TRX straps are anchored to the ceiling and allow you to use your body weight and gravity to do any number of super-challenging moves.

TRX straps are anchored to the ceiling and allow you to use your body weight and gravity to do any number of super-challenging moves.

Have you ever heard of TRX? I wouldn't be surprised if the answer is no. Maybe you've gotten it confused with P90X, Tony Horton's super-intense workout-by-DVD regimen. Or maybe you even thought it was the king of the dinosaurs. Not so, though it's about as scary as both of those.

TRX Training doesn't have the profile of workouts like Zumba and Pilates, but it appears to be gaining momentum (numbers aren't available on the company's website, so it's hard to tell how popular it is; though I hear more people talking about it these days). Perhaps that's because it's part of the growth of hard-core fitness programs like Cross Fit.

The TRX straps with handles and loops. You can put your feet or hands in them.

The TRX straps with handles and loops. You can put your feet or hands in them.

Like Cross Fit, TRX is a pretty serious business. The San Francisco company's site makes clear that this is a system "used by trainers, athletes, and the U.S. military."  Simply put, it's based entirely around the idea of suspension training, in which you use (primarily) two straps, each with a loop and a handle, anchored in the ceiling. Placing your feet in the straps, or holding on to the handles with your hands, you use your own body weight and gravity to challenge your muscles in hundreds of kinds of moves. (Looking at the TRX website I can see that there are many variations on this, and other equipment is used as well, but since this is a post about being a TRX first-timer, I'm going to stick to what we did in the class I took, which combined TRX for a half-hour with boxing for a half-hour.)  When I first heard about TRX and saw people doing cool moves on the straps it had the look of a sort of aerial yoga. I have now come to understand that those people were ridiculously strong.

My "class" ended up being pretty much a private lesson with the studio's owner, since the only other student was another (Pilates) teacher at the studio who decided to join us. We started with some upper-body work and the first thing I felt was amazement—at how quickly my body tired, even in the modified poses. (This was a level one class, by the way.) 

As someone who works out four or five times a week I thought I'd do decently, and I mostly did. For the upper-body work I stood, hands gripping the handles, feet usually shoulder-width part, keeping the straps taut (you never let them go slack, as a rule). By adjusting your stance—feet closer together, or further in or out—you adjust how hard your body has to work, so it's easy to shift as you need to to stay challenged the entire time. In this position, we did many of the same upper-body moves you'd do with weight—rows, flies, and such—and we did the same with lower-body moves, with lunges, for example.

If you're anything like me there are two things you'll notice first when you do TRX training: One, how quickly the sweat starts pouring off you. You don't feel like you're doing a lot, but your entire body is engaged. Which brings me to the second thing: You will feel your core (and every muscle in your core, it seems like) throughout every move. I also felt my back muscles working in a wholly new way (this was confirmed by the next-day soreness I felt). So the efficiency of this workout is sort of crazy. The downside is that it's really, really hard to keep it up for very long.

Which brings me to the core work. Simply put, I pretty much sucked at it, in spite of the gazillion crunches, planks, toe-touch crunches, and more that I do regularly. To do the core stuff in our class, I put the tops of my feet into the straps, turned face-down, and lifted up onto my palms into a plank, aka top of a push-up. Great, I thought, I've been here a million times; my body knows how to do this.

Next thought (approximately 2 seconds later): Why does this *$)!# hurt so much?! You'd think that having your feet suspended with the help of a couple of well-anchored straps would be helpful, right? Not the case. Mostly I just tried to stay up, forget about doing the moves correctly, such as pulling both knees up to each side. Tears (not to mention expletives) were a distinct possibility, but I managed to get through it. During a grueling working pretty much everyone jokes about feeling muscles they never knew existed, but I really and truly felt something in my abdomen I had never felt. I prayed it wasn't a hernia.

Was that the longest half-hour of my life? No, that would have to be watching any episode of "Two and a Half Men" or "Full House." And in spite of the brutal core stuff, I have to say that TRX was different, interesting, went by fast, and I had a good teacher—all things that really help. I would have been glad to have had a lot more fellow students in the class (i.e., fewer people to witness my straining, beet-red face, and sagging belly trying to stay in something that looked like plank).

I also liked that the second half of the class was boxing—something I'd done before so I could suck a little less at it—which also offered a nice cardio complement. I'm a big believer in having something in every workout that you're good at (or even passable). It helps a lot later to remember (selectively) the class as one you enjoyed--and one were even a little bit good at.

Studio U in Marina del Rey, where my TRX class was held.

Studio U in Marina del Rey, where my TRX class was held.

BOTTOM LINE: I would like to take TRX again, and on a regular basis to see if I could get anything close to the results of my perfect-ab'd-and-rear'd teacher (who was also very nice), but it's pretty pricey, so I'll have to file more classes away for later just now.

The studio where I took my class, Studio U, in Marina del Rey, California, also offers TRX-only classes, as well as a TRX 20-20-20 class, which includes 20 minutes each of core, TRX, and muscle-toning and isolation work. I took the TRX-Box Combo Level 1 class and was taught by studio owner Bevin Kaye Franco (who was warm, welcoming, and a great teacher). I paid for my class.

Have you tried TRX? Would you want to?