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Insanely effective TRX exercises

It’s time to ditch the dumbbells, kick the kettlebells, and forget about those weight-training machines. OK, maybe not permanently, but at least long enough to add something new to your fitness routine: TRX training techniques

Invented by a former U.S. Navy SEAL, the TRX (short for total-body resistance exercise) turns every exercise into a challenge for the core by using two very accessible resources: gravity and our own bodyweight. All you have to do is anchor the TRX straps to a secure spot (think a weight machine, a door frame, or even monkey bars or a basketball hoop pole if you’re getting creative) and use either your feet or hands—depending on the exercise—to hold onto the straps.

In general, a part of your body will be suspended above the ground or you’ll be leaning into or away from the straps to create resistance and destabilization. Knocking our balance out of whack gives us no other option but to adjust, which means engaging the midsection and back and firing up the shoulders and hips to maintain control throughout the movement. Even better? Since the straps roll up into practically nothing, it’s a take-anywhere, do-anywhere kind of workout—provided you have somewhere stable to serve as your base.

Ready to hang tough—and build SEAL-worthy strength? Give these TRX moves a try! 

(Photos of trainer Jessi Kneeland were taken at Peak Performance NYC.)

UPPER BODY

TRX Push-Up

1. TRX Push-Up 
Targets: Shoulders, chest, arms
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: Here’s how you pump up the plain ol’ push-up. To start, hook toes through the TRX straps so that the tops of your feet face the floor. Lift your body up so that weight rests on the palms of your hands. Keeping core tight, bend elbows to lower your chest between hands. You’ll feel your chest and shoulders working as you press back up to the start position.   

TRX Chest Press

2. TRX Chest Press
Targets: Arms, chest
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: Forget lying down to perform the typical chest press. Face away from the anchor with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and extend arms in front of you at shoulder height. Lean forward so that your body is at a slight diagonal. Bend elbows and lower chest between your hands. You’ll engage your chest and arms as you push yourself back up to the start position.  

3. TRX Inverted Row
Targets: Biceps, lats
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: Row, row, row your… way to a fitter physique. Lie directly underneath the TRX. Bend knees and plant your feet on the floor. Reach up to grasp the handles, palms facing each other, arms fully extended, as you lift your body a few inches off the floor. Keeping them close to your sides, bend your elbows to pull torso up towards the handles until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Lower down to the starting position. You’ll put your biceps and back to work as you raise and lower your torso, slowly and with control. You can also perform this exercise with straight legs, heels grounded to the floor, and your body at a diagonal.  

4. Kneeling Triceps Press
Targets: Triceps
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: Target those tris with this no-frills move. Kneel down facing the anchor and grab the straps with an underhand grip. Stretch arms straight out in front of you and hold them shoulder-width apart. Bend elbows to lower your upper body toward the floor until hands are in line with your ears—this is when you’ll start to feel those triceps burn. Return to start. 

TRX Low Row

5. Low Row
Targets: Back, abs, shoulders, biceps
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: This move is the key to a strong back. Grab the handles with your palms facing one another. Lean all the way back until weight is on your heels, arms extended out in front of you, and body forms a diagonal. Squeeze shoulder blades together and keep your core tight as you bend your elbows and pull torso up to meet your hands. Lower to return to start.  

TRX Single-Arm Row

6. Single-Arm Row
Targets: Back, abs, shoulders, biceps
Difficulty: Advanced
How to: If you’re a pro at the regular low row (see No. 5), challenge yourself to the exact same movement. Except this time around, limit rowing to one arm at a time without losing your form—and get ready to feel the burn.

7. Three-Way Row
Targets: Back, abs, shoulders, biceps
DifficultyIntermediate
How to: If anyone knows a thing or two about sculpting rock-solid shoulders, it’s superstar swimmer Natalie Coughlin. And as it turns out, she’s a fan of TRX—she even shared some of her go-to moves, including this three-in-one exercise. This move includes three different grips to keep your mind and body guessing. Your plan of action: Row with your palms up for a few reps (Natalie suggests three reps per grip), switch to rowing with palms facing one another for a few reps, and then turn palms down for a few reps. 

TRX Alligator

8. Alligator
Targets: Shoulders, back, obliques
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: Another of Coughlin’s favorite TRX moves, this shoulder strengthener is also known as a reverse fly (though “alligator” is way more catchy, if you ask us). Start facing the anchor and grab the handles with an overhand grip. Lean back until your body forms a diagonal line and the TRX straps are taut. Pull body up as you pull back and up with your right arm and back and down with left arm. Rotate torso to the right as you do so—you’ll put your shoulders and back to work as your obliques help stabilize your movements. Return to start and repeat on the other side.  

9. Triceps Extension
Targets: Triceps
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: Work those tris with this simple but challenging move! Set yourself up like you did for the push-up—facing away from the anchor point, feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the handles with an overhand grip. Shift weight to the balls of your feet as you extend arms out in front of you at eye level. Bend elbows until hands are behind your head, elbows framing either side of your face. Return to start. The movement is small, but super effective, and you’ll fire up your triceps with every rep. 

TRX Atomic Push-Up

10. Atomic Push-Up
Targets: Chest, shoulders, arms, and abs
Level: Advanced
How to: You might look a bit like a frog in motion, but you’ll definitely feel the burn in your upper body and core as you bring your knees to meet your elbows. Slip your feet into the cradles so that the tops of feet face the floor. Lower body down into a push-up. As you press your body back up into plank position, bring knees in toward elbows, allowing legs to draw apart. Hold for a few seconds and then return to start. 

11. Chest Fly
Targets: Chest, arms
Difficulty: Advanced
How to: If there’s any exercise that will make you feel like you have wings, this is it. Face away from the anchor with feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and extend arms in front of you at shoulder height. Lean forward so that your body’s at a diagonal. With control, spread arms out to a “T” (but keep elbows bent) as you lower your chest closer to the ground—this is where youseriously activate those chest muscles. Reverse the movement to return to start.

TRX Biceps Curl

12. Biceps Curl
Targets: Abs and arms
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: Face toward the TRX anchor point and grab one handle in each hand, palms facing. Lean all the way back until your arms are extended and the strap is taut. To activate your biceps, bend elbows (without letting them drop) until hands frame your temples, slowly pulling body up as you do so. Return to start—and then ask for two tickets to the gun show, please. 

13. Push-Up with Pike
Targets: Chest, shoulders, arms, abs
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: The push-up and the pike. Completely stellar on their own, these two movements are always better when they’re together (we paraphrase Jack Johnson, of course). Get into your suspended plank position, perform a pushup, and then lift hips up into a pike—your body should look a bit like an upside-down “V." Your abs will work overtime to bring you up and out of this motion. Be sure to keep legs straight and feet together throughout the movement.  

14. Y Fly
Targets: Abs, biceps, back
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: The real question is: Why not fly? Stand facing the anchor with feet hip-width apart. Grasp the TRX and extend arms overhead into a Y, palms facing. Lean back on your heels until body forms a diagonal line, pulling your arms in and out in front of you until your palms nearly touch. Leading with hips, pull your body back up to stand, spreading arms back into a Y as you do. You’ll feel your back muscles working as you move from the “down” position to the “Y” position, and your abs will help you maintain stability throughout the movement.

15. Clock Press
Targets: Abs, shoulders, back, biceps
Difficulty: Advanced
How to: Tick, tock, tick, tock: the countdown is on for a super fit upper body, and this move gets you one step closer. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and lean forward until your body forms a diagonal line, weight on toes. Brace your core and bend elbows, keeping them close to your body—you’ll remain in this “down” position throughout the exercise. Keeping your left arm bent, extend right arm to the side until right elbow and wrist are almost in line with shoulder—this is when your shoulders, back, and biceps will start to burn. Reverse the movement to return to start and repeat with left arm. Continue alternating.     

16. Power Pull
Targets: Upper back, abs, shoulders, obliques 
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: Power pulls make for powerful bodies, especially since this move includes a rotation to fire up your abs and obliques in addition to your upper bodyStand facing the anchor with a wide stance. Grasp the TRX with your left hand and hold it at chest height, left elbow high and pointing behind body. Extend right arm so that it’s in line with the TRX. As you lean back, extend your left arm and rotate torso to the right to reach your right arm out and slightly behind you. Reverse the movement to return to start. 

TRX Chest Press to Standing Fallout

17. Standing Fallout
Targets: Chest, abs, shoulders
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: Get ready to set those abs on fire. Get yourself in the starting position for a TRX chest press (see No. 2). Then, as you fall forward, reach arms up until they’re in line with the rest of your body—this is where your abs and shoulders really come in handy. Reverse the movement to return to start. 

18. T Deltoid Fly
Targets: Back, shoulders
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: This moves suits our fitness needs to a "T," with a flying motion that strengthens the upper back and sculpts shoulders to perfection. Face the anchor, stagger your stance (right foot should be a few inches in front of left), and grasp one strap in each hand. Lean back so that weight is on your left foot and the TRX straps are taut, arms extended in front of chest. Pull against the TRX, shifting weight to your right foot as you open your arms into a “T” position. Return to start.   

19. Side-Straddle Golf Swings
Targets: Back, chest, shoulders
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: While you won’t exactly feel like you’re golfing when performing this move, this exercise involves a swinging movement that challenges your upper body in a new way. Facing the anchor point, assume a wide-leg stance and grab one TRX handle with each hand with an overhand grip. Keeping weight on your heels, bend forward at hips and reach arms forward at chest height. Look forward throughout the move. Rotate your torso, extending right arm behind you while you extend the left arm in front of you. Reverse the movement to repeat on the other side. 

LOWER BODY

TRX Lunge

20. Lunge
Targets: Legs and abs
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: If regular lunges have become a piece of cake, up the ante with this move. Not only does it work your lower body like a traditional lunge, but it’ll also lead to better balance and stability. Facing away from the anchor point, place your left foot in both TRX straps, and plant your right foot firmly on the ground. Lower down into a lunge, extending the left leg behind you, without losing the bend in your knee. Return to starting position and repeat on the other leg. You’ll feel your lower body and abs working hard throughout this movement—both to actually complete the movement and to stabilize your body. 

TRX Squat

21. Squat
Targets: Abs, quads, glutes, hamstrings
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: Regular squats are essential to build a strong lower body. Add a TRX to the mix to help improve your form, or even give you some stability and support (if you need it). Start off by holding both handles in front of your waist, elbows bent by sides. Lower down into a squat, extending arms in front of you at eye level. Push yourself back up to start.

TRX Hamstring Pull-In

22. Hamstring Pull-In/Hamstring Curl
Targets: Thighs, glutes, hips
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: Get your hammies in on the action! Lie faceup with arms extended by sides. Place heels in the cradles and press down to secure them. Keeping your core tight, lift hips off the floor. Pull your heels in toward hips in a smooth and controlled motion (there’s no swinging here!). Straighten legs back to the starting position. 

23. Single-Leg Hamstring Pull-In/Hamstring Curl 
Targets: Thighs, glutes, hips
Difficulty: Intermediate-advanced
How to: Isolate the strength-training movement to one leg at a time, and boom—you’ve got a pretty killer variation on the regular hamstring exercise. Start off as you would to perform the hamstring pull-in (see No. 22), but instead of pulling both heels toward your hips at the same time, alternate legs. Isolating legs will make this move even more challenging.  

24. Curtsy Lunge/Crossing Balance Lunge 
Targets: Quads, glutes, calves
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: It might have a pretty name, but this move is one tough leg exercise. Face the anchor and grab the TRX handles, keeping elbows bent by your sides. Raise your right knee until thigh is parallel to the floor. Squat low, simultaneously swinging your right leg behind and across your body until you can place your right toes on the ground to the left of left foot. Return to start. You’ll fire up your entire lower body as you move through this movement.  

25. Lateral Lunge
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, adductors
Difficulty: Beginner
How to: Don’t limit your lunges to the typical backward and forward variety. The side movement engages your hip adductors, which help your glutes and quadsmove properly. Stand facing the anchor, feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a TRX handle in each hand in front of your waist, elbows bent by your sides. Plant right leg firmly in the ground and take a big step to the side with left leg, bending left knee as you lower your body into a side lunge. Push back to start and repeat on the other leg. 

26. Curtsy Lunge to Lateral Lunge
Targets: Quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, adductors
Difficulty: Advanced
How to: Challenging on their own, these two moves make an even more powerful pair. Perform the curtsy lunge (No. 24) immediately followed by the lateral lunge (No. 25). Now’s the time to multitask your way to fitness!

27. Single-Leg Plié
Targets: Quads, glutes, calves
Difficulty: Intermediate
How to: This move’s a whole lot like the curtsy lunge, but with an added bonus: A knee-up movement that really makes you feel the burn throughout your legs. Start by facing the anchor. Hold the TRX out in front of you, palms facing. Bend your elbows and position them by your sides. Bring right knee up in front of you, until upper leg is at a 90-degree angle. Lower down into a squat, bringingright leg back behind left, without letting right leg touch the ground. Reverse the movement and return to the knee-up position.   

For all 45 insanely effective TRX exercises, go to Greatist.com.

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