Kettlebells vs. TRX: Which Is a Better Value for the Money?
Ballistic or Suspension Training?
The best piece of exercise equipment is the one the owner enjoys the most and therefore will use the most. Of course, individual fitness or athletic goals play an important part in what types of exercises a person does; and chances are you're smart enough to know that no single piece of equipment holds all the answers.
So the question we're addressing is, "if I have $200 bucks to spend, should I buy a pair of kettlebells or the TRX suspension training system?"
The range of exercises which can be done with either choice is extensive. Let's assume a purchase of the recommended 35 lb. kettlebells for men and 18 or 24 for women, and that the TRX is used at increasingly difficult angles.
Both tools can cause a significant metabolic response, that is, build muscle and burn fat. Both can be used in a manner that stimulates continued adaptation in the body for a long time. So let's compare a few important considerations.
Unless you're driving to your destination, the TRX wins this one hands down. Seriously, how many of you are going to pay the extra charges to have the airline load your 40 to 70 pounds of iron? By contrast, you probably won't notice the extra two or three contributed by the TRX. As suspension training can easily be executed in a hotel room or stairwell, it makes this decision a no-brainer.
If you are driving it comes down to personal preference and goals. Are you staying in a hotel? Will you lug your kettlebells inside to workout in your room? Leave them in the car and take them with you to workout in some other destination? You're getting the benefit of swinging some cold iron around and access to unique kettlebell exercises if you do. Like the TRX, you can use these anywhere if you can get them where you're going.
On the other hand, you still have to lug these cannonballs around, and depending on how strong you are, this could be a bit of a hassle. The TRX will fit in your backpack if you're headed to the beach or on a hike and you probably won't notice the weight.
If you're workout area is the 3'x5' space between the bed and the bedroom wall, you have plenty of room for a couple of kettlebells and ample space to workout. These things can be brutally effective if you have to stand in a two foot square closet to workout for that matter. Bottom line? Kettlebells are pick-up and go, no set-up (just a warm-up) required.
The TRX is convenient once you have it set up. You can use their X-mount to have a permanent anchor point in your chosen workout area or mount it using the door anchor. I personally prefer the X-mount in the garage to the door anchor. Not too many doors I would trust with my weight in this house.
Once set-up, you can go into an easy warm-up and stretch, then quickly progress to harder exercises. The TRX is nice that way. If your body isn't up to lifting the weight of your kettlebells there is little to do besides work with a single bell or modify the movement.
Both tools present an unusual challenge. Specifically, the kettlebell is an unbalanced load, and the TRX requires your unbalanced load to stabilize or suffer the consequences; each works with unique movements.
The original Russian kettlebell
TRX and kettlebell exercises are very different, but for purposes of comparison, we'll take some common movements for each and see how they stack up against each other.
The kettlebell swing is first. It is mainly a hamstring exercise, but doing it at a steady pace for several minutes sends your heart rate through the roof. A comparable TRX move would be the 'suspended hip bridge' and/or leg curls. Both work similar muscles, and both require control of the core throughout the movement.
Is one better than the other? While it really depends on individual goals, the kettlebell offers greater opportunity to increase the resistance over time. This means anyone trying to develop more strength and power would accomplish this faster with kettlebells. Still, the suspension trainer is portable, and the necessity of stabilizing your own bodyweight will challenge a person for some time.
Next is the high-pull versus the snatch. The TRX high pull is a great upper back and rear deltoid exercise, and depending on the angle of your body, can be a very difficult strength-building exercise.
The kettlebell snatch is an intense exercise that also works the upper back among other things. It is a benchmark exercise for organizations like the RKC, and done in high repetitions with a moderate weight it can give your whole body a workout and is great for GPP, or general physical preparedness.
The difference is the high pull uses a slower cadence of movement (or should) than the snatch, and arguably puts similar muscle groups under greater tension throughout the repetition.
A heavy kettlebell snatch can build strength and muscle, and a moderate weight can be snatched for several minutes, increasing cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance. While the snatch certainly engages multiple muscle groups, time under tension, even if you tighten all major muscle groups (a la "Hardstyle" technique) is going to be less than it is for the high pull exercise.
Kettlebell Windmill Exercise
It would be hard to pick a winner in this equipment comparison, but because you can purchase ever-heavier 'bells, the kettlebell seems to have a long term advantage for developing raw strength and muscle. Consider the following two routines:
- Standing Press (with one or two 'bells)
- Windmills with a pick-up (picking another kettlebell off the ground when bending down,)
- Renegade Rows
- Turkish Get-up.
Do this routine for at least 5 repetitions of each exercise and go from exercise to exercise without rest. With all 4 exercises complete, rest a minute or two and repeat. Try this for 3 or 4 rounds and you have a very intense workout. Let's compare a similar routine with the TRX.
With the TRX, start out with:
- Horizontal Body Rows or pullups
- Suspended dips (advanced)
Lower the straps six inches off the ground and perform a superset of:
- Suspended push-ups followed by Chest flyes (also an advanced move.)
If this is too difficult, the dips can be assisted with your feet on the floor, and you can perform the flyes standing up. Still a tough workout. But while tough at first, how do you progress after you have mastered these exercises? The answer is:
- Change the angle
- Add weight or increase repetitions
So where should you spend your money? With its easy portability, sport specific workout crossover and easy set up anywhere, the TRX has a clear advantage. For traveling it's a must-have, and most people will continue to find it challenging to use for years.
However, if you like the feel of wrapping your hand around the cold iron and heaving a weight overhead (or between your legs,) a good pair of kettlebells can't be beat.
Let's face it, there's room in your life for both, but either investment will give you hours of entertainment while providing an effective workout; and isn't that what it's all about?