From left, Paula Cracraft, Paula Brookins and Ann Kennedy use TRX suspension straps at Verve Pilates & Movement Studio in Medford. - Bob Pennell photo

All core, all the time

The latest fitness craze to hit the Rogue Valley was developed by Navy SEALs. Out of their need to stay fit while holed up on missions without access to a gym, TRX Suspension Training was born.

The beauty of TRX lies in its simplicity. At its core, TRX is simply a set of straps and handles hung from a hook, beam or even a tree branch. You suspend yourself from the straps and use your body's own weight to strengthen and tone your muscles while giving yourself a cardiovascular workout.

“The main thing we work on is core — the entire time we're doing it,” says Sergio Mendoza, TRX instructor at Rogue Valley Family YMCA. “Your core is activated, which is something that's missing when you're doing body-specific exercises. The TRX mantra is ‘all core, all the time.' ”

Mendoza taught TRX near San Francisco before coming to the Rogue Valley. He has adjusted the workouts to suit the needs of a variety of athletes.

Among the athletes he's trained are people who do mixed martial arts, strengthening their cores and developing their overall musculature so one muscle group isn't stronger than another. And he works with snowboarders and skiers who want to develop leg strength.
“The single-leg, pistol squats we do are great. We could add jumps to it to simulate going downhill — it's infinitely adjustable,” explains Mendoza.

The suspended body weight is what leads to such an intense core workout. With the standard, “four on the floor” push-up, the shoulders do most of the work because the four limbs rest on a stable surface. Feet are elevated in straps during a TRX push-up. The core must provide the stability and balance before the shoulders can do their work. This principle extends to all TRX exercises.

On a Tuesday evening in January, pairs of students take turns performing 30-second exercises, placing either hands or feet in the handles at the ends of the straps. The first exercise is the "biceps curl," where the student holds a handle in each hand and leans forward, allowing the arms to spread to the side, like an Olympic gymnast on the rings.

On the difficult end, is the "reverse curl-up." Feet in handles, assuming push-up positions, students pull their knees toward the chest. This is a core-cruncher and elicits many groans. At the end of the hour-long workout, many first-timers are surprised.

"My heart rate felt good, I sweated, my body was burning. I got a great workout," says Medford resident Carl Moore. "It shows you strength you didn't even know you had because you're using every muscle in the body."

For a runner, this proved to be a great upper body and core workout.

"What surprised me was how hard it was, how many muscles you use, especially the arms and core," says Caryn McLane of Phoenix. "The hardest part was being able to keep it going for 30 seconds (without a break) with perfect form."

Verve Pilates & Movement Studio in Medford also offers TRX classes.

"It's like Pilates, but it adds strength and cardio. I also like the quickness of the class: 35 to 40 minutes," says Sally Wise, Verve's TRX instructor. "You can have beginners and advanced (students) next to each other, and they can work just fine."

At Verve, classes are shorter than at the YMCA because participants do not alternate on the same equipment. The workouts can be tougher, but it all depends on how much effort you put in. A word of caution: If you're not used to doing core exercises, go easy on yourself at first — you'll discover a few abdominal muscles.

For one Verve client, TRX has helped keep the doctor away.

"Hip replacement? I told my doctor, 'not yet,' " says Ann Kennedy. "This (TRX) is minimizing my aches and pains. It's a quality-of-life choice for me."

For Kennedy, like many women, TRX is an ideal vehicle for building arm strength. There are no heavy weights to drop or strain a muscle. The squats also are easier on the knees.

"I love the squats because it holds you, and you don't lose your balance," says Paula Cracraft, a Medford resident. "I like TRX because it's aerobic and gives you strength."

If you prefer a home workout, the TRX equipment, DVDs and training manual are available for purchase online at www.fitnessanywhere.com.

Half the fun of TRX, however, is being able to groan with others and chat with new friends after class about your least-favorite exercise.

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