Last updated on May 15th, 2023 at 11:59 am
When Jocko Willink, Seal team commander and all around badass, was asked to list the equipment people should buy for their home gym, he said, “If there’s one thing that you could have, if there was one piece of equipment, it would probably be smart to go with just wooden rings… You could basically work for the rest of your life on rings.”.
He’s right. Suspension training is highly effective and something everyone should add to their home gym. In fact, if you are starting from scratch, a very good case can be made that this should be the first thing you buy.
Rings aren’t the only option for suspension systems. If you’ve looked at this type of gear, you’ve seen two primary choices. Good old fashioned gymnastic rings and the newer TRX style systems. With gymnastic rings running $30-$50 and the TRX systems going for as much as $200, you might have found yourself asking the same question I did. Which one is better?
Olympic rings are a better overall option than a TRX suspension training system for most home gym owners. Because rings use 2 attachment points (TRX uses 1), they allow more possible movements and are better for basic exercises like pushups and dips. Rings are also far less expensive than a TRX system.
That said, I’m not knocking the TRX style systems. I may even buy one eventually. If you already know which way you are leaning, see the end of this article for my specific recommendations and a break down of the suspension systems that are available.
If you aren’t yet sure which system is right for you, or if suspension training is even a thing for you, read on.
Benefits of suspension training
Let’s say you don’t want to take Jocko’s word for it. You’ve heard you should add rings or a TRX to your gym, but no one ever explained why. It’s important to review the basic benefits of suspension training. This way you can decide if it’s right for you in the first place.
I can think of no other training modality that works as many muscle groups in so many unique ways. Dozens of different exercises can be performed. Which exercises you can do varies by system, but no matter your choice, you will have a myriad to pick from. This is a big part of the reason Jocko recommends this so highly!
Increased muscle activation
Suspension systems hang in space, your hands/feet are not anchored to a bar or the ground. Because of that, suspension trainers force your entire body to assist with each exercise. You are required to stabilize the rings/handles as you perform each movement. This activates stabilizing muscles not worked in traditional training. Suspension training recruits more muscles, which leads to increased coordination, strength, and body control.
A good deal of the stabilization that suspension training requires comes from your core. That means that even without direct stimulation, you are still getting an incredible core workout. You’ll be amazed at how well this works, and you’ll never need to do a crunch again!
Because you can raise and lower the height at which the systems hang, you can increase or decrease the load you put on your muscles very easily. No additional weights are required. There are seemingly endless movement variations that make each exercise progressively harder. Without any additional equipment, you can add increasing difficulty across an array of movement patterns.
Better athletic training
Because of the increased core work, stabilizer activation, improved coordination, and body control needed, suspension training is ideal for use in sports specific training. Like all athletics, it works because you are moving your body through space. It is an athletic trainer almost without equal.
This is a big one for me. When using a barbell or the floor, your hands are fixed in one position. The problem is that as you move through the range of motion in any exercise, the natural angles of your hands and joints change. When using rings or similar devices, it allows your hands/joints free range of motion through each movement. That means less stress on those joints and thus less chance of injury!
A second safety factor is that you don’t need a spotter. Unlike most big barbell lifts, there is no heavy weight ready to crash down on you and cause serious injury if something goes wrong. There are some very good ways to mitigate this risk when training with a barbell, but suspension training can eliminate that need all together!
One thing I’ve grown to love about training with rings is the sheer number of different variants there are to each primary movement. There are so many different ways to push, pull, and hinge your way through a workout. I never get bored like I sometimes do with free weights!
What’s your goal?
Think suspension training might be for you? Does it match your training and fitness goals? If so, it’s time to get more specific. What do you want out of your home gym? What are you trying to accomplish? Answer these questions and you’ll know which type of suspension system is right for you.
My goal was to add a versatile piece of equipment to my home gym that would help me build coordination and strength in my upper body. I was not looking for an aerobic trainer, direct core work, or something for leg day. I wasn’t looking to travel with it and I have a dedicated spot in my gym to mount it.
You may have different goals. You might be looking for a compact portable training system. Maybe your needs are for cardio or HIIT training. Are you looking to blast your abs in a new and different way? Before you start looking, it will be important to know your specific training goals. If you do, you can match them up to the distinctly different benefits that a set of rings or a TRX offer.
Once I started looking, I was surprised at how many different options there were. I’ll cover a few of them at the end of this article, but the main contenders are gymnastic rings and a TRX system. Those are the gold standard in suspension training. Both have a dedicated following. Both are highly effective and can be found in commercial gyms and CrossFit boxes. Both can help you reach your goals, depending on what those goals are.
But they also have some distinct differences that will help you decide between them. Especially if you know your goals going in.
- Price range – $30-$50
- Material – Wood or composite
- Anchor point – Independent, one for each ring
- Length – I recommend getting a set with 18’-20’ straps that are 1.5” wide
- Adjustability – Infinite, can be adjusted in any increment
- Weight capacity – 600 lbs. per strap
- Warranty – 1 year
- Price range – $99-$199
- Material – Handles are padded with foam or textured rubber
- Anchor point – Single anchor, can come with up to 3 different attachment devices (door, bar, pole)
- Length – 6’- 8’
- Adjustability – 4 preset length adjustments
- Weight capacity – Tested to 1400 lbs.
- Warranty – 5 years
Let’s start where everyone usually starts, price. Rings win hand down in the price category. Judged sheerly on price, you could buy 6 or 7 sets of rings for what one TRX costs. That said, there are plenty of valid reasons to spend more on the TRX. Once again, it comes down to what your goals are in buying. Read on to see the full comparison and go beyond price.
Ease of set up
Both are easy to set up. For the TRX, simply select one of the three included anchor points and attach it. Then connect the straps to the anchor. That’s it. For rings, each ring has its own strap. That strap is looped over a bar, tree branch, or other support. Create a loop from the strap that goes through the ring and voila, you are ready to go. No advantage either way here, both are a simple set up.
The TRX packs up smaller and a bit lighter for travel. It’s not a huge difference, but in today’s age of trying to get everything into one carry on bag, this may be a critical advantage. If this is your primary concern, the TRX are a good choice.
I’d also recommend looking at the “Monkii Bars II” I describe at the end of the article. If I buy something to travel with, I will probably go with those over the TRX.
Rings can still be packed up nicely to take with. The resulting packed item is a bit larger and typically a bit heavier than the TRX, but not so much that you couldn’t take them with you. I’ve done that a few times with mine and they travel very well. As long as you have a place to set them up at your destination, you are set. I’ve use trees in a park, monkey bars at a playground, and the beams in parking garages to set my rings up and get a training session in.
Rings are damn near indestructible. One nice set will last you a life time. The same can be said of the TRX system. Both, if cared for, will last you as long as you’d like to keep them. Neither stands above the other in this area.
Some people find the rounded, bare wood handles of rings hard and uncomfortable. When I first started using mine, I would have agreed. Two things fixed this. One was simply getting used to them. The other was learning how to grip them. A few YouTube videos and you’ll be a pro. The handles won’t bother you at all after that.
That said, the TRX handles are textured rubber and straight. Many people tend to like this feel better than rings. Another nice feature is that the handles spin around the straps that support them. That means that they rotate as you do exercises like curls or tricep extensions, which is nice.
One last point on comfort. I have giant hands. The rings I recommend below come in two possible diameters. 1.11” and 1.25”. I like that you have this choice. If you have mitts like me, get the larger set. If not, go for the smaller. It really does make a big difference. With the TRX, I found myself wishing the handles were bigger around. I don’t with my rings.
Flexibility of set up
The TRX comes with 3 different anchoring solutions. This allows easy attachment to a door, an overhead bar, or a pole/tree trunk. This makes them well suited for traveling. You can set them up pretty much anywhere 10′ and lower.
Rings are a little more restricted. You need an overhead bar or branch to loop the straps over. I’ve seen DIY door mounts, but that won’t come with your rings and the ones I’ve seen won’t work on every door.
The TRX doesn’t lend itself to anchoring to higher points. If there’s a high branch or bar you are trying to use as an anchor, rings are many times easier to set up than a TRX. With TRX, you will be limited to reachable pull up bars and door frames (TRX recommends anchor heights of 7′-9′). With rings, you have a lot more options. Simply toss the buckle end of the strap up and over your anchor point and away you go!
One more very important difference between the two systems is the heights you able to adjust the handles/rings to. With TRX, there are 4 height adjustments. The top most adjustment will be 1-2’ below your anchor point, no higher. The bottom point will be near the floor if using an anchor point that is 8’ high. There are two fixed positions between the highest and the lowest.
The rings are much more flexible here. You can slide them all the way up to right next to the anchor point. You can get them all the way to the ground as long as your anchor point is 9’-10’ or lower. And they are infinitely adjustable so you can fine tune the ring height to exactly what you want and need. This is one of my favorite things about my rings.
Flexibility of set up is a key area where knowing your goals comes into play. If like me, you are buying them to stay in your home gym, mount to a 9’ ceiling joist, and be used for pull-ups, the rings win. If you need the door mount or the ability to travel and have more options for mounting, the TRX is the better choice.
Versatility of exercises
Here is where some significant differences start to show up. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, having your goals in mind as you review these differences will help you decide between the two systems.
An obvious difference everyone notices is that the TRX has foot straps. You can use them to elevate your feet for challenging core training and very intense metabolic conditioning. Even though rings lack the foot straps, using different exercises you can still get both an amazing core workout as well as a killer metabolic conditioning workout. Both systems can leave you in a puddle of sweat if you let them.
What you won’t read in the marketing material for the TRX is that getting your feet in those supports could be considered a sport unto itself. I had a really hard time when I tried the TRX. Especially since when you put one foot in, it pulls that strap down and the other one up and out of reach. I’m sure with time I could get better at it, but for me it was frustrating at best.
The next most obvious difference stems from the difference in anchor points. With the TRX, the straps connected to the handles travel upward in an upside down V shape up to a single attachment. With rings, the anchor points are directly above the rings, leaving plenty of room between the straps. This difference is absolutely huge when it comes to certain exercises.
Pull ups are much easier on rings. Not only because you can mount them higher, but because the rings can be spaced shoulder width apart. With the TRX, the handles hang right next to each other, straight down from their single anchor point. So in addition to pulling yourself up, you also need to pull the handles apart, under weight. That makes pull ups on the TRX unwieldy and uncomfortable. So much so that I can see a lot of people simply not doing them.
Push ups are also harder on the TRX. Because the straps immediately taper inward, they rub uncomfortably on your arms and back. With rings, the straps go straight up and are out of your way.
Any movement performed above the handles/rings is pretty much impossible on the TRX. Dips and L-sits aren’t going to happen. Your upper body is blocked by the straps running to that single, centrally located anchor point. And forget muscle ups. Not gonna happen for normal humans on a TRX.
Finally, if you want to do any gymnastic style ring strength moves like the iron cross, maltese, some levers, or planches, TRX is a no go here as well. Those are crazy hard moves and most people will not be doing them anyway. If your goal is to progress to some serious strength exercises, rings will be the far superior choice.
It was these differences more than anything else that made me purchase rings over the TRX. I wanted these for strength training. Push ups, pull ups, and dips at minimum would be part of my training. That said, you may not be looking to do these exercises. There are a hundred other things you can do on the TRX. Again, remember your goals!
After a lot of research, I’ve realized that these are two distinctly different products. As I looked into them, trying to decide which to buy, I found myself seeing uses for both. It didn’t turn out to be a “this one is better than that one” type of a comparison. This was so much the case that at some point, I may add a TRX type trainer to my arsenal if my needs dictate.
The TRX has some distinct advantages. It is highly portable and can mount in more place than rings. It lends itself to lower body work, direct core training, and metabolic sessions better than the rings. It is geared towards those who want beginner to some intermediate strength training. If your primary goal of training is fat loss, this would be another reason to go with the TRX and not rings.
The TRX comes in 3 flavors
The TRX Go system retails at $99 and is a scaled down version that is lighter and more portable. It only comes with 2 anchoring attachments instead of the three you’ll find in their other kits. If your goal is something that can travel with you, this is the system to get. Check the current pricing of the TRX Go on Amazon here.
The TRX Home 2 system retails at $149. Here you get all 3 anchor points that are available. It’s a little beefier than the Go system as the straps are about twice the width. The foot loops are adjustable. The webbing is more comfortable. And the handles are more comfortable than in the Go system. If you are buying for your home gym, but don’t want to go to their Pro model, this is the choice. Check the current pricing of the TRX Home 2 on Amazon here.
The TRX Pro 3 system retails at $199. With the upgrade to pro, you get antimicrobial textured rubber handles, upgraded webbing, padded foot cradles, and a theft resistant carabiner. This system is ideal for the heavy user or use in a gym where it will be used by multiple people. In this vein, the warranty on the Go and Home are for a single user. The Pro is warrantied for multiple users. Check the current pricing of the TRX Pro 3 on Amazon here.
***Beware counterfeit and cheap suspension systems!!! You’ll find a lot of cheap alternatives on Amazon and other places. DO NOT BUY THESE! There have been countless reports of the metal connectors failing and people falling. It’s not worth a serious injury to save a few dollars!***
Rings have their own set of advantages. They are geared perfectly for strength training. Rings will grow with you as you progress from the most basic exercises all the way to the most demanding. They allow work above and below the rings themselves. Something that isn’t possible on the TRX style set ups. They are simple, clean, and something that will challenge you for a lifetime.
There are a lot of rings out there, but I think it’s really important that your set has a few key features.
- First, get wood. I got composite for my first set and would much rather have wood.
- Get a set that has straps that go to 18’-20’. That gives you an effective working distance of 9’-10’ from your anchor point.
- Get a set that has markings on the straps so it’s easy to set them up at the same height.
- Go for rings that come in a couple different diameters so you can buy a set that fits your hand size.
Let’s deal with the most obvious first. DIY. Yes, you can make your own TRX for just a few bucks. There are a bunch of videos on YouTube showing you how to do it. I will do a lot of things DIY, but this just isn’t one of them.
You’re supporting my body weight above a hard floor with these. I wouldn’t chance that. I also like the way rings feel in my hands. A sawed off piece of PVC for a handle just doesn’t do it for me. You buy this piece of equipment once. Even if you go for the most expensive TRX, it’s only $200. Spend the money, save your time, be safe. To me that’s what makes the most sense.
Jungle Gym XT
If you like the TRX system, but want a slightly less expensive alternative, look at the Jungle Gym XT. This is the closest competitor to the TRX and between the two, there’s few reasons not to go with the JGXT. In fact, the JGXT has separate anchor points, so things like push ups and dips become a lot easier to do than with the TRX. You can check the current pricing of the Jungle Gym XT here on Amazon.
Monkii Bars II
The last alternate I’ll touch on is the one I will probably buy. The Monkii bars II. The reason I’d buy something like the TRX or these Monkii Bars is the portability. I travel every so often and hotel gyms are mediocre at best. If they even have them. The Monkii Bars pack down into a really cool travel size. The TRX you simply wad up and throw in a bag. The Monkii Bars are made for traveling.
I love the idea of throwing them in a backpack or carryon and having everything I need to train while I’m away. They are well designed and look great. They use dual anchor points too so they don’t have my least favorite drawback of the TRX system. As I write this, I find myself more and more tempted to place an order for them! If you are a frequent traveller, do yourself a favor and check them out!
I have no affiliate relationship with this product, I just think it’s really cool. Check out there website here!
I’ve had my set of rings for over 4 years now. They are one of the most consistently used pieces of equipment in my home gym. I’ve tried the TRX on several occasions and they are really nice too. As I’ve said about 50 times in this article, it all comes down to what your goals are with this type of training.
Whichever direction you decide to go, I strongly recommend adding suspension gear to your home gym. It will be equipment that you love and use for many years. It will grow with you and challenge you and add variety and fun to your work outs! And if you don’t want to take my word for it, take a few moments and let Jocko convince you instead!