Reader Q&A: TRX, Bodyweight Progression Entry Points and Starting with Weights

Because my readers totally rock, I got more interesting questions since the last Q&A. Email me through the contact form or subscribe to the Neat Newsletter to get in touch with me, too.

This time, we dive into things like combining bodyweight training with equipment like the barbell or a TRX suspension trainer. I also give hints as to how you should start your bodyweight progressions.

Karina asks:

I have a TRX system. Are there modifications of the 4 beginner exercises that I can do with that?

Karina is referring to my Beginner Bodyweight Program.

TRX is great for rowing. Try the T, Y and the I:

Or just use them for standard bodyweight rows. Do that by keeping a straight body from head to toe. Pull your thumbs into your armpits.

Push-ups can be done with the TRX. Adjust the angle so that you can do incline push-ups (hands elevated). If that’s too hard, jus do regular push-ups from an elevated surface. If you want to make them harder, put your feet on the TRX and and your hands on the ground.

You can use the TRX to do assisted squats. This is great if you struggle with the cossack squats. Just grab the TRX and do your squats. Pull gently — if needed — on the TRX to help you get back up. Make cossack squats harder by putting one foot inside one end of the TRX.

For supermans, you don’t need any equipment. That’s the beauty of them. But you can experiment with planks. As for the push-ups, put your feet inside the TRX handles. Now hold a plank (either hands on the ground or elbows).

As with any equipment, you don’t have to do everything with it. Try not to see your equipment as a training “style”, but as a tool. If you were a carpenter and only knew how to use a saw, because you’re the saw girl, you’d be pretty useless once something needs to be done with a hammer.

Use the TRX when they make the most sense and when they add value (for the rows, for example). Leave them be if they only make it more complicated.

Nicolas asks:

Do I have to follow all the progressions in order to get to the exercise I really want to do or can I jump straight to it but do a slightly easier version?

The progressions I laid out for the various calisthenics skills are scaled from beginner to advanced level. Beginners have to start, well, at the beginning. If you already have the prerequisites, just choose the level of progression that seems appropriate to you.

You wouldn’t train for weeks with an empty barbell when you can easily rep out with 100lbs on it. Likewise, incline one-arm push-ups (OAPUs) are fine if they’re manageable for you.

Having said that, the basics are highly underestimated. A couple of sets of standard push-ups – controlled, slow, with attention to detail – will do a lot of good for you. From time to time, I go back to the basics and refine them and all of a sudden, my advanced skills feel much better. Everyone should try a slice of humble pie once in a while.

And one last note: Being able to do a OAPU is a display of strength. All the work and time you put in to get there is what build your strength. So don’t get too hung with the goal. Hone your practice and embrace slow progress.

John asks:

I’m a complete noob with strength training. I was wanting to start with bodyweight strength training as a foundation for training with free weights so that I have a stable core and reduce the risk of injury. What would you recommend I do if I’m going to end up using free weights? How long do you recommend that I focus on bodyweight training?

If your ultimate goal is to train primarily with weights, then train with weights! But start intelligently:

  • Find a gym with good trainers or find a friend who trains successfully with barbells.
  • Learn the basics: Squat (Front and Back), Bench Press, Military Press, Deadlift (optionally: Cleans)
  • Start with just the barbell or even without it if the empty barbell is too heavy at first.

A good gym, to me, is one where community is a priority. That means everybody knows everybody by their first name (trainers as well as trainees among themselves). A good gym doesn’t need a lot of machines. A good sign is if there is a bucket of chalk somewhere and no TVs anywhere.

A good trainer will teach you the basic lifts. He/she will take the time and show you the correct form and picks the correct movement variations for you. He/she will not care about how much weight you can use, but how well you move (i.e. mobility, posture, control of the movement, etc.).

If they hand you a pre-printed plan consisting of 3 sets of 15 with 10 different machines, get your stuff and run out of there as fast as possible.

I also highly recommend you read Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. For starters, watch these videos:

If you watch these videos and read the book, you will know you found a good trainer if what he says reminds you a little bit of Rippetoe.

Regarding bodyweight: I still recommend using progressive bodyweight training together with weight training. When I trained with barbells, I mostly did squats and deadlifts while training my upper body with front levers, handstand push-ups and the like.

But if what you really want is to use barbells, you probably can go right ahead if you do it in an educated manner.

That’s it for today folks. Feel free to ask me anything via the contact form or by subscribing to the Neat Newsletter.