Anyone who’s completed the TRX Suspension Training Course—or even exercised with the straps—knows that the bedrock of our training philosophy is rooted in the following foundational movements: plank, pull, hinge, push, rotate, squat, and lunge. Those movements form the core—pun intended—of all Suspension Trainer work. And if you’ve been wondering who to credit/blame for the company’s all-about-the science approach to fitness, the man you’re looking for is Chris Frankel, TRX’s Chief Science Officer.
Frankel’s been in the movement biz for more than 30 years. He started coaching sports when he was in high school, studied exercise science in college and grad school, and even found himself coaching on the PGA Tour for two years—all because he knows a lot about how humans can and should perform.
Curious about how he came to craft the TRX training philosophy? Get the scoop from Frankel himself.
What originally sparked your interest in movement?
My first exposure to coaching—being responsible for other people's success—came from a guy named Eddie Saah, who’s kind of a Washington DC basketball and baseball coaching legend. I started to see how to organize, how to communicate with people and get them to be aware of how they're interacting with other people, interacting in space.
Fast forward to when I was teaching at the University of New Mexico: I shared an office with Dr. Virginia Wilmerding. She was a professor in the Exercise Science department, but she had a professional dance background. She really introduced me to this whole concept of how the body moves, not only from a scientific perspective, but from an evocative perspective. I came from a sports, strength and conditioning background, and then I was exposed to her point of view on it.
How did you end up on the PGA Tour?
I got introduced to this guy named Notah Begay, who was the first Native American professional golfer, when I was working at the University of New Mexico. He came into the lab to get some testing done, and he and I hit it off.
He was telling me he had these back problems, so we spent about two hours one day going through some stuff on his back. Long story short, he took me out on tour with him for about two years. For the first year, he didn't play much because he was injured. I basically watched him swing every time he swung a golf club, whether it practice, warmup, or a tournament.
Were you an avid golfer at the time?
I didn't know anything about golf. I’d never played a sober round of golf in my life, and there I was, out on the tour, having to learn the sport and having to learn how to train him from that.
That was kind of my hardcore introduction into figuring out not only how the body moves, but how to take somebody from where they are now and explain to them where we need them to be six years or six months from now, and boil that down to what they have to do in the next six minutes.
To over-simplify your job, you’re the movement guy at TRX. How did TRX grow from Randy Hetrick’s fitness-invention-of-necessity to a company fixated on movement-based training?
When I first got here in 2008, it was a strap, and everything else was, “How do we hang the strap?” Randy's vision of education and training really became what we called the triple threat. We had gear, we had education, we had programming. It fell to me to create a system to put a professional athlete, a senior citizen, a deconditioned person, or someone coping with an injury in the same room, where they could all train together and everyone could feel challenged.
We weren't the first ones to come up with this concept called foundational movements, but we've gotten so granular in using it as a teaching approach. Everybody can squat, but not everybody's squat looks the same. By being able to hold onto the straps, people have what we call these ‘aha’ moments; their bodies start to learn how to move.
Why choose movement as your starting point instead of strength or endurance?
There's an assumption in fitness that people can move well, and that's typically a bad assumption. This whole idea of movement as the foundation of all the other components—cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, and flexibility—is how we've landed on this TRX training philosophy. It made sense from an academic and a coaching background, and from a teaching perspective.
When I was at the University, we used to say, give me the strongest guy or the biggest football player— they’re probably going to have a flexibility or movement issue. Give me the most supple yoga practitioner and they may have a strength component missing in there. There's room for movement training in everybody's program.
You design the professional education classes that train coaches in how to train clients. What’s the benefit of starting with movement?
There are people who come to us because they want to learn how to use the straps, but hadn't thought about a system. They're like, “This is just going to make my life so much easier because now I don't have to remember 400 exercises. I just have to remember these basic foundational movements, what should be stable, and what should be mobile. And the straps let me get people to experience what right looks like and what right.”
You’ve been coaching and training coaches for 30 years now. What’s the secret to being a good coach?
At the end of the day, people come back for their next workout not because of the science, not because of the programming, but because of the experience and how you make them feel. If you’re missing one of those elements, you don't deliver at the highest level. Our goal is to work with people who have that passion, have that motivation, have that personality, and try and provide them with as much of the nuts and bolts for doing a good job training.