Better than weights? Suspension trainers are a joint-friendly way to build muscle in older adults

Suspension trainers like the TRX have been found to be better than weights and bands for building muscle in one study

Man doing TRX exercises with a personal trainer
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's no secret that as we get older, our bodies change. Our muscles gradually get stiffer and weaker, reportedly at a rate of around 3% a year, while fat is stored more easily – especially around the middle, a phenomenon often known as "the middle-aged spread". This can lead to many people becoming frail in later life. 

Resistance training with the best adjustable dumbbells and best resistance bands works against this process by building muscle as fast, or faster, than it can deteriorate, which also helps you keep fat away. However, the weights section in the gym can be quite an intimidating prospect, especially for older adults, and some people may feel as though they'd rather look elsewhere for a great home exercise solution. 

Fortunately, suspension trainers such as the popular TRX systems (which also happens to have made our best workout equipment for home list) are terrific options for older adults. 

Usually comprised of adjustable straps of canvas webbing ending in handles, these training devices can be attached to any old door frame, post, or even a dedicated hook, to create an extremely versatile home gym. They're easy to use, joint-friendly, and don't require any heavy weights – just your own body weight, which you can use to build muscle all over your body. 

A man working out using the TRX Home2 suspension trainer

(Image credit: TRX)

One recent study published in the scientific journal Nutrients (opens in new tab) compared suspension trainers to a resistance training program using weights and bands. Studying 36 men with an average age of 67, the researchers found body composition and hand grip strength improved more for the participants who used the suspension trainers than the "traditional" strength training group. 

By the end of the study, those using the suspension trainers had generally less fat, and more muscle, than the people who used weights and resistance bands.

Even in your sixties and seventies, suspension trainers can help you stay in tip-top condition. As you're gripping the handles tightly during all the different exercises, it's no wonder hand grip strength improved in the study. This is actually more important than you might think: research (opens in new tab) has shown better grip strength is a great marker of health in older adults, and leads to less falls in later life.

A TRX, or equivalent suspension trainer, is a wonderful, cost-effective home workout investment for anyone, but particularly if you're getting on in years and don't fancy throwing dumbbells around to stay fit and healthy. Remember when you're trying to build muscle, it's important to get enough protein into your diet to help your muscles repair themselves. We recommend our best protein powder for weight loss guide as a place to start.

Matt Evans
News Editor

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.