reason? Bands are unstable; they don’t have the counterforce of a dumbbell or kettlebell.
“As you project force, there's a moment with a kettlebell where it's weightless at the top; that never happens with a band. It's always trying to retract, which means you have to recruit stability through your muscles,” Randy explained. “That's great stuff because it builds stabilizers in your joints, your shoulders, elbows, and wrists.“
We sat down with Randy to learn more about the inspiration behind the Bandit, his favorite moves with his newest training tool, and how he incorporates on-the-go TRX gear in his own routine.
TRX: Describe yourself in five words or less.
Randy: “Solver of problems.” That's how I approach product development.
TRX: Same question: different topic: using five words or less, how would you describe Bandit?
Randy: Solution to a common problem.
TRX: This is going to be a great debate in the vein of “Gap” or “The Gap”: Is it “Bandit” or “The Bandit”?
Randy: I like to call it the Bandit. And if he has his friend, the Bandits.
TRX: Bandit is a universal handle for Strength Bands. Why is that necessary?
Randy: We designed [Bandit] so that it could accommodate most of the bands and tubes that one would use bilaterally. Bands, traditionally, were not great on your bare hand. You had to come up with some way to solve that problem. The common way to do it was that people added a handle—a permanent handle—to a piece of tubing. But the challenge is it might not be in the right place; it might not actually be the right solution. I came up with what we think is a more elegant solution.
TRX: How did you come up with the idea for Bandit?
Randy: [TRX] had these [strength bands] in the line and we'd been selling them for a few years. At some point I started asking myself, “How come I don't use them?” I was going on a month-long whistle-stop tour for TRX, so I made the decision: I'm gonna figure out bands. I'm going to force myself to do this.
A couple of things that immediately struck me were that, one, I really didn't like the interface with my skin: the heavier the band you use, the worse it is. You end up doing funky things to mitigate that unpleasantness. And then, particularly with the heavy bands, I also realized that they never load evenly across your palm. It's just not a great experience.
At one of my stops on the whistle-stop tour, I had a flash of inspiration: What if I got some washcloths around these bands? So I did. Well, it was 50% better, except they still weren’t structured.
When I got home from that trip, I came back with this idea that I could put some sort of a sheath on to cover the band.
TRX: How did you actually create the prototype?
Randy: I have this garage that's a product design dungeon, and it's got pretty much every tool that you could ever need. I went out, took some old PVC pipe that I have, took out a router to make a groove down the center of it, and sanded it down as best I could to make sure that it wouldn't cut the band.
The first time I did this, I had too big a gap, so then I repeated it with a smaller groove, and suddenly had something that was pretty darn cool. It made a 100% better experience, but it was obviously not an elegantly finished solution. Then I went to my partner in crime, Mauritzio, who helps me bring these ideas to life, and we started working on a design that was aesthetically and functionally optimized.
TRX: When was the first Bandit prototype made?
Randy: We had it developed by the middle of 2019. It was obviously a very weird year in 2020, and it was a difficult year to try to bring a new product to market. And you have to test stuff before you sell it to your customers.
The Bandit really got some optimization during that delay. In the end, it was just as well that we had more time to test and evaluate and get it out to the Gunnar Petersons and Harley Pasternaks and Eric Cresseys of the world, and let them kick the tires on it.
TRX: The Suspension Trainer has been through multiple reinventions since your original version made from a jiu jitsu belt. How many Bandit versions did you test before you were satisfied with the design?
Randy: From start to finish, there were probably close to a dozen revisions on that product, which probably sounds funny to someone who hasn't brought a product to market. But you make the tiniest little change in one area and often it affects another area, so then you have to go back and rejigger it.
TRX: Bandit just launched officially, but there are secret testers who have been sharing their thoughts on the product for a while. What has the feedback been like?
Randy: It's been great. Very quickly, I got it out to some really experienced people, like Kira Stokes and Kaisa Keranen. I got it out to a fair mix of experts and gave them a chance to play with it. [Kira] was back immediately saying, when can I post on this?
The feedback's been really good. I always love it when somebody goes, “It's unbelievable that nobody's brought this to market.” That's what they said about the Suspension Trainer. To me it's a sign that we're focused on the right things. When a solution seems obvious in retrospect, you know you've hit the mark.
TRX: What are your favorite strength band exercises with Bandit?
Randy: There's so many that I love.
My desert island move, if you will—I call it the Shotput. It's technically a rotating, overhead raised press. The reason I call it a shot put is I like to load it. Standing on my right foot, [the Bandit is] loaded in my right hand. As I rotate away, it looks just like a shotput—like you're throwing a shotput. At full extension, it's a lot of weight.
It's super easy to throw [a Strength Band] over a doorknob. All the chops and the rotations that you would want to do with a cable pulling machine, you can do with the Bandit. Then just the good old, tried and true, everybody-does-them bicep curls, overhead tricep extensions, presses, and rows are so easy with the Bandit. It really is like traveling around with a rack of dumbbells in your suitcase.
TRX: Are there any strength band exercises you formerly avoided, but now love with the Bandit?
Randy: A lot of raises, like lateral raises you would with dumbbells. I just never liked them when I had to grab the band. With the Bandit, they're really comfortable. Overhead presses, I never really loved because the band would end up down in the crook of my thumb. With the Bandit, you can load it evenly, set your wrist—all the stuff that you would do with a kettlebell or a dumbbell.
TRX: TRX Training Club is already streaming a series of Bandit setup and workout videos. Can we expect more Bandit workouts in the future?
Randy: For sure. The Training Club is great as a product developer because we've got this broad host of trainers. There's some pure Bandit stuff that we've already loaded up, but I think what you'll see is Bandit integration into every workout that we're putting together on the Training Club as people purchase it.
TRX: Which TRX Training Club pro is the best Bandit instructor?
Randy: Gosh, I don't know yet. I think the best at the moment is Stephanie Warwick because Steph has been partnered with me and the training group on building this out. But good old Nico is always at the top of my list, and Jay. I'll go with Steph right now, because she was on the project, but the brothers will be up to speed very soon.
TRX: Will we ever see you leading class on TRX Training Club?
Randy: Maybe there might be a trot-out-the-old-guy workout. Who knows? But, at this point, I enjoy tuning in with everybody else and getting trained by our amazing group of coaches.
TRX: Many TRX tools—the Suspension Trainer, RIP Trainer, bands, Bandit—are designed for workouts on the go. Why is that important?
Randy: The genesis of the company was my SEAL career. When I first got the inspiration to create a Suspension Trainer, it had solved a real problem. I had been in the SEAL teams traveling around. When we would deploy abroad, we had no tools to train with. It remains a constant inspiration. If we have something that's great to use in the gym, but that you can also take with you on the road, then that means that it's good for both our gym partners and our trainers and coaches, and it's also good for the consumer. We try to design things at TRX that serve both of those populations.
TRX: Do you prefer training indoors or outdoors?
TRX: How often do you pack workout gear when you travel?
TRX: Pop quiz: You’re traveling to an unknown destination for two weeks, and all you can bring is a carry-on. What do you pack?
TRX: In a time when so many fitness products are about digital interactivity and user data, TRX continues to focus on simple, effective design that doesn't require a power source. Why do you think TRX products resonate with customers?
Randy: We always have debates internally about putting sensors into our stuff. Obviously, the metric measurement obsession that some customers have is interesting to us. But when you contemplate that, you have to look at what's a fair price to charge. We really try to err toward the side of more value and higher utility, relative to other more expensive alternatives.
We see a lot of opportunities with simple tools that don't cost people an arm and a leg, but that they can use for years and years, and get tons of benefit. We think there's always going to be a market for those kinds of products.
TRX: Gaze ahead ten years in your crystal ball: What does the future of fitness look like?
Randy: I think there's going to be this mix of places and ways that people consume fitness that will be much better than ever before. There's plenty of room for gyms, for boutiques, for digital. The more fitness, the better, frankly, because pre-pandemic, not even 20% of the [U.S. population] belonged to a gym. I think the stats are roughly the same in Europe, as well. The future for fitness is really bright, and I think that it's going to be more convenient than it ever was in the past.