The $99 TRX knock-off seems to be a hot product these days. In fact The sales person at a fitness store that is part of a national chain tried to sell me one, to which I politely declined. I must admit that I thought it was pretty bold to be selling knock-offs in a retail setting next to the real ones. They seem to be more frequently sold by individual trainers, coaches and via websites.

I’m not writing this to pass judgement about whether or not you use or buy knock-off products, but rather to get you to consider whether there are safety implications if you do.

Think about what you will do with your TRX suspension trainer. You are literally hanging from it. Is that really a product for which you want to gamble on poor quality manufacturing that typically comes with illegal goods? If you are a fitness enthusiast who is training yourself, then it’s not as bad since the only person who will get hurt is you. If you are a trainer on the other hand, an injury to a client using the knock-off can potentially ruin you. Keep in mind that your insurance company will consider you in violation of your policy and therefore will not support you in the event of a lawsuit.

If you train yourself and you decide that you still want the knock-off suspension trainer, please make sure you clear the space behind and under you so that if it fails, you will only fall to the ground as opposed to hitting your head or spine on the corner of a coffee table.

If you really want a suspension trainer but want an inexpensive alternative to the TRX, consider picking up a Jungle Gym XT. Personally I don’t like them as much as the TRX, but they are a legitimate (and safe!) $99 alternative.

What about other discount fitness equipment?

Whenever you see an option for discount or homemade fitness products, make sure you consider how you will use it before deciding whether it is a good idea. As noted above – if you are a trainer, it is probably never a good idea because it will likely render you uninsured. If you train yourself, then really ask yourself if it is a good idea:

  • Dumbbells: A cheap dumbbell is probably just fine. In fact I have recommended to people that they can take a few small dumbbells and put them into a sturdy back pack or tool bag and use that instead of purchasing a full set of them. Or you can fill the bag with other heavy products like books and cans of soup. If you go this route, do make sure you test that the bag is sturdy enough for the weight you are using, and ideally don’t do this for any movement where you will hold the weight over your body. With the right bag and the right exercises, this can be an effective, inexpensive, and safe option.
  • Plyometric boxes: Like the TRX, this is another product where homemade or knock-off warrants the “bad idea jeans” warning. Typically you jump onto plyometric boxes. What happens if it breaks when you land on it? Odds are you will go flying. Don’t do it. If you do get a homemade one, make sure you have absolute confidence in the builder.
  • Sleds: Sleds are another good bet for homemade or discount options as the consequences of a failure are minimal.
  • Stability balls: This is another product where I’d suggest using caution. There are cheap ones out there, but again –  you’re letting it support your body weight. I have seen one break beneath someone while he was kneeling on it.  Thankfully he wasn’t hurt, but he certainly could have been. Since then, I will only purchase name brand stability balls. Paying $8.77 for a cheap “fitness ball” at Walmart instead of but the high end ones cost Side Note on the topic of safety: Definitely do not use weights with a stability ball regardless of quality. They may say burst-proof, but they do not stay that way forever under any load. In fact since a lawsuit involving a broken stability ball that lead to a broken wrist for Sacramento King Francisco Garcia, most stability ball manufacturers and retailers now recommend against using them for things like bench press.
  • Slideboards: I will admit that I tried to make a homemade slideboard with a Crazy Carpet. It was a pretty big failure. It’s marginally okay for reverse lunges but useless for lateral strides. That said, safety is not the issue here – simply usability. I’ll save the Crazy Carpet for the toboggan hill.


I can’t think of any other equipment where one would be tempted to buy a knock-off or make their own. Please comment if I have missed any!

The key once again is to think about how you will use the equipment. If it will be holding your body weight, spend the money to make sure you are getting something that has actually been safety tested.

Related links:
TRX Training’s official word on knock-off TRXs
Why I use the TRX for myself and my clients

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa specializing in sports performance and injury prevention.

1 Comment

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