Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and long-time player in the fitness industry. He has been featured as an expert in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Runner's World and Self. He holds a master's degree in exercise science and health promotion, and several advanced certifications and specializations with NSCA and NASM.
Tools of the Trade: TRX Duo Trainer™
Since its introduction in 2004, the TRX Suspension Trainer® has become an essential piece of exercise equipment in fitness facilities around the world. Portable, versatile and relatively easy to use, the Suspension Trainer® is a favorite tool of both trainers and exercisers of all skill levels. Recently, TRX® introduced the TRX Duo Trainer™, which is a completely new, evolved version of the Suspension Trainer that creates an extensive variety of new exercise challenges. In this latest installment of ACE’s Tools of the Trade series, we take a close look at the Duo Trainer to determine if it is as functional and effective as its predecessor.
The TRX Duo Trainer, which was introduced in 2016, was developed as a joint project between author and performance coach Kelly Starrett and the creative minds at TRX. Starrett, who earned a doctorate of physical therapy, coaches clients and works with physical therapy patients at San Francisco CrossFit, where he observed that some of the athletes participating in workouts experienced injuries due to certain movement restrictions. Gymnastics rings are a staple of CrossFit programming for exercises such as muscle-ups and dips, but Starrett noticed that the shape of the rings created some limitations that could become a possible source of injury. Wanting to create a device that combined the benefits of suspension training and gymnastics rings, Starrett reached out to TRX and the result of that collaboration is the Duo Trainer.
While the original TRX Suspension Trainer features straight handles, nylon loops and two straps that converge into one anchor point, the Duo Trainer combines the best features of each product to create a unique exercise experience (see shaded box). TRX claims that the dual anchor point system and the unique design of the straps, which includes the ability to use just the handles, allow individuals to perform exercises such as dips, muscle-ups and pull-ups, which are not easily done on a traditional Suspension Trainer.
Gymnastics exercises—both floor- and equipment-based—are an excellent option for workout programs because they can improve strength, flexibility and aerobic capacity. After observing athletes perform strength-training exercises on gymnastics rings, Starrett realized that the curvature of rings not only requires high levels of stabilization strength, but is also a source of discomfort. As a result, the Duo Trainer’s straight handles are 3 inches longer than the Suspension Trainer (8.25 inches compared to 5.25 inches) and are designed to be more ergonomically friendly than gymnastics rings.
“Gymnastics rings are like dumbbells for body-weight training,” says Starrett, “in that they allow separate range of motion and control. However, the rings are independently rotating, which requires higher levels of strength to provide greater degrees of stability. I wanted a suspension device with the separate arms of the rings but a straight handle because it is easier on the wrists and allows for more control.” He also wanted a device that, unlike traditional gymnastics rings, could be used comfortably with the feet as well.
“We wanted a way to create different positions in order to challenge both the mobility and stability of involved joints,” explains Starrett. “The benefits of using the Duo Trainer include improving functional biomechanics and motor control, which, when combined, are the most effective means of enhancing technique and performance of a specific exercise.” Starrett also explains that using the Duo Trainer can help identify deficiencies and expose compensations, especially of the upper extremities and shoulder complex. “The Duo Trainer does not allow clients to hide deficiencies or weaknesses,” he says.
Features of the TRX Duo Trainer
- The handles, which are made from wood to replicate the feel of traditional gymnastics rings, are attached to smaller straps with carabiners so they can be used alone without the longer anchor straps.
- The foot cradles are much larger to allow for easier use.
- The longer anchor straps are color-coded to differentiate between the front and back, and include a number of infinity loops to allow for easier length adjustments.
- The adjustment buckles include a small fabric loop, which makes length changes much quicker and easier to perform.
There is no question that the original TRX Suspension Trainer, which has been featured in numerous ACE workout programs and blogs, is an incredibly effective exercise tool. The fact that these exercises can also be performed on the Duo Trainer is definitely a plus. However, the converging straps of the Suspension Trainer make it difficult to perform many gymnastics exercises traditionally done on rings—a problem solved by the design of the Duo Trainer.
We used the Duo Trainer in the gym and at a local park. In the gym, the separate straps require using a securely attached horizontal bar, like the pull-up bar on a squat cage, for the anchor point. The TRX Xmount, which TRX created for commercial use, is perfect for anchoring the Suspension Trainer, but is not practical for the two separate arms of the Duo Trainer. At a park, playground bars can work well. In each setting, once a proper anchor point was identified and utilized, we were able to get into our workout.
When setting up the Duo Trainer, it is essential to make sure that each strap is the same length (unlike the Suspension Trainer, which allows a little variability between the two arm lengths). Fortunately, this is made a bit easier by the addition of a number of Infinity Loops on each side of the longer suspension straps, which allow for easy adjustments and ensures that the arms are the same length. The two separate arms change the feel of many exercises, particularly those requiring the use of a single strap such as a single-arm row or suspended lunge. The extra length allows for a variety of grip options and provides more room for exercises such as dips. The larger foot cradles also make it easier to get the feet in and out of exercises such as suspended lunges and suspended pikes.
Perhaps the greatest advantage afforded by the Duo Trainer is the ability to perform fully suspended exercises such as pull-ups, dips and hanging leg raises. When the original TRX Suspension Trainer was first launched, a primary component of TRX education and exercise programming was to have one point of contact with the floor during all exercises. However, the separate arms and shorter handles of the Duo Trainer changes this paradigm and makes it possible to perform fully suspended exercises.
One major benefit of the original Suspension Trainer is that the door attachment means that it can easily be used in a client’s home or other non-gym settings (such as a hotel room, for example). Because the Duo Trainer was developed with strength and conditioning outcomes in mind (as opposed to general fitness), it may not be the best option if you are looking for a portable piece of equipment that can easily be used in clients' homes.
“To date, Suspension Training has not been widely accepted as a conventional strength training modality in the strength and conditioning community,” asserts Starrett. “We are hoping to change that with the Duo Trainer because it allows trainers and coaches to increase the complexity of an exercise in terms of motor control, which can reduce the training volume required to improve mechanics, enhance stability and improve mobility, all of which can yield higher levels of strength.”
The only significant issue we had with the Duo Trainer is that it requires a completely different anchoring system for the two independent arms. Many studios or facilities that have invested in single points of attachment, like the Xmount, will find that they are not able to use the Duo Trainer unless they are have securely affixed horizontal bars with enough width to allow space between the two separate Infinity Anchor straps. And, while we like the tactile feel of the wood handles and understand they help mimic the feel of gymnastics rings, they can get slippery from sweating. Because many fitness facilities do not allow chalk, having some sort of tacky, sweat-resistant grip would be a good option.
A foundation-level strength-training workout for the TRX Duo Trainer is provided below. One important similarity between the Duo Trainer and the original Suspension Trainer is that it is appropriate for clients of all skill and fitness levels. In this workout, have clients either perform all sets of an exercise with a rest in between each before transitioning to the next movement (called horizontal loading), or use the workout as a circuit and move from one exercise to the next with minimal rest between each, allowing for two minutes of rest at the end of the complete circuit.
For fans of the original TRX Suspension Trainer, the TRX Duo Trainer offers the same adjustability and efficiency for quick, easy and accurate adjustments, making it possible to seamlessly transition between exercises at different levels of intensity or complexity. The overall adjustability of its patent-pending Infinity Anchors and of the mobile grips makes anchoring and changing positions for a wide range of exercises safe, fast and easy. This versatility also allows for training almost anywhere you can find a solid anchor point and space to move.