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No magic, just TRX Healthy Living

Latest trend in fitness training uses simple strap system to get full body workout

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At first glance, it looks unimpressive -- like a pair of extra-long seatbelts dangling from the wall.

If you happen to stay up late enough to catch the persuasive infomercial on television, then you'll know the unsightly contraption is actually a piece of fitness equipment that's supposed to get users muscled up, no dumbbells required.

It's called the TRX. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees reportedly uses the system to stay in shape.

Developed by an American Navy SEAL who made the original TRX out of sewn-together parachute webbing, the suspension training system is one of the latest trends to create a buzz in the fitness world.

Now it has hit Winnipeg.

Today, personal trainer Allan Zimmer instructs four young women in his King Edward Street studio to each climb into a TRX unit and push them through a particular exercise.

Each of the women -- Kym Shwaluke, Kellea Johnston, Denise Young and Kathy Vlaming -- attempts to tackle the alloted task.

A droplet of sweat moves slowly down Young's face. The real estate agent is strapped into a TRX doing her best single-leg squat. Zimmer, owner of Sustainable Fitness, praises her efforts and reminds her to concentrate. Judging by their flushed faces, the others in the group are putting in just as much effort.

It's not easy.

"You're leaning and you're thinking, 'Oh my God. If I let go, I'm going to fall on my face,'" says Young. "But there's really no way that you're going to fall over."

The TRX is strikingly simple --as long as you have excellent "body awareness," says Zimmer, who offers group and one-on-one TRX classes. He also uses the TRX in his popular boot camps.

"Some people take to it like a fish in water," he says. "They get the concept right away, which is based in physics. It's basically lever and pull."

The TRX is essentially two portable straps mounted either to an overhead S-frame, to the ceiling or even to a door. The straps adjust to accommodate the user's height and weight. Adjusting the straps also affects the degree of difficulty (as does how close to the wall one stands doing an exercise).

Shimmy your feet into the stirrups (or use the stirrups as hand grips) and you can take on hundreds of exercises, all of which work the core.

Proponents of the TRX say the system offers a tough cardio and muscular workout that forces users to work against their own bodyweight. At the same time, users can gain strength, flexibility, balance and endurance.

Zimmer brought the TRX to Winnipeg last May. He now has 50 TRX units he uses to train clients.

Part of the TRX appeal is its portability. Travellers who want to exercise on the road can throw it into a suitcase and hook it onto a hotel room door. (Proponents say the chance of the TRX coming loose and causing injury is unlikely. Nevertheless, you might be wise to get guidance from a personal trainer before you try this on your own).

An infomercial staple for years, TRX picked up momentum recently after reports that certain celebs use it -- and after it was featured on the hit reality show, The Biggest Loser.

Zimmer, who keeps on top of fitness trends, was paying attention to the buzz.

"We quickly identified TRX was an incredible tool to use," says the ultra-muscular Zimmer who, a decade or so ago, was not so fit.

That's when the once-sedentary former regional sales manager from Ottawa got the fitness bug, transformed his body, quit his job and got into the exercise business.

Zimmer says although muscular bodybuilder types would probably choose free-weights over the TRX, he says the system challenges even the fittest people.

"It's not that you can't build a tremendously strong body with this," he says. "You can. It's not going to take the place of weights. But can you get a full body workout with it? Absolutely."

Sustainable Fitness personal trainer Jennifer Marucci says most of her TRX clients are women. Men, however, are catching up.

"As soon as they hear that all their favourite sports guys are doing it, guess what they are adding to their gym," says Marucci, noting that several professional athletes are said to use TRX. "There are some really tough moves on there that are just killer."

Marucci, a former gymnast, lies on her back, places her feet into the TRX stirrups and flips over on her stomach. She demonstrates the atomic pushup -- a pushup she performs with her legs suspended off the ground.

Close to her 10th atomic pushup, her legs begin to shake.

Meanwhile, Johnston is exhausted after working on the treadmill and diving into some TRX moves. The Manitoba Justice probation officer admits seeing the TRX for the first time scared her.

"I knew nothing about it," says Johnston. "I thought it was a contraption and that I was going to get stuck in it and die. But I didn't."

Shwaluke has come a long way in the short time she's used TRX. "I was a little bit afraid I'd get all tangled up in it, but it was very fascinating," says the Air Canada business auditor who has lost 17 pounds since she started using the TRX a few weeks ago. "We've seen inches and pounds just melt away."

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What is the TRX? Developed by a Navy SEAL, the TRX suspension system is one of the latest trends in fitness.

How does it work? It's two portable straps mounted either to an overhead S-frame, to the ceiling or even to a door. The system allows you to use your own body weight against gravity to build strength and stability.

How do I use the TRX? Shimmy your feet into the stirrups (or use the stirrups as hand grips) and you can take on hundreds of exercises, all of which work the core.

Who's using the TRX? New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, for one.

What does using the TRX feel like? It's hard. And leaning into an exercise while strapped into the system might make you feel like you're about to fall. Most TRX users get used to it after a while.

Who's offering TRX training in Winnipeg? Allan Zimmer, owner of Sustainable Fitness. For more information, check out

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2010 D1

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