Suspension training has become a wildly popular option for training these days, with some gyms offering full classes and programs based on the merits of the suspension trainer.

Training with a suspension trainer (or ST) of any kind has been shown to yield tremendous benefits to neuromuscular coordination, muscle activation, while creating a stronger core and low back through the use of full body movements. Whether you use a TRX Suspension Trainer, a set of gymnastics rings, or any other type of suspension trainer available today, the experts agree, IT WORKS.

Body weight movements are considered to be 'closed chain' exercises. Simply put, closed chain exercises are where the body is moved through space, while open chain exercises demand that a foreign object is moved through space. Think of the difference between a pushup (closed chain) and a bench press (open chain).

Closed chain exercises are more beneficial for learning body control and increasing the amount of muscular activation during exercise. The downside is that often they are not hard enough to stimulate progressive progress. Someone who can do 150 pushups in a row doesn't necessarily have a 300lb bench press and vice versa. Adding the ST can enable you to push past normal limitations in bodyweight programs and continue to progress regardless of ability.

Anyone writing ad copy for a suspension trainer will tell you all about how beneficial it is for the core, and while this often sounds nebulous and flashy, it is 100% true. The core consists of the muscles from below your chest to the base of your pelvis, and while a strong core is associated with 6 pack abs, that's not the only benefit. A strong core will bulletproof your low back and keep you pain free.

Additionally, having a strong core allows more power transfer through your body during athletic maneuvers, like jumping, throwing, and sprinting. My old weightlifting coach would often say that “you can't shoot a cannon from a canoe!" meaning that without a strong base and core, you can't execute powerful athletic movements.

[Learn more about how a stronger core transfers power here: 3 Core Strength Training Drills to Learn Proper Alignment]

This is why so many professional athletes like Drew Brees and Navarro Bowman have turned to ST to increase their abilities on the field, while staying safe during training.

So now that you know why you should be using ST, let's take a look at two of the most popular options: the TRX vs Gymnastics Rings. Which is right for you?

Some people have the benefit of training in a gym that offers both, but some people work out at home, and will only purchase one of the two options. Here's how to figure out which one you should be including in your training.


Croix de Fer aux Anneaux by Raphael Goetter / CC BY / Curves, crop and text applied

Rings are set up on two separate nylon straps, which both require separate adjustment. This means that you can set the rings as wide apart as you would like, or as close together as you need. This is important when doing one of the best upper body pressing exercises, dips.

The rings can be raised up to be within 6 inches of the anchor point, and can hang down roughly 9 feet each. This enables the user to do pullups and other exercises that would normally be done on a bar. Additionally, the rings rotate naturally when doing pulling movements which makes the moves easier on the shoulder joint.

The rings I was using weighed 6.4lbs, and can be stored in a fairly small bag.

The biggest thing that rings give you that the TRX does not is the ability to pursue gymnastic movements. Exercises like L-Sits and muscle ups are incredibly difficult and require tremendous strength and focus. They also pay off big returns in full body strength.

Working up to exercises like planches and iron crosses are also easier when dealing with two separate rings. The downside to this is that takes a long time to get to a point where these exercises can be added into a program. Most gymnasts have been training for many years to perfect some of those moves.


TRX Training by Maria Ly / CC BY / Curves and crop applied

A TRX is set up with two handles that loop through another single nylon strap which can attach to doors and anything the rings can attach to. Generally, this nylon will need to be looped 2x over the anchor point, which is less likely to slide during a set.

An ingenious feature of the TRX is the locking loop at the top, which ensures that even if the handles are set slightly lopsided, the fix can be made mid-set without having to stop the rep. Especially while working out at home, minimizing little distractions can be the difference between finishing the whole workout and finishing a whole episode of Grey's Anatomy.

The rings can be raised to within 12" of the anchor point, and fully extended can be about 10 feet long, giving you plenty of in between room. The TRX fits into a small drawstring bag and weighs 2.4lbs. The TRX also has cushioned handles, which makes it more comfortable when circuiting exercises that all require gripping the handles.

The loops at the bottom of the handles are a simple addition, but give you the ability to have a ton of exercise variation, especially as it applies to leg and core exercises.

The exercise variation is one of the TRX's strongest points. Even though it's more difficult to set it up in a way to do pullups and dips (although not impossible) having the ability to put one or both feet in the straps opens up literally hundreds of different core and leg moves that are not possible on the rings.

The TRX is a great tool for improving total body fitness, core strength, and athletic ability without getting bored with the same moves. It's even possible to do isolation exercises like leg extensions and hamstring curls! However, the real beauty of the TRX comes from the fact that every exercise becomes a full body exercise.

This is especially good news for those of us with dreams of bigger bis and tris, because even during leg day, these muscles are getting stimulated but not annihilated, which leads to much larger gains in smaller muscle groups.

Wrap Up:

If you want to supplement your current maximum strength training program, rings are for you. If you are a patient person and are willing to train the same moves for a long period of time in order to get the massive payoff that comes from learning L-Sits, Muscle Ups, Front and Back Lever, Planches, and the Iron cross, rings are an invaluable tool. Remember, learning those moves is like learning to play the piano at a high level. It takes time and practice and is not a 30-day fix.

If you're looking for a single piece of equipment that you can use as a full gym, if you're traveling and need to save on space, or if you're looking for a lot of variation in your workouts, want to do more than upper body, and are interested in bulletproofing your core, the TRX is right choice. If your main goal is fat loss or athletic ability, the TRX offers the biggest payoffs with intuitive training, unlimited circuit combinations, and exercises that fit every ability level.

About the Author: Nate has an old-school, strength-first philosophy that he applies to himself and his clients, and he believes that getting stronger mentally and physically will cause a trickle-down effect into the rest of your life that will provide unbelievable benefits. Nate is a husband, coach, writer, self-proclaimed bio-hacker, and adventurer, and now spends his time coaching clients online and writing on his blog, N8 Training Systems.

If you liked this article, be sure to check these out next…

Core Strength Training: 4 Tips to Build a Better Foundation

Improve Squatting Form Using the Neutral Squat Technique