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The TRX Phenomenon: Why is the new suspension-based fitness craze so popular


Darren Dillon at his Kickstart gym in Tallaght

Darren Dillon at his Kickstart gym in Tallaght

Darren Dillon at his Kickstart gym in Tallaght

It is lunch time on Friday and Darren Dillon's Kickstart gym in Tallaght is packed with eager students, some of whom make their way after the classes into the facilities' on-site healthy eating café.

It has been a colourful few years for Darren, whose life took a drastically different direction when the recession hit. These days, he tells me with a huge smile on his face, he may earn less and work more hours than he did before, but he loves his work and never has a problem getting out of bed in the mornings.

It is not difficult to see why this is so, from even my very brief visit to Kickstart, the sense of community and dedication in the air is palpable.

"I was in haulage first. That was the first business I was in right after I left school. My father was involved and cousins were involved so I had a haulage company up and running which I had to liquidate in 2009 due to the recession; it just basically hurt the business and we had to wrap it up," Darren explains.

"That led to me having conversations with my family about what I would actually love to do, if I wasn't concerned about money and bills and all of that and when I pared everything away, what was really attractive to me was fitness," Darren adds.

Six months later, Darren had completed his first personal training course; it was to be the first of many qualifications Darren has subsequently added to his CV, not least his studies to become an official TRX Master Trainer in both the US and the UK.

So just what is TRX exactly? TRX (or Total body Resistance eXercise) is a system of suspension training developed by former US Navy SEAL commando Randy Hetrick. When his operational career culminated as a Squadron Commander of the SEAL's elite special missions unit, Hetrick's exercise routines edged him towards rows, pull-ups, presses, curls, shoulder raises, flys, pull-overs and tricep extensions.

He experimented by hanging an old jiu-jitsu belt and some surplus parachute webbing over a door, and although in its most basic incarnation, TRX was born. The exercise has attracted celebrity fans like Gisele Bundchen, Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez.

"TRX is a device that helps you to leverage your own body weight against gravity," Darren explains. "And it is something that engages your whole core, whereas traditional gym exercise would be supported by a bench or a bar or something like that; with TRX you have to support yourself, so it is extremely effective and you can do strength training, you can do endurance training, you can do all sorts of training really effectively using it.

"We have a beginners class, a next level class and advanced classes, and we never leave anyone sitting in our beginners classes for more than four weeks before telling them to move on," Darren adds. "You can become extremely confident and versatile at TRX within a two to three-week period with the correct coaching. So we give people the ability to carry their own body weight before they start carrying weights outside of themselves."

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TRX can be used by people of all levels of fitness.

"From the elite athletes to your 65-year-old man or woman who trains with us so that they can move better and improve their core strength and stability, there is something for everyone in it," Darren says.

"And the beauty of TRX is that you could have a row of elite athletes along one wall, and a row of complete beginners on the other, and they will not affect each other's workouts because slight hand movements or leg movements can be adjusted to make it easier or harder for people as they do it. Everyone feels good in that environment."

Darren discovered TRX by chance, but was instantly intrigued.

"As soon as I started working as a fitness professional, I instantly became addicted to it. I just loved it. Then one day I saw a guy using a TRX strap in a gym in Lucan and I asked him what he was doing and he told me about it, that it was this big American thing," Darren tells me.

"So I looked into it a little bit further, found a suspension training course and at the same time I started running fitness bootcamps in my local park.

"At the start I had maybe eight people and I think six of those were related to me, but it built up over time," Darren laughs.

"I started in March and by that June there were 50 to 60 people coming to train in the park and it attracted a huge audience of people too, wondering what the hell was going on, so it continued to grow and grow."

That winter, Darren rented a room and moved the bootcamp classes indoors, and his numbers continued to swell.

Soon, Darren's classes had such a following, he was confident enough to take the next step. He moved his classes into a bigger building, renovated it to cater specifically to the Kickstart community's needs, and created Ireland's first ever TRX training centre.

"These two buildings we are in were derelict at the time, so I spoke to the landlord about it and we gutted it - myself and a group of friends - rebuilt it within a three-month period and opened Kickstart in its current form in May of 2012," Darren explains.

"In the short time since, we have gone from being Kickstart bootcamp, which had TRX elements, to now being Ireland's only official TRX training centre."

A key consideration for Darren when setting up Kickstart, was to make exercise accessible to everyone; both those from the surrounding area of Tallaght and beyond. The classes have always had a pay-as-you-go facility.

"I was conscious of people paying €150 up front for X amount of classes - when only a certain few people, especially in our area, would have had that money, but that didn't mean they didn't want to do it," Darren explains.

Childcare, Darren noticed, was another obstacle for some would-be clients, so he built an on-site crèche.

"The majority of people at the time when we started were chasing weight loss, so we looked at helping them with their nutrition and when we opened here, we wanted to be a one-stop shop for the exercise and food so that's where the idea for this café came from," he says.

"The crèche then is a year old and that came from the same thinking; we had people booking in at the beginning to classes and they would have to cancel because they had no one to mind their kids, so we wanted to remove that obstacle for them.

"We looked at it and thought if we can keep them training consistently and the classes are doing well, then we can take the hit on the childcare and offer it for a token fee of ¤5 per class, and that has really helped people.

"Now we have whole families here, who will train and in some cases they will often eat here as well," says Darren.

"It has really opened our doors to many more people," he adds. "What started initially as a very local following has now spread out to the point where we have people coming from Finglas, Blanchardstown, Kildare and Wicklow. So that has been fascinating."

When it comes to nutrition, Darren believes that every plan should be unique to the individual and their needs; he is not into fads or popular diets.

"We tell people to eat," he smiles. "We design nutritional plans for each individual. We don't buy into any shakes, tablets, wraps, computers, nothing like that; we give people good food and structure it around what they do, so if someone is training six days a week their food plan would be very different to someone who is training twice a week.

"You need plenty of good food, enough-protein and we don't shy away from carbs; we just regulate everything and introduce people to smaller meals more often. That would be our ethos."

So what advice has Darren for those waiting in the fitness wings?

"Get a goal, set your sights on it and just make it happen. You need to chase a better version of yourself every day," he says.

Darren Dillon will be taking part in Wellfest, a new Irish festival for all things health, fitness and nutrition-related, on Saturday, September 19 in Dublin's Herbert Park.

For more information see: wellfest.ie or check out: kickstartfitness.ie

Ten reasons why TRX  is a great workout:

1 It challenges your core.

2 It is a form of functional training, which mimics your movements from daily life.

3 It is a form of metabolic conditioning; a method of high-intensity training which helps you to burn more calories during your workout and maximise calories burned after your workout.

4 It provides a total body workout with just one piece of equipment.

5 It is accessible to all fitness levels.

6 It builds strength, endurance and stability.

Darren's five fitness tips

1 Decide what your goals are and follow them.

2 Find what you enjoy and do it as often as possible.

3 Be consistent and focused.

4 Find a training buddy and share your fitness journey.

5 Always strive for improvement; each time you reach a goal, tick it off the list then set a new one.

Darren's five food tips

1 Eat natural foods.

2 Eat smaller meals more often.

3 Prepare your own food where possible.

4 Stay well hydrated.

5 Have plenty of variation in your diet and keep it interesting by experimenting.

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