When teaching a client or athlete a movement on the TRX, we've found a “ground up” approach to be extremely effective. I first saw this approach used by Gray Cook and Lee Burton and have adapted it across our teaching and training programs. It has improved the learning curve for athletes and clients of all levels.
Let's call the bottom/midpoint of any given TRX movement “B” and the top/beginning point “A.” In the ground up instructional approach, when a new movement is introduced, the trainee is first taught the correct B and A points (the end ranges of motion) as isometric holds. It's only once these positions have been mastered with the help of simple, intuitive postural cues from the instructor that movement is used to link these two points.
This ground up methodology accelerates trainees' acquisition of correct motor patterns when learning new movements. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll look at the TRX Squat, but what follows could and should be applied to any new movement you teach a trainee, whether that trainee is deconditioned or an elite athlete. We've found teaching from the ground up on the TRX to be a best practice and encourage you to implement it in your work with trainees.
The TRX Squat
A common mistake when introducing a trainee to a new movement is to assume that the trainee knows what the end ranges of motion should feel like and to just throw the trainee into doing reps of the foreign movement pattern. This is a sure fire way to program faulty movement patterns that could delay progress, cause the trainee unnecessary discomfort and lead to injury.
When we teach the TRX Squat, we tell trainees to lean back and unload part of their bodyweight into the TRX, like they were getting into position to do an easy TRX Row. Next, we ask trainees to lower to the ground. The movement looks like a hack squat. At the bottom of the squat in the “B” position, a trainee can easily walk his feet around until he finds a position where he feels no knee pain and can keep his heels glued to the ground. Now the trainee knows what the “B” or bottom position should feel like when he executes the TRX Squat correctly.
Next, we instruct the trainee to unload and extend the spine with simple cues like, “You should have a nice long back, keep your chest lifted and keep your heels down.” When the trainee follows these cues, tension in the core automatically increases and generates the intrathoracic pressure that we want the trainee to maintain while squatting. We achieve this end without ever having to confuse the trainee with complex muscular cues.
Next, we tell the trainee to push down with his heels while maintaining a long back and open chest and to squeeze through the hips to make the trip back up to the “A” or top position as hip-dominant as possible. Often, we'll tell trainees to think about pushing the weight of the entire planet down beneath them instead of thinking about executing the movement as simply standing up. We find this imagery helps trainees achieve the desired motor pattern for the movement.
But at this point in the teaching process, we're not discussing motor patterns with the trainee. We're just having him stand up into the “A” position while maintaining the correct posture he has already achieved in the “B” position. Doing so puts the trainee in the correct position at the top of the movement where we'll again remind the trainee to keep his chest open, his spine extended and his heels planted on the ground. Once the trainee has mastered these two positions, we have him execute slow reps through the movement until it feels comfortable and familiar.
At the end of the day, teaching the TRX Squat from the ground up in this manner will get the trainee to light up the entire posterior chain from the back of the neck down to his ankles. Everything the trainee can't see in the mirror is what we want him turning on. Everything he can see in the mirror, we want him to open up. This breaks tension in the front of the body and generates force in the back of the body, which is exactly what we want the trainee to get out of the TRX Squat.
This is a formula youcan apply to teaching trainees any new movements, whether on the TRX or off. Using nomenclature that trainees can easily comprehend and translate into movement is a critical part of your role as a TRX instructor, trainer or strength and conditioning coach. Combining simple language and directives with the ground up approach will allow your trainees to more rapidly ingrain correct functional motor patterns and ultimately accelerate their progress toward their training goals, whatever they may be.
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.