Suspension trainers such as TRX are a great way to incorporate upper body workouts into your fitness routine. They are incredibly versatile and work solely against your body weight, meaning the load is lightened or made heavier simply by adjusting your position. No need to worry about venturing into the testosterone-loaded dumbbell zone! It’s also much easier than having to work out which weight to use for which exercise, which can be tricky without a trainer to guide you.
“I can’t even do a proper push up”.
“Help me get rid of that flappy bit” *wiggles arm*.
“I have the upper body strength of a flea with diabetes”.
These are some of the things I hear on a regular basis from my female clients. Admittedly, that last analogy I’ve only heard the once. It came from a particularly imaginative client whose metaphors are always spot on.
Nevertheless, the point still stands.
Once upon a time, female weight training seemed to focus solely on glutes, legs and abs. You couldn’t scroll through instagram without seeing an endless torrent of squats, lunges and crunches. Meanwhile, decent upper body workouts were few and far between.
That’s all changed now. Recently I’ve noticed a shift in the focus amongst female gym-goers. Now it’s all about the upper body, strengthening the back for pull-ups and increasing that depth in press ups.
There are still a lot of misconceptions out there (“I just want tone, I don’t want my biceps to start bulging too much”). However, on the whole, upper body workouts are seeing a huge surge in popularity.
So if you’re searching for that chiseled shoulder or well-defined tricep line, suspension trainers are a great place to start. You don’t have to worry about numbers, or about breaking your arm lifting dumbbells above your head. Make an exercise harder/easier depending on the position of your feet and vary target muscles with small changes.
Here is a great example of an easy upper body workout that you can do on the TRX- or any suspension trainer for that matter. It’s written out in full below the video, along with some handy tips.
TRX Upper Body Workout
- Keep your glutes tight and your abs squeezed. Your body should be like a plank of wood, firm and stable. You can have a little bend in the knees, but try not to stick your bum out at the bottom, or overarch the lower back at the top.
- Suspension exercises generally work by this rule: The nearer your feet are to the point of attachment (the anchor) the harder the exercise will be. There will be more resistance to work against because you will be at a deeper incline. The further away your feet are from the anchor, the easier the exercise will be. This is because you will be positioned more ‘upright’ and there will be less resistance to work against. Play about with your foot positioning to see what level works for you.
- Control is a really important element of suspension exercises. Slowing down the eccentric (lengthening) part of the contraction means that the muscles are working harder because they are under tension for a longer period of time. Try not to quickly ‘fall-back’ onto the TRX, instead lengthen your arms slowly and keep that tension there.
- All of the below exercises work with the TRX set to “mid length”. Mid length is where the buckles on the TRX are at the two horizontal yellow lines, which fall midway between the handles and the suspension loop. Depending on factors such as your height, strength, or how high the TRX anchor is suspending, this may need to be adjusted.
The Workout in Full
20 Reps of Each Exercise – Go for 2-4 Circuits.
- High Rows: In your ‘plank-of-wood’ position, lean away from the TRX, holding onto the handles, palms facing the floor, with your arms straight out in front of you. Keep your elbows stay nice and high (hence, high rows) and pull them out to the side as you squeeze the shoulder blades together to lift the chest up to the handles.
- Low Rows: Exactly the same motion as the high row, except that the elbows are tucked in. Think of brushing the sides of your ribcage with your elbows and forearms as you pull back, and squeeze the shoulder blades together as hard as you can.
- Bicep Curls: Lift the arms out straight, nice and high. Think about keeping the upper arms raised. Bring the TRX handles to the top of the head by squeezing the bicep.The only body part that should be contracting is the bicep, which is moving the forearm to and from the head. The upper arms should stay steady.
- Back & Shoulder Flies: Lean back on the TRX with your arms straight, palms facing one another. Open your arms out to the side and bring your body from an incline to an upright standing position without bending your arms. Your body should look like the letter ‘T’ with the arms out to the side. Gently lower back down to incline. Repeat, this time raising the arms at an angle above the head, coming into a ‘Y’ position. This helps to target the shoulders as well as the back.
- Chest Press: Face away from the TRX this time, supporting yourself with the handles out in front of you. Almost as if you are in a push up position, however slightly raised as your hands are in the handles, rather than on the floor. In a smooth, controlled motion, lower your chest to the floor, bending your elbows out to the side. When your elbows are at a 90 degree angle in line with your shoulders, push to straighten the arms again.
- Overhead Tricep Extension: Starting from the same position as the chest press, bring the TRX handles together, over above your head. Start with straight arms, and slowly bend the elbows so that the hands go behind the head. From there, push both hands forward so that the arms straighten again.
- Press Ups: Put the feet into the TRX cradles and push yourself out into a plank position. The shorter the TRX, the more your legs will be raised. The more the legs are raised, the more this exercise will target the shoulders. Just like a normal press up, except the feet are suspended.
Check out my favourite ab exercises for more great ideas to work into your routine. What’s your favourite body part to train?