Program Review: TRX Total Strength

Back again after the two week program included with the purchase of any TRX system: TRX Total Strength. This review assumes you have at least some familiarity with suspension training, if you don’t, check out my general review of suspension training and then head on back here.

My gym for the last month

Total Strength is one of a handful of what the TRX app calls “Training Programs.” These are essentially different included workouts with the app placed on days of the week and scheduled for you to do as if they are a program. So, there’s nothing new to Training Programs that you can’t already find by just searching around the app for workouts, it just tells you what days to do what workouts.

Like last time, my traditional tracking point for progress, one rep max, is not available to me. So we’ll keep with these body measurements:

And, like last time again, it’s best not to read too much into these numbers. Only two weeks passed, even if that is the whole “program.” But, in general, these programs included with TRX are very fast. I am used to 8 weeks at shortest for a program, but I’ve done stuff that’s lasted over three months. Even some of the “longer” TRX programs I’ve found only run a month.

Given how this all went, I’m a bit soured on this whole thing, but hey, I did the work and have thoughts, so let’s get to it.

What is TRX Total Strength?

From the app:

The TRX Total Strength and Conditioning Workout Program is a two-week progressive training regimen that will build your endurance, strength, core stability and flexibility.

The credited author is “TRX Coach,” unlike some programs and workouts, which are credited to specific trainers. So, it’s a piece of work that came out of the TRX brain trust. Much like that copy above, it doesn’t really tell us much.

My experience with TRX Total Strength is that it is a beginner program. Four times a week, all workouts are 20 minutes or less. I had to supplement each day with another workout just to get in enough to work to feel challenged. While it claims to be “progressive,” I don’t think that’s used in the technical sense that most fitness people use the term in, I think it’s tossed in as a buzzword. That is to say: none of the workouts get that much more intense in any way (longer, more reps, more resistance, less rest time, etc) than previous ones.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenging movements in here. By day 2, you’re already doing atomic push-ups. But day 3, for example, is only a 10 minute workout. I’m used to putting in, at minimum, 40 minutes at the gym, and have often stayed closer to double that.

The days run the gamut from specific targeting, like core or upper body, to total body work without a lot of rhyme or reason behind it. Core day is done twice, but lower body day is only done once, for example.

As I said, I supplemented each day without another workout from the the TRX app. Usually some sort of upper body work because if I’m going to be quarantined I may as well give in to my base desires to work my vanity muscles. The two most common ones I ran were:

Upper Body Challenge by Tahneetra Crosby — When I needed a shorter bit of work this was my go to because I didn’t have a kettlebell, so I would skip the work that needed those (overhead press). Every movement was an alternating or complex movement that combines two exercises into one. This made me want to buy a kettlebell despite not really having room for it. There isn’t any direct core work here though.

Upper Body by TRX Coach — This is actually the first workout of the program and one of my favorites included in the app. Just a nice progression of all upper body work, including some direct core work. It’s very short though, but that made it just fine for supplementing other short workouts in this program.

My Lifting Background Up to This Point

I have been program lifting for over four and a half years. First six months were Stronglifts 5x5, then a year of Greyskull LP (during which I injured my back and spent months in recovery, losing a lot of deadlift and squat progress). I started 5/3/1 in February of 2017, switching to Forever style 5/3/1 in February of 2018. Then in 2019 I started various powerbuilding programs. 2020 was originally going to be a year of “extreme” programing, Deep Water being the first, but the covid-19 pandemic closed down and gyms and encouraged social distancing. So, I had to improvise. For the time being, it’s suspension training.

Before all that, I had been on fuckarounditis for two years of varying intensity and absolutely no progression plan in an apartment building gym similar to a hotel level gym. I spent my 20s largely an out of shape obese guy after being an athletic teenager.

Work Outside of Suspension Training

During this program, I continued to take a daily creatine supplement of 5g, D3 5,000 IU vitamin supplement and Fish Oil for Omega-3 1000 mg. I do also supplement about 1/3 of my daily protein from a shake.

Suspension training practically is a cardio workout. Which is good, because my cardio outside of that continues to be way down due to shelter-in-place orders. I still biked about 2.5 miles a week and walked 1.5–2.5 miles a day. On days off from suspension training, I got out my weighted vest (50 lbs in it currently) and took a walk. I fear I am probably becoming known in my neighborhood as a local weirdo by people seeing me taking walks in my vest, with my cloth mask on and walking in the bike lanes rather than the sidewalk to do proper social distancing.

I don’t do cardio much more demanding than this because I suffer from asthma.

Like Deep Water, this program has a lot of ab work, virtually every movement taxes the core and most programs I did had direct core work on top of that. So, my usual at home routine for abs hasn’t been usual for all of 2020 so far.

Diet

For the most part, I kept with the Deep Water diet because it worked so well for me. That meant very limited carbs, outside of fruit in my case, with 1–2 cheat meals a week. I found my percent of the time eating at home going up from like 80% to 95% with social distancing becoming the norm.

I will say this last two weeks saw a lot more carbs in my diet than previous month adhering to the Jon Anderson’s diet rules. In part because chocolate chip cookies found their way into my house and also doing a cheat meal run to the best deli sandwiches in my city.

While TRX generally burned more calories than my average workout, especially pre-Deep Water, I also was way less active outside of working out. Add in that calisthenics doesn’t really build muscle and I know I didn’t want to have too many calories; bulking season is over, folks. But the fight with shelter at home continued; it’s easy to eat when you have extra time at home and a bunch of food just ready to be consumed.

Impressions of the Program

Way too easy.

As I mentioned in the description, I found myself doing at least one more workout from the app to even get up to a basic half an hour of activity. 10–20 minutes four times a week seems great for people first getting into fitness, but for me it’s so low I wouldn’t even break a sweat if I didn’t add more work. The biggest offender is the core work day, which is one of the only workouts that is run twice over the eight today days. It clocks in at only ten minutes.

It’s such a paltry amount of work, I probably did more work with other programs than I did in the programmed work over the course of the two weeks. That means any results or progress I made can hardly be attributed to the program itself. So, this review may not be super useful if you are basing your decisions on my results. But I have more to say about it than just that.

Now you can always just run the same program you just ran again if you really want more time working out. But the program doesn’t employ progressive overload either. It truly is more of a tour for a first timer to not just suspension training, but really working out in general.

Another problem that cannot be solved with just running the program a second or third time is the work itself is also fairly unchallenging. With only 30 seconds on for each set, it’s a very small amount of volume. Volume is primarily where suspension training gets its challenge from. You can’t really increase the weight (unless you have a weighted vest, but the TRX app never even suggests this). You can increase the difficulty for some exercises by increasing/decreasing the angle your body is suspended (taking a step back or away from the anchor point) or by moving the feet closer together. But both of those moves only apply to some exercises and, it’s easy to top out on these. I found myself already at the maximum angle my space would allow for most movements and put my feet together as much as possible.

And, I hate to be this negative, but I like being honest more: day 6 calls for many movements that employ the TRX Ripper. Almost half of the movements employ it rather than the suspension straps. The ripper costs more than the straps at $180! Total Strength, for being a program that seems so basic and so beginner focused, has an entry point of almost $300 to do every movement asked of you. So, it is not even good for seemingly what it’s for, beginners, with a cost gateway like that.

For me personally, I just replaced a lot of the ripper movements with other suspension movements that hit the same muscle groups.

On to other complaints (maybe a whole month out of the gym now has soured my mood, but): when you start a program in the app, it doesn’t download all the workouts ahead of time for you. Every time you want to workout, you’ll find yourself wasting some time loading the workouts into your app. Since the app even puts the program into a calendar for you, it seems even if it doesn’t download everything the moment you start the program, it could easily schedule these downloads to have workouts ready the day of.

This is a problem I’ve had with the TRX app in general: it runs way too lean by clearing out downloaded workouts automatically. Let me clear out data I want to instead of deleting workouts seemingly at random (I still have the very first workout I downloaded, but have had to re-download more recent ones). It’s a waste of time, and for people with metered internet, it can even mean a waste of money to boot.

Further, I’ve had the app just flat out error out and claim I had no internet access and so workouts couldn’t be downloaded. I did have internet access, so I’m guessing it was TRX servers not responding that was the issue (most likely their servers are being destroyed by the increased demand for home workouts during this time of sheltering at home). This makes the clear out of the cache go from annoying, to downright detrimental. You cannot do a program if you don’t have the workout for the day available to you.

OK, let’s get to what we really care about: results. Normally, I could deal with almost any problem with a program if it delivered on results. However, in this case the results are pretty bad. The arm size decrease might just be noise (time of day, amount of water retained at the moment, etc) after only two weeks and the diet probably affected weight and body fat percentage more than the program. And, as I mentioned, my diet was pretty bad for the last two weeks.

Add in that I am just, in general, not all that active these days because of shelter in place rules and the last two weeks have just in general sucked and doing a less than stellar program certainly didn’t help and may have contributed to such a step back.

Conclusion

I’ll be honest that after doing the first two days of this I thought about just scrapping the idea and trying something different when I saw what I was getting into. But I decided that I should continue using these strange times to expand my horizons and try new things. I once read the quote “you are not a litmus test for the universe” as advice when critiquing something and it stuck with me because I think that is good advice. Just because I didn’t find a lot to like about how easy TRX Total Strength was doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, it just means it’s not for me. But, I will say with day 6 requiring almost $200 of extra equipment and how spotty the app performs right now, there’s really not much to like about this program even for the beginner.

And as I said, the results are bad, but it’s tough to put it all on TRX Total Strength. That said, if I had only done the program and not added extra work at the end of each day as programmed, it would have been much worse. I burned hundreds (sometimes 300+) more calories in the work I did after I did what was in the program.

Overal: Not Recommended

I’m going to try one more program included in the TRX app to see if I can find something more targeted at someone that’s already in reasonable shape. It’s kind of a shame Total Strength is the only four day a week program in the app, because that’s how I like to train. But, my plan is just to add my own fourth day entirely of my own design to hit what I think the previous week failed to. This is in preparation for what I think needs to happen next for me: designing my own program.

Hi. I make movies and lift weights. I write about the latter here.

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