lazy distance runner, which means strength training is always my lowest priority. I never doubt its usefulness — or importance — but I never want to do it.
(Order of importance: running, eating, sleeping, working, dentist apointments, jury duty, cleaning the litter box and finally, strength training.)
Then a buddy of mine sent me TRX’s FORCE suspension trainer system.
After several months of using the kit as decoration (and after a swift kick in the pants), I finally got motivated and started the program.
The Tactical Conditioning Program is a four-day per week, 12-week training plan designed to make lazy runners like me unimaginably sore. But it’s also made me significantly stronger, which is helping me get faster and stave off annoying injuries.
I am just over halfway through the program, but getting this far has taken me four months. I typically manage to do one or two workouts each week; getting all four done in one week requires more time and motivation than I have.
The program is split into three phases: core stability, unilateral strength and interval training. Individual workouts are between 30 and 70 minutes, and include a mobility round, three strength rounds and — occasionally — an agility and conditioning section.
This program is pretty tough. It assumes that you have a good fitness base, which for you active-duty guys shouldn’t be an issue. But if you’re coming back from an injury or just some time off, this is probably going to kick your butt. It is possible to modify the workouts to make them a little easier — either by reducing reps or time, or by using the app to see an easier variation of each exercise (more on that below).
In the beginning, I couldn’t complete the workouts. Now I’m strong enough to get all the way to the end.
Pros: The program forces me to work on my weak spots — which as a runner, means my entire upper body. I’ve gone from barely able to do 10 pushups to knocking out 70 during my last workout. It also isolates different sides or sections of your body. You can’t cheat and use your stronger or dominant side/leg/arm to avoid working the weaker side.
I feel like I’m getting functionally strong, not just pretty strong. The program is a well-conceived plan that balances push and pull, lateral moves and single-side exercises to make for a very well-rounded workout.
You also don’t have to plan your workouts, just follow the program. You just have to do the hard work to complete the workout, not the hard work to plan it.
Cons: There aren’t many, but where to set up seems to be the biggest issue. I have a pullup bar in the small gym in my building, so I typically use that. You can hang the TRX from a door (with the included attachment), but make sure it’s a weight-bearing door with enough space to execute the exercises well.
The purchase cost will be an issue for some, but I’ve been using my TRX so much I dropped my pricey gym membership.
TRX FORCE Super App
The Super App is more than just a digitized version of the program workbook. It has demonstration videos, countdown timers and a random workout selector (it really just picks workouts at random, it doesn’t generate new ones.) The app is not Web-based, so you can use it in places without Wi-Fi, such as basement gyms, at sea or while deployed. It does take a fair amount of time to download, so be wary if you’re outside of Wi-Fi range.
Pros: The videos. The hard-copy workbook is enough if you’re somewhat familiar with the exercises. If the exercises are completely foreign, then the workbook will fall short of fully explaining the actions. This is where the app can fill in. The videos are great, and show you not only how to do the exercise but also variations to make the exercise more difficult (or sometimes easier).
Mark the workout as done when you’re finished and the app will keep your place in the program. More than once, I’ve done a workout twice because I’ve lost my place in the workbook.
Cons: Leave the app running and you’ll drain your phone battery in only a few hours. I showed a couple videos to friends one evening — with a full battery — left the app running in the background all night and had a dead phone by morning. Lesson learned.
My biggest complaint with the app is the title screens on the videos are way too long. You have to watch 10 to 15 seconds of title screen before you get to see the exercise itself, which isn’t helpful when you’re in the middle of your workout. I’ve been starting the video in the middle to save time. The model will demonstrate the exercise several times, so it doesn’t matter where in the middle you start.
Verdict: If you’ve got the space and the money, this system is worth a look. I’ve been really happy with the system and the program, but like all other fitness products: if you don’t use it, it won’t work.
One of my New Year’s goals (more on these later) is to run a 5-hour and 30-minute 50K — which would be a 20-minute PR. I think the added strength from putting in some quality time with this program will help me get there. I’ll keep you posted.
Buy the FORCE Tactical kit — which includes the Super App — for $299.95. Active-duty, retired military personnel and first responders (police, fire, rescue) qualify for a
$30 discount; more information here.
Update: TRX just (Jan. 10) changed the military and first responder discount to $80.
The Super App is only available on the iOS operating systems, but will soon be released for Android.
Sara Davidson is an ultrarunner and resident women’s gear destroyer. She can also throwdown handstand pushups <– really.