CrossFit vs TRX: Functional Fitness showdown

The key to fitness success is choosing a proven workout program that you enjoy. The trust is that the best training method is simply the one you do consistently. Statistics and case studies on the best functional training or high-intensity training protocols matter little if you aren't in the gym working out. 

There is no shortage of the currently trending high-intensity form of training, from HIIT to F45 (bot high-intensity interval training methods) to PiYo (from Beachbody). There are dozens of new fitness class trends, but few are as popular as CrossFit or TRX.

crossfit vs trx

Why are these two training methods so successful? And which one is best for you?

In the U.S. alone, there're more than 7,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms, and according to a survey by the American Council on Exercise, nearly 10 million people worldwide are CrossFit users. TRX, on the other hand, boasts 40,000 affiliate gyms, and over 250,000 professionals are using their system.

Crossfit or TRX? It can be tricky to choose, especially if you have never tried either of them. And that's your cue to go out and try the classes. Let's be honest, we can review both here for you, but you'll get a better sense of each by taking a couple of classes. You should workout in different gyms (boxes in CrossFit parlance) to compare trainers and facilities.

Our goal here is to describe their programs in detail. In addition, we'll discuss the differences between the two and answer some frequently asked questions. 

Overview Of Each Workout Program 

On the following pages, we will dig into the core details of each workout program and look at what each one has to offer. Let's start with CrossFit.

CrossFit

A strength and conditioning program designed around functional movements like pullups, pushups, squats, burpees, as well as high-intensity interval training, gymnastics, and Olympic-style weightlifting. 

CrossFit will help you with several fitness domains: cardiovascular endurance, stamina, agility, balance, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, accuracy, and strength.

CrossFit classes generally involve a warm-up, some form of skill development or strength training, and a short, high-intensity workout. The final workout is called a WOD, which stands for workout of the day. Here's an example:

  • Run 400 meters
  • 1 legless rope climb (15 ft)
  • 15 kettlebell swings
  • repeat 5 times.

CrossFit HQ posts daily workout plans here and some gyms choose to use these workouts. Most, however, program their own workouts. 

CrossFit coaches must take at least the Level-1 course which is a two-day training. Certification costs around $1000. 

You'll definitely need more equipment to do CrossFit than TRX. While this isn't a problem when you visit a gym, it could be a drawback for people working out from home (although this kind of defeats the purpose of doing CrossFit). To be ready for any kind of WOD or to take part in the CrossFit Open, you'll need barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bumper weights for barbells, barbell safety collars, jump ropes, pull-up bars, medicine balls, and pushing sleds. You could also add ropes for climbing and battle-rope exercises to this list.

From a fat-burning points of view, CrossFit burn more calories. According to Healthline, during a CrossFit circuit, a 165-pound female or a 195-pound male will burn 15-18 calories per minute. 

TRX

TRX training is a fitness program that focuses on using your body weight and gravity to improve your fitness. You’ll perform exercises using a heavy-duty adjustable strap, similar to the Navy Seals’ parachute webbing. These “suspension trainer devices” are the key piece of equipment. TRX's benefits include this emphasis on minimal equipment (less expensive and easier to learn) and variety (there are seemingly endless workout movements and exercises available).

TRX, also known as suspension training or Total Resistance Exercises (TRX), claims to improves mobility, flexibility, endurance, core strength and stability, and heart health. 

According to research published in the Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology, TRX has been scientifically proven to improve muscular fitness while reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure. In addition, researchers found that regular TRX training improves lipid profiles and body composition, especially in overweight women. This type of resistance training program can help reduce body fat, especially waist fat. 

Certified TRX trainers must do an 8-hour training course which costs $295. 

A typical TRX suspension training program could include Push up with pikes, Rows, Regular push-ups and atomic push-ups, Chest press, Bicep curls, and Mountain climbs. If you want to learn more about training with TRX, here’s a 40-minute TRX training video. TRX is great for training at home with minimal equipment but even in the gym, it's not a program I'd recommend over CrossFit if hypertrophy is your goal. 

TRX programs don't require a lot of equipment. You can do a full-body workout with just one strap. The only things you'll need are the beam and two handles, which can also double as ankle straps. That's a pretty small list compared to CrossFit's long laundry list of equipment. 

A study in the Australian journal of fitness research found that compared to regular resistance training, TRX was less effective at improving lower body strength than regular strength training. However, TRX was more effective at improving abdominal flexor back extensor endurance. For athletes looking to improve core endurance, TRX could be the better choice.

Approaches to Fitness 

Both CrossFit and TRX are functional fitness programs. In other words, both training systems focus on exercises that support everyday life. That's why they include movements such as pushing, pulling, walking, squatting, lunging, and bending. 

CrossFit exercises tend to focus on larger muscle groups and apart from the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk) are easier to grasp, at least conceptually. TRX exercises target specific muscles and include exercises such as the Atomic Pushup, which involves placing your feet in straps and performing push-ups with alternating knee tucks. 

CrossFit is known for promoting high-intensity workouts. Quick but gusting sprints on an air bike or rapid-fire thrusters followed by kipping pull-ups are typical exercises you'll find in short, intense workouts.

TRX, on the other hand, are generally less intense, with routines focusing on movements that improve agility, coordination, and flexibility.

What about calorie and fat burning?

I thought you'd never ask. Exercise has more health benefits than just fat loss, but there are still many good reasons to engage in CrossFit or TRX if burning calories and promoting fat loss are priorities. A study in the International Journal of Exercise Science examined the energy expenditure of participants in a 35-minute HIIT-style class. The class consisted of thirty 1-minute rounds of work separated with 10-second intervals of rest and transition resulted in a mean energy expenditure of 528 ± 62.3 kcal per session.
The study found that this result is “comparable to a 45-minute vigorous cycling session (519 ± 60.9 kcal) and exceeds the calories burned during a typical 2:1 (work-to-rest ratio) high-intensity interval training session (261 ± 43.6 kcal)”

comparison of HIIT TRX vs other sports
Image source: Int J Exerc Sci. 2020; 13(4): 1206–1216. Published online 2020 Sep 1.

Which Fitness Regime Is Best for You? 

Beginners might find TRX easier to manage so I'd recommend it to people just getting into fitness. For pure muscle mass building, CrossFit (modified to some extent) is a better choice but anyone who takes their training seriously can build muscle and get “shredded” with both exercise modalities. 

CrossFit helps you be consistent with daily workout schedules, and it's a good choice for people who want a community atmosphere.

TRX is perfect for people who want to exercise at any time, anywhere and is therefore ideal for people who travel a lot or want to work out at home. And of course, CrossFit bodyweight workouts are a good maintenance workout when it's not possible to get to the “box”. 

Bodyweight exercise and calisthenics fans might prefer the simplicity of TRX. On the other hand, handstand pushups and handstand walks, rope climbs, and gymnastic ring exercises like muscle ups show that CrossFit can be a very effective workout in the bodyweight-calisthenics fusion arena.

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