The last thing you think when looking at a TRX is, "Wow, I'm gonna build a ton of muscle with that! Can't wait to do more mountain climbers and crunches!"
Well, after tinkering around with the TRX for a few years, I've actually found it to be pretty useful. Believe it or not, I've even found it to be an effective tool for hypertrophy. Granted, not every exercise with a TRX is good for packing on gains, but I've found some top-shelf exercises that'll help you gain size and break through plateaus.
1 – Tricep Extension
Wrap a resistance band around your back, hold it in each hand, and use your bodyweight to do an extension against the TRX straps. This movement (with the band) evens out the strength curve, making the middle and end range of motion equally as difficult as the beginning.
These are killer. They allow you to get a serious amount of tension in the triceps at the bottom. Increasing mechanical tension is one of the main drivers of hypertrophy. It's almost the opposite strength curve as something like a triceps pushdown, which means it's going to help overload the muscle in a different fashion – a great stimulus for growth.
It's also very easy to progress or regress. The beauty of the TRX is its ability to easily adjust tension. You simply step closer or further away from the apparatus to gain more or less tension.
Want a bigger challenge? Add a drop set. Finish off the set with the band, then immediately drop the band and continue pressing for a serious pump. And don't plan on doing anything that uses your triceps the next day. Trust me.
2 – Inverted Row
Once you've elevated your feet, the TRX row requires a lot more force to row your body up. The key is tempo. Because the TRX isn't the best for creating high amounts of mechanical tension, we need to add some metabolic stress. How? By working the exercise through a FULL range of motion and using a controlled tempo.
Lower slowly (about 4 seconds down) and pull yourself up in a controlled manner (around 1-2 seconds). This way there's constant tension on the eccentric and concentric.
I also like static holds at the top. This forces a strong contraction with all your back muscles. That tempo looks something like 4114: four seconds down, one second pause at the bottom, one second up, four second hold at the top.
Try it with weight too. Simply adding a weight vest or a weight plate on your abdomen will help increase mechanical tension and turn this exercise from a soft beginner exercise to a tough exercise that requires some true strength.
Similar to the tricep extensions, you can add a band to take this exercise to the next level.
However, it's harder to use a slow tempo here. In fact, the band promotes explosive reps.
3 – Bulgarian Split Squat
This exercise is so advanced I was reluctant to add it to this list. It's more of a strength accessory exercise than a pure muscle builder. The amount of stability needed to do these properly is insane. A regular Bulgarian split squat is hard enough to balance, coordinate, and stabilize. The TRX turns the requirements up a notch.
Because it's unstable in nature, the second you load this to a respectable weight you'll notice compensations everywhere. I typically see lower back hyperextension and hip instability with the TRX or the hips rocking side to side. Try to prevent that.
Load this movement just right and you'll be firing your obliques, quads, hams and glutes till they burn. Find a weight that allows you to completely stabilize the hips, the back leg, and the front leg. You should be able to get a full ROM with a big stretch in the glutes at the bottom.
4 – Ham Curl
WTF? That's what you'll think after your first workout with this exercise. Scratch that – that's what you'll think after your first set!
Ham curls on the machine is a standard gym-bro exercise. Maybe you've plateaued and moved on, or maybe you reached a weight on the machine that flares up your knee ligaments and tendons and you had to stop. Whatever the reason, you probably haven't felt a "functional pump" – for lack of a better term – quite like this.
These force your hamstrings to work hard. Unlike regular machine ham curls, they require hip extension and knee flexion. That means the hamstrings are working through a full ROM. Machine curls target just knee flexion and neglect hip extension. A proper TRX ham curl fires them both, big time.
It's a good one if you're rehabbing too. This was a great exercise for me in the later rehab phases while recovering from a torn hamstring.
5 – Face Pull
Face pulls aren't really known as a muscle builder, but hey, neither is the TRX. These are also crucial for rotator cuff strength and upper back growth in general.
To get the most out of these, use a slow tempo to increase time under tension. It's too easy to whip yourself up from the bottom position and only work your muscles for a brief moment in a minimal ROM. Slowing down forces your muscles to contract for longer and the increased time under tension is a great way to stimulate growth.
If you have access to a TRX and want to put on some size, cycle some of these into your program. The gains will shock you!