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Physical training suspended from a rope or strapping has recently become very popular and is now an accepted part of fitness training. Often taking its generic name from a specific brand of equipment, the TRX, suspending yourself from an unstable rope or strap during training can exaggerate the effects of gravity, presenting a unique challenge to the muscles and joints. But what are the origins of suspended movement training?
Three types of suspended movement training have been blended together to form the basis of the genre today. Its origins come from the ancient Incan empire, German gymnastics and also the US Navy seals.
Physical training using ropes is first referenced during the Incan Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries. This empire was spread over a very large area, from Chile and Argentina in the south to Ecuador and Colombia in the north. One of the most important parts of maintaining such a large empire was speedy and reliable communications. So the Inca used highly trained runners known as “Chasqui” or speed messengers. These messengers were taken into service for life, and needed to be very fit in all aspects. Cardio-vascular fitness was needed, but also strength, speed, agility and control, as the terrain varied vastly between jungles and rocky, high altitude mountains. The messenger routes through the Andes were dotted with relay stations, so that one messenger could take on a short part of the trail at great speed, passing it on to the next who would do the same. In this way as many as 240 miles could be covered in a single day. Even the roman empire at its height could only manage 100 miles a day. The Chasqui used ropes to help them through both the rocky and jungle terrain. So it made sense that their structured training included sessions using exercises suspended from ropes.
Gymnastics is also part of the history of SMT (suspended movement training). In 1842 German gymnastics coach Adolf Spiel developed swinging apparatus with triangular handles which he called “ringeschwebel”. These handles were then developed into circular rings. In the 1924 Paris olympics the rings were introduced as a new event and are still used today in the modern games. The gymnastic rings are an incredibly difficult skill to master; static holds, inverted hand stands, hanging holds with explosive swings and dismounts are part of the Modern event.
However the man who joined these elements into a functional training system for ordinary athletes (you and me) is generally considered to be Navy seal Randy Hetrick. During many foreign deployments access to traditional training environments and equipment was usually very restricted. In a quest to keep up his high levels of strength and fitness he developed parachute webbing with a metal carabiner to produce the first suspended movement prototype. In 2005 Hetrick set up a company and began the production and marketing of what we know today as the TRX. Since then several other systems have become available, all using strapping and metal or compound cleats with handles and straps.
These lightweight and versatile fitness systems are also very useful as a travel kit for those looking to keep fit on the move.
They are quite unstable so a few lessons or sessions with a personal trainer are recommended to get the most out of this amazing system.
By Robert Adam Atkinson