As a coach and athlete visiting from another fitness planet, Planet Maximum Muscle, Power and Strength, when visiting TRX world, I made it a point to study the techniques and tactics that have made TRX the undisputed success it is.
I was fortunate to have TRX Head of Human Performance Chris Frankel forward to me a suitcase full of TRX videos that ran the instructional gamut from general fitness to specific sport specialization. The tactics used in each video had an admirable thematic training consistency: more philosophic and structural commonalities, video to video, sport to sport, then distinctions and “particularities.”
Vladimir Nabokov once observed that “Artists are concerned with distinctions and particularities; unlike scientists who search for commonalities that can be developed into thermos and laws.”
TRX Training commonalities create a cathedral of structural similarity. When viewing the TRX instructional videos en masse, there emerges a distinct training theme. Protocols are identifiable and similar and linked philosophically and practically. These themes appear and reappear, video to video, regardless the sport, theme or audience.
It occurred to me that TRX could be used in an outside-the-box way. These same potentialities I pondered were being pondered by my TRX partner-in-crime, Dr. Mike Davis. It occurred to Mike and me in about the same time that there may exist a parallel universe of procedural protocols and possibilities for an existing fitness tool: the TRX Suspension Trainer. This struck us both as fascinating. We could chart in uncharted territories, explore unexplored avenues of physical possibilities.
Interestingly, Mike had come to the same hypothesis, completely independent of my own musings. Could the TRX device become a “hardcore” resistance training tool? Mike had been using his TRX in unorthodox ways for a long, long time. With my complete encouragement, Mike has woven TRX into the fabric of what we have dubbed “long-chain, non-conflicting, high-intensity resistance training exercises strung together back-to-back and done in non-stop fashion.” Or, in our lingo, hardcore resistance training exercises done Mega Giant Set fashion.
It occurred to me while watching the individual TRX videos that the ever-present coach (there is always a coach present in every TRX video) could do more than direct and exhort. The TRX “hardcore” video coach I visualized in my mind’s eye would step in and administer some hypertrophy-inducing partner-assisted, increased-payload reps. He would add some odd, outside-the-box training tactics specifically designed to build low-end torque, power and strength. The hardcore coach could provide “reverse forced-reps” to the TRX trainee; the hardcore coach could direct the protocol, pace and procedures of the hardcore workout. The hardcore coach could provide additional resistance in specific amounts at specific times in specific exercises to barely achieve specific reps.
One quick example: how about exerting downward pressure via the coaches hands on the loaded shoulder of the athlete coming erect during a one-legged pistol squat? Talk about excruciating and excruciatingly effective. In our hardcore world, we prefer to make our resistance exercises as hard as possible. It seems as though the rest of the world seeks to make resistance training easier – is this not an irresolvable contradictions in terms? Easy resistance? How could that possibly trigger any type of hypertrophy?
One way to make any exercise harder is to utilize an extended or exaggerated range-of-motion. Short rep strokes yield partial results; full rep strokes yield maximum results, on account of maximum muscle fiber stimulation. Most basic TRX exercises can easily be “payload-compounded” and paired with “intensity-amping” techniques and tactics. Plus, we have various coach-resisted and coach-assisted pushes and pulls along with some weighted vest work and “compromised leverage isolation drills.”
The TRX hardcore resistance coach purposefully impedes or hinders the athlete as he seeks to complete the assigned reps for the proscribed number of sets in any given exercise. The coach can also assist the athlete and help the athlete to complete more reps then he would or could on his own. The hardcore coaches job is to be able to add or subtract enough additional resistance so as to make the final reps at the end of each and every low rep set (3 to 10 rep sets) excruciating and barely completed. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between “excruciating” and “barely completed” and tangible progress.
Barely finishing, struggling with the last of the assigned reps while working in the low end of the rep possibilities is the secret to gaining absolute strength. Barely completed low rep sets are where the muscle and power gains lie. Acquiring significant amounts of pure power (always handy in athletic situations) is best achieved using a steady diet of ultra-basic exercises and an armada of intensity amplifying tactics – including full range of motion exercises, long pauses, various overloads, self-administered and partner-administered forced reps, drop sets, negatives, assisted reps – tactics designed to push past capacity.
Be mindful that capacity is different on different days. The goal is to trip the hypertrophy switch, and this occurs when the body is stressed past capacity. what is 100% capacity on a bad day might only be 78% of capacity on a good day. Exceed capacity on a bad day and you still trigger hypertrophy. Come up short of capacity on a good day, and waste an opportunity.
There exists an exclusionary mindset (as opposed to a “Big Tent” inclusionary mindset) amongst strength intelligentsia on one particularly contentious topic: “What is strength? How do we define it?” Strength, we contend, should be sub-divided into two distinct types or categories:
Absolute strength: exemplified by the ability to pick up maximum poundage once
Sustained strength: exemplified by lifting light or moderate poundage endless reps
My old Zen power lifting coach would prod us, “Is it better to lift 40 pounds 100 times? 100 pounds 40 times? Or 400 pounds one time?”
In Iron Budo, sport Zen, the sound of one hand clapping is a face slap.
“The correct answer is – It is best to master all three!”
Nowadays, strength coaches tend to champion either absolute strength or sustained strength. Optimally, each needs to be practiced, in tandem, stable-mates for eternity.
“Not one! Not the other! Both!” The Zen Budo Master led by example: one of his deadlift assistance exercises was to wear a 50 pound weighted vest and do 50 reps in slow-motion “mini-wheel” roll outs. These were done on his knees using one of those dinky little exercise wheels with handles on either side; he would roll out, gently touch his nose, then roll back up, using concentrated, pristine technique, this weighing 265. The vest roll-outs were done after 12 sets of maximum weight deadlifts and power cleans up to 275 x 5 thrown in for desert. The Iron Budo Master felt the roll-outs helped coordinate and link torso muscles from neck to crotch: his 800 pound deadlift was proof positive that he was onto something.
We want the ever-present TRX video coach to periodically morph into a TRX hardcore resistance training coach and offer up some “hands-on” tactical assistance designed to drive those TRX reps downward! The key to shifting TRX from a sustained-strength-building machine to an absolute-strength-building machine is simple: find ways in which to make an exercise difficult, if not impossible, to perform past 10 reps. Sets barely made in the 1-10 rep range have been empirically proven as optimal for creating maximum athletic power, maximum absolute strength and maximum muscle size. As Iron Immortal Bill Pearl would say, “Does the muscle really care what mode is used to stress it past capacity? The important thing is to successfully stress the muscle past capacity – the mode is of secondary importance.”
We seek to open to the TRX user an entire new universe of exercise and improvement possibilities. We will expand the arsenal of the implement. Through the use of partner-assisted forced reps, weighted vest usage and other intensity-amping techniques, we take an incomparable sustained-strength-inducing device and convert it into a hardcore, muscle-building absolute strength-building device.