I’m one of those people who genuinely loves working out. Every Sunday, I sit down with my schedule for the week ahead, and figure out which workout classes I’m going to go to at my gym, and when. The result ends up being a mix of bootcamp classes, HIIT classes, personal strength training, yoga, and running outside near my apartment in Brooklyn Heights.
But even though I exercise pretty regularly, and work at a wellness publication, I’ve never been a particularly goal-oriented person when it comes to fitness. I work out mostly for the mental health benefits, and because I feel good in my body immediately afterward. And going to so many different types of classes, many of which don’t build on each other, makes it even easier to maintain this one-and-done mentality.
Lately, though, a curious thing has been going down in this brain of mine: I’ve started to reconsider my approach. Perhaps it’s because spring is finally here, and the warm weather has me feeling extra energized and motivated; perhaps it’s because I’ve read one too many scientific studies about the life-changing magic of setting goals. Whatever the reason, I’ve been toying with the idea of setting a fitness goal—which is why I was so excited when TRX Master Instructor Susane Pata offered to help me make it happen.
First, we decided on my goal: to start training so that I could eventually be strong enough to do a perfect push-up.
Okay, okay, let’s just get this over with: I, Annie Daly, lover of the gym and all things leggings, cannot do an actual push-up. I always modify them during class, or just sort of scam my way through them and hope no one is watching. Gah! Anyway, I’m not going to lie, I was surprised when she told me that the TRX Suspension Trainer™ could help me finally pull off a push-up (lol). I’d certainly dabbled in TRX throughout the years, in various fitness classes and around the gym and whatnot, but I’d always thought of it as a standalone exercise, not a strength-training tool that I could use to help me achieve my own personal fitness goals.
Oh how wrong I was.
“TRX is a great strength-training tool because it gives you bigger bang for your buck. You are doing more than you think you are to stabilize control and move your body through space than if you were using the floor or chair or something that’s fixed,” Pata told me. “As a result, you progress from one area to another quite easily. We always say around here that you learn your progression, and then once you learn it, you drop the ‘L’ so you’ve earned it,” she continued.
Pata came up with a weeklong training plan that—wait for it—hardly involved any push-ups. The plan involved four TRX Suspension Training® sessions at Crunch Fitness, two rest days, and one yoga day. We did do a few push-ups during each session, but our main focus, actually, was mastering the TRX Suspension Trainer™ plank. And that’s because the plank, according to Pata, is the key to the perfect push-up.
“In order to get better at push-ups, you will, of course, need to practice push-ups—but if you cannot get a push-up all at once, breaking it up is a great idea,” Pata told me.
Her advice: Break it up into the two parts of the push-up, which are the plank part and the push part. “Training for the perfect plank is the first step toward training for a push-up, and then, when you layer on the action of pushing, you’ll be that much closer to your goal,” she said.
Of course, Pata also made it clear that our weeklong training session probably wouldn’t be enough time for me to achieve the perfect push-up—but it would help me train and get stronger, and would therefore be a step in the right direction. “Depending on where your fitness level is when you begin, you may feel stronger after about two weeks of three to four days of training,” she told me. She also said that after about four weeks, I could have a strong enough plank that my push-up would have amazing form. But it could also still be a work in progress. I had a hunch that I’d fall into the latter category (which, spoiler alert, I did), but I was still excited by the idea that I could use TRX Suspension Trainer™ to help me get stronger — and then build on that strength, so that I could eventually do a push-up down the line.
So here’s how it all went down…
Day One: We stretched it out, and got a feel for the movements.
Pata started me out with a gentle routine to get me used to the straps. “The first day was all about becoming aware of your body as it moves with the TRX Suspension Trainer™,” she told me later. We did a fair amount of mobility exercises for warm-up, and then we did some regular ol’ planks on the floor, followed by multiple planks using the straps. Throughout it all, I felt as though I was mostly stretching, but Pata assured me that the mobility moves we were doing were actually very dynamic. Plus, they helped her determine my weak spots, and the spots where I was pretty okay.
At the end, we did a push-up test, where Pata saw first-hand just how lame my push-ups really are (I have no shame in owning this fact, because it is 100% true). What happens when I try to do one is that I dip my back instead of keeping it straight. I also raise my shoulders up too much, rather than keeping them straight, too:
And it’s this combo of back-too-low and shoulders-too-high, according to Pata, that’s preventing me from doing a push-up. She assured me that we could and would fix the situation, though, so I left the gym feeling confident, stretched out, and relaxed.
Day Two: Things got a bit harder.
Gotta say, Day One made me feel as though I was basically a TRX champion. But alas, I realized on Day Two that that’s because Pata was simply going easy on me when we started. Should’ve known. We worked mostly on hip strength, as Pata said I needed to activate more strength through my hips—which would, in turn, help me from sagging and dipping my lower back so much. At the end of our hip strength day, we did some regular non push-ups without the straps.
One thing I noticed today that I really liked is that TRX Suspension Trainer™ requires incredible precision. A move that seems super hard can actually be doable with just the slightest tweak. Considering that I’m prone to somehow finding the easy way out during my workouts, especially when it comes to push-ups, this is a good exercise in accuracy and getting it right. And it was also helpful for me to feel and see visible improvement as I progressed toward my goal. Even after just two sessions, Pata said that I was much stronger and more controlled than I was on Day One—mostly because I was starting to recognize how to “self-correct,” i.e. correct my form as I was doing it wrong without her having to prompt me. Progress!
Day Three: I ~almost~ did a push-up, and basically felt like a queen.
GUYS. Today was my DAY. I felt really good when I woke up in the morning, hitting that perfect combo of sore-but-not-too-sore. And when I got to the gym, I was ready. We worked mostly on scapular control today, which Pata assured me would help keep my shoulder blades down and my back up during my push-up (in addition to doing more of the hip strength moves from Day Two).
And guess what: When Pata asked me to do a push-up after our scapular exercises today, I…actually…almost…did one. I was SO close; I just didn’t go quiiiite low enough. BUT STILL! I felt so much stronger and more in control of my movements than ever before. Pata and I got up and shared a huge hug, and when I left the gym—scratch that, strutted out of the gym—I just couldn’t stop smiling. It was a very proud moment.
Day Four: We finished it off by working on my mind-body connection.
In perhaps one of the greatest reminders that your body changes every day, I walked into the studio today feeling a bit sluggish. Although I still felt stronger than when I’d started, I hadn’t gotten the best sleep the night before, and, despite my good intentions, I hadn’t eaten enough leading up to my 3 PM session due to an extremely busy day. As a result, Pata decided to redirect our energy to a different—but equally important—move entirely: the TRX Power Pull. “I knew that you’d been developing a lightning-fast body-mind association on the TRX Suspension Trainer™ over the past few sessions, so I decided to zero in on this move because it’s just as mental as it is physical. Plus, it’s just a fun move to train your core for a push-up that’s challenging but not discouraging, which is important when you’re not feeling 100%,” she told me after our session. Pata’s strategy worked, and I left feeling much better—and stronger—once our session was over.
After just four TRX Suspension Training sessions, I’m much stronger than I was when I started—and I’m on the fast track to mastering the perfect push-up.
When Pata and I started our sessions, she told me that if I used the straps to train every week, I would probably be able to hold a strong plank position within four weeks of training, three to four times per week. With a strong plank, I’d be on the fast track to a perfect push-up. But now, after just one week, Pata told me I’m already well on my way. Yay!
“You got so much stronger in your body-mind connection, and that in and of itself leads to bigger strength. By the end of our training sessions, you knew exactly where your shoulders needed to be, and what your plank alignment needed to be, because you knew where you were in space. The straps really forces that awareness on you. That body-mind connection happened in a matter of four sessions, and that’s really big! You built better strength really quickly,” she told me as I blushed like a proud student.
But in the bigger picture, training with TRX Suspension Trainer™ for a week helped me get on board the fitness-goal train. I love all of the different fitness classes I go to, don’t get me wrong, but it felt really good to go into the gym armed with a longer-term mission to get stronger rather than to simply sweat it out in class that day. And that’s the really cool part about TRX. I already knew it was a good workout on its own, but I learned that it’s also an incredibly useful strength training tool to help you progress. No matter what your fitness level, you can start to use it to work toward getting stronger—and then each little move and each little tweak puts you one step closer to that goal. As Pata told me, “When you align with goals, you train with more purpose—it helps to have your why.”
In the end, I’m not only well on my way to achieving the perfect push-up, I’ve come to appreciate the joy of goal setting in the first place. And that may just be the best outcome of all.