TRX vs Rings, Whats the difference? Which is right for you?
Whats the difference and which is best for you?
I personally come from a gymnastic rings background and was a little bit sceptical about TRX at first. My initial impression of TRX was that they are very similar to gymnastic rings but with perhaps less functionality.
However after training with them myself I discovered whilst they do share a lot of characteristics with gymnastic rings, they have some unique advantages and they're definitely a great way to introduce a beginner to suspension training.
The key similarities of trx and rings
Both the trx and gymnastic rings are for body weight exercise, hence there is a lot of crossover with the type of exercises you can do on both equipment.
They both have the advantage of being really easy to set up. You can suspend your rings and TRX system from any solid high point, such as goal posts, garage beams, pull up bars, trees and swing sets just to name a few. If you unsure on the specifics of setting up TRX, check out this YouTube video.
Each takes less then a minute to secure and the straps and height of handles can be adjust to suit your height and preference and start your workout. The trx and rings even weigh the same at about 1.6 kilos (2.5 lbs) so you can throw them in a back pack or gym bag and take them with you anywhere.
Both have the advantage of being able to rotate and move freely throughout space unlike static equipment.
This is easier on the joints and connective tissue as the equipment adapt to the movement of your body where you are most comfortable rather then your body following a predetermined pattern set by generic static equipment.
Suspension training and instability
TRX and gymnastic rings both work on the principle of suspension training. The equipment has an anchor point above your body and you hold onto either the rings or the handles which hang freely. The free hanging nature of the both rings and trx handles creates instability whilst you exercise.
Instability may initially seem like a dubious quality for fitness equipment but suspension training challenges the body's capacity to stabilise itself whilst exercising. The body's adaptive response to instability training is to strengthen the stabilising muscles around your shoulder joint and core. This both makes the shoulder stronger and more resistant to injury.
Differences between rings and TRX
The first difference is the genesis of each equipment. Rings comes from the sport of gymnastics whereas trx is more a specific supplementary training tool. Both can be scaled in difficulty but ring exercises tend to be better suited for advanced athelets .
However TRX are designed with beginners in mind, although the workouts can be increased in intensity to suit intermediate and stronger athletes too.
Both rings and trx use body weight as the resistance however TRX is designed to use only partial body weight. This means you always have either your feet or hands on the ground while part of your body is suspended
Ring exercises can be used with full body weight and partial body weight depending on your ability.
Advantages of the TRX
1. More comfortable for feet and ankles
TRX features two loops at the bottom of the handles which are used to cradle your feet. This opens up the possibility of different exercises that are less accessible with rings such as planks, pikes and decline push ups with your feet in the TRX and you hands on the ground.
As is your feet that are suspended and not your hands, the instability is felt more in the core rather then the shoulders. The array of exercises you can do in this position is great for developing functional core strength and really putting an emphasis on your abs for the summer 6 pack.
You can put your feet in the rings are perform exercises in the same way, however the rings are not designed for this and after a few reps it can be very uncomfortable on the feet and ankles compared to the TRX.
2. TRX is better for beginners
Compared to the gymnastic rings the TRX is a better training tool for beginners of suspension training. TRX was designed specifically for exercise whereas rings come from the sport of gymnastics, therefore a lot of ring based exercises can be too challenging or daunting for beginners.
The TRX are more stable than rings as they diverge from one single anchor point, rather then two entirely separate straps.
The reduces instability makes a lot of the exercises on TRX easier and more accesible then with rings. With TRX you can slowly build up your tolerance to suspension training rather then be overwhelmed at the beginning with a lack of stability.
Also most of the exercises require only partial body weight and the type of exercises can be easily scaled to more difficult variations as your progress. For example if you are finding rows insufficiently challenging then you can double the intensity and try one arms rows or rows with one leg off the ground.
3. The TRX can be used indoors on a door frame
With TRX the bear minimum you need is the equipment and a door frame. If you go for the mid range option (the cheapest trx does not contain a 'door anchor') then you are fully equipped to take your TRX anywhere.
This is particularly useful if you travel a lot and your hotel or air b&b doesn't have a gym. You can complete a challenging full body workout wherever you are and given they only weigh 2 lbs you can put them in your bag and take them anywhere without being weighed down.
4. The TRX handles rotate
Both rings and TRX handles rotate and move freely throughout space but the actual handles of the TRX are on a roller and can adjust to the optimal angle for your grip, whereas the rings are static in this sense.
This makes the TRX more of a specialist when it comes to bicep training and certain movements such as rows. The handles move to where the wrist is more comfortable during the course of the movement. This allows you to not focus on grip and concentrate on the intensity of your bicep training.
Disadvantages of the TRX
1. Limited potential for pushing exercises
One of the biggest disadvantages of TRX in comparison to rings is that the TRX is not designed particularly for pushing movements. Exercises such as dips and muscle ups, that require your centre of gravity above the handles are not practical with the trx.
This is due to the straps converging from a v shape from the one central anchor point rather then hanging from separate individual positions as with the rings.
This means the trx straps get in the way of almost all pushing exercises apart from push ups and triceps extensions. You can perform push ups with trx but you have to be mindful of how you perform the reps. You cannot realistically do the equivalent of close grip push ups with the trx as the straps will run against your arms and cause an uncomfortable friction chaffe as you go through the range of motion.
To perform push ups comfortably you have to adopt a wider hand placement so that the straps don't rub against your arms or shoulder during the movement.
To check out what that looks like, have a look a this YouTube video on trx push ups.
If one of your goals is to do push ups with your suspension trainer then rings is always a better option.
You can however do decline push ups with your feet in the foot cradles under the trx handles. This is a challenging variation that targets your upper chest and triceps and its a good way to incorporate push ups into your TRX routine.
2. Only uses partial body weight
The resistance from both trx and rings comes from your body weight. The difference is that TRX is designed to leverage only partial body weight. Whilst there are a lot of challenging exercises with the TRX, the resistance is ultimately limited, both in terms of exercises and resistance.
For example, the TRX allows you to perform a variety of pulling exercises well (such as body weight rows) thanks to its cylindrical rolling handles that rotate, so the handle adjusts to the optimal angle for grip. TRX however are not designed for pull ups or dips, so your potential to scale up to a more challenging exercise that harness your whole body weight is limited.
This can be a problem if you are using the TRX for progressive strength and muscle gains.
3. TRX are more expensive then Rings
Perhaps the biggest distinction between TRX and rings is the price. TRX range in price from $99 to $200 (£79- £169 sterling) depending on 'anchoring solutions' i.e. the accessories used to secure the TRX, like door mounts and wall brackets.
The most appropriate option for most people is the mid range TRX costing $149 (£129) as it features the handy door mount as it gives you the option to train with your TRX inside. This is still a great price for a portable gym and represents far better value for money then a gym membership.
On the other hand you can buy a decent pair of rings for as little as $30 (£27.99). A good pair of rings is likely to last you a lifetime and they have a greater repertoire of exercises then the TRX. At a quarter of the price the rings are the better investment.
Whatever you do, don’t buy the cheapest gymnastic rings on amazon. I was once using pair made from plywood that broke apart in my hand during a workout. Fortunately I wasn’t injured! But now I use durable rings made from solid birch wood that I have been using for years. Check out my recommend gear page for my favourite gymnastic rings and chalk that I use myself.
Advantages of gymnastic rings
1. You can perform pushing exercises.
Gymnastic ring training has a greater diversity of exercises as you can perform exercises where your body weight is predominately above the rings.
The rings are meant to be hung so that they are slightly wider then shoulder width apart. Therefore you can do exercises such as ring dips, muscle ups and ring push ups without the straps getting in the way, as they would with trx.
This helps you challenges the chest shoulders and triceps in a way that you couldn't with the TRX.
It also helps you to strengthen the supporting muscles around the shoulder joint more effectively then the TRX. This can have huge crossover benefits such as improving your strength in other pushing exercises and preventing any shoulders injuries caused by strength imbalances between the primary movers (chest, shoulder, triceps) and stabilising muscles around the shoulder and core strength.
2. Gymnastic rings can be used with full body weight
Gymnastic rings are designed to take your full body weight and more. Therefore they work great with calisthenics staple exercises such as pull ups, dips as well as more specialised skills such as 'skin the cat' and iron cross.
You can also transition from below the rings to above the rings with exercise like muscle ups. Skin the cat and muscle ups are exercises that develop mobility simultaneously with strength.
Using full body weight will increase the intensity of body weight exercises and therefore increases the potentially for gains in strength and muscle mass.
3. Gymnastic rings are more versatile
Of course with rings you can also extend the straps of the rings and perform a lot of the exercises close to the ground such as rows, reverse flyes and assisted squats as you would with a trx.
There are definitely certain exercises that are more suited to TRX but the rings perform equally well on a lot of the overlapping exercises.
Combined with a greater range of pushing exercises available with gymnastic rings and practically unlimited progressions to elite gymnastic movements the rings are a more versatile tool when it comes to workouts. Rings exercises can also be scaled from beginner to advanced.
If your really serious about your training and then rings are the way to go.
Disadvantages of Gymnastic Rings
1. The level of instability can be too much for beginners
The increased instability of gymnastic rings compared to TRX can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your personal perspective.
With exercises that are 'in hold' where your centre of gravity is above the rings, the instability is more pronounced. Your body's adaptive response to the instability is to strengthen the stabilisation muscles that surround the shoulder joint, particularly those of the rotator cuff.
This makes your shoulders a stronger foundation for other lift such as bench press and clean and jerk as well as making your shoulders resilient, and more injury proof.
However too much instability is often overwhelming, particularly for beginners. TRX strikes the balance of attaining the benefits of suspension training without being too difficult. The difference in difficulty is due to the straps of the trx converging from one central point whereas the gymnastic rings are hung from two separate straps which makes the TRX more stable.
Most techniques of gymnastic rings requires a good base level of strength and skill and need some progressional work even to attempt certain exercises whereas most people can find a level of exercise with the TRX that they can start without any expert knowledge or skill.
If you come from a background with no prior body weight training then the TRX is the better option for starting off.
2. Rings can't be used indoors as easily as TRX
Trx have the notable advantage that you can use the equipment indoors easily with a door bracket. Rings are less versatile in this regard. You need to hang rings from a height with secure anchor point such as a tree or pull up bar.
They can be used with eye bolts and hung indoors however this is fairly impractical and means you cannot adjust the width of the rings easily. You can of course hang rings from garage beams if you have the space which is a good alternative. For more options on mounting rings check out this article.
The trx is more versatile in that you can easily set it up in a hotel room and take it on the road with you. Whilst this is possible with rings, you may have to go to the local park or outdoor calisthenics bars to find a place appropriate to use your rings, which can be a hassle.
3. Harder on the hands
The trx handle is on a roller, which means it automatically adjusts to your angle of grip. The Gymnastic rings are static objects therefore the equipment doesn't adjust throughout the course of a movement in the same way the TRX does. This is an advantage when doing rowing movements and can be easier on the hands by potentially causing less calluses or other problems with friction.
This is less of a problem for anyone who is a gym veteran but if you are a beginner then rings can have an effect on the comfort of your hands.
When choosing between gymnastic rings or TRX, you have to consider which is best for you.
If you're a beginner to suspension training or resistance training in general then the TRX is the right choice. The TRX is more stable and it has a great range of exercises and progressional variations of these exercises that are great for beginners.
You can develop routines that are scalable in difficulty and get real results in terms of functional strength and muscle tone. If you need inspiration check out these 25 TRX exercises.
If you are more experienced with body weight exercises and want to progress in terms of muscle mass, strength and skill then the gymnastic rings are more appropriate for you.
There is a greater repertoire of advanced exercises such as dips. muscle ups, levers and planches that cannot be performed with TRX. If you need any inspiration for gymnastic rings training then here's a video of the 25 best exercises from beginner to advanced.
Also there is a significant overlap in terms of exercises between the two equipment and the rings can far more effectively target the chest better then the TRX.
The rings are also significantly cheaper and durable enough to last a life time. If you want to know more about the benefits of rings training check out this article.
In all honesty I personally would recommend rings for most people as they are far more versatile and there is more potentially for progression in terms of functional strength and muscle mass.
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