TRX and kettlebells are great complementary training modalities because the principles behind using them are similar — you must move effectively by creating tension and relaxation when and where appropriate. This leads to measurable gains in performance and durability through strength, mobility and power. Here, TRX Professor Chris Frankel and kettlebell expert Mark Toomey give the top two reasons why the union between TRX and kettlebells is a ringing success.
Reason #1 – Create Good Patterns and Practice
Performing the same exercise with both the TRX and then a kettlebell will dramatically improve the execution of that exercise. In this example (below), we’ll use the TRX Overhead Press. Configure your TRX into single handle mode so the anchor point is slightly above your head. Grab the handle with either hand and slowly squat until the arm is fully extended. Now, slowly rise up from the squat, “pulling” with the lat. Do not release the tension once fully standing. Simply reverse the movement back into the squat, feeling how the lat concentrically contracts as you stand and eccentrically loads as you squat. Repeat this drill on each side, then grab a kettlebell and snatch it overhead. As you lower the bell into the racked position, replicate the same feeling as the TRX pull from the squat. In essence, the athlete is “pulling” the kettlebell down into the rack. Just as in the TRX drill, don’t release the tension created from the pulling sensation at the bottom. Instead, use that stretched lat to propel the kettlebell up in a safe and powerful press.
Reason #2 – “Light Up” Specific Muscles
Many times, an athlete’s inability to perform an overhead squat has more to do with “sleeping traps” than “tight shoulders.” Using the TRX, an athlete can “light up” the lower traps and mid back to stabilize the weight held in an overhead lift. Adjust the TRX to mid length, or slightly longer, stand facing the anchor point with arms extended overhead, keeping tension in the TRX by driving your hands back — lighting up your entire posterior chain activating the lower and mid trapezius. Practice the full body tension described above as you squat, focusing on keeping the arms straight, hands above the head or slightly behind. Avoid the temptation to lean back. Your squat should be performed so that if someone were to cut the TRX straps, you would still remain upright and not fall backward.
Next, adjust the TRX to single handle mode and perform the squat with one hand in the TRX, the other hand simply pressing up toward the ceiling. This asymmetrical loading of the TRX Overhead Squat adds the dimension of resisting rotation during the movement. This is a great way to increase the intensity of the exercise.
Next, press a light kettlebell in the free hand above the head, hold the TRX in the other and squat again, feeling the rearward tension on the TRX. Here’s what’s happening: the rearward draw on the TRX handle is activating the lower and mid trapezius. Since the body prefers to function in a bilateral manner, the trap on the side holding the bell will fire as well, stabilizing the weight overhead as the athlete squats.
These are just two of the many reasons the TRX and kettlebells can be paired together to open up new performance opportunities. If you’d like more information on how to integrate TRX Suspension Training with kettlebells, check out this video or pick up a copy of TRX Kettlebells: Iron Circuit Conditioning.
As the resident TRX Professor, Chris Frankel draws from over 25 years of experience as a strength and conditioning coach. He earned an MS in Exercise Physiology from the University of New Mexico, where he is currently completing his doctorate in Exercise Science. Before taking the position of Director of Programming at Fitness Anywhere, Chris was an instructor in the Department of Health, Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of New Mexico.
Mark Toomey, BS, RKC TL, NSCA CSCS, is a certified and high ranking Russian Kettlebell and bodyweight exercise instructor directly under former Russian Spec-Ops trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline. He is an experienced martial artist with a black belt in traditional Shotokan Karate as well as a Subject Matter Expert for the United States Marine Corps.