Gymnastic rings are one of the most effective training tools when it comes to targeting the upper-body. They can be used for both muscular endurance and strength development of the of the upper body and also for core development. Let’s have a look through the pluses and minuses of gymnastic rings and the 12 exercises you should consider adding to your training programme based on your current ability.
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For those looking for a minimalist training tool that they can use either in a limited space or even outdoors, rings can be a go to selection. They take up very little space and can easily be stored away. The only difficult aspect of rings will be having a point to fix them, this can be solved by installing a robust pull up bar.
Gymnastic rings can be used to make bodyweight exercises more difficult, but they can also be used to perform extremely challenging, highly skilled variations like strict ring muscle ups. These allow advanced individuals to set fun and novel goals when training with rings. They also have some extremely challenging core variations .
Due to their form, that they hang from the ceiling from a fixed point far from the hand positioning, they require extremely high amounts of stability. When we compare a ring press up with a classic bodyweight press up we see a huge difference between the two, with the gymnastic ring press up being substantially more challenging due to the increased demands on stability. This is an exceptional way to build robust and healthy shoulders that are capable of a variety of different tasks.
Rings provide some of the best variations for those either looking to build towards their first pull up or those who are trying to increase the number of pull ups they can perform. Having a very strong horizontal pull will be important as a way to build towards pull ups and rings can provide a huge variety of horizontal pull variations in a way that allows for progressive overload to be applied overtime.
Another key benefit of gymnastic rings are the huge amount of core variations that they provide. Using the same core exercises on repeat can make training feel a little mundane, so rings can help provide some novel and very challenging core variations that will do wonders for your training programme. Have a look through our compilation of ring exercises that challenge the core.
It’s no secret that gymnast's who perform on the rings do not have highly developed lower bodies, this would be counter intuitive as it would require them to move more weight. Rings offer very few options for training the lower body and where they can be used it is usually as a regression to a bodyweight exercise, meaning they are extremely easy for more advanced individuals. This is not a negative if you are using multiple different tools for your strength training programme, however if you just want to use one tool, rings will limit you from becoming proficient in squats and hinges which for me are the crucial pillars of resistance training.
Rings are extremely challenging for beginners, and although there are some exercises that beginners can use to better their training the vast majority of ring exercises are harder than traditional bodyweight exercises. Beginners need to ensure they have mastered the bodyweight version of a movement before attempting to perform it with rings, the press up being the perfect example of this. We have an article on how which exercises are best for beginners when it comes to gymnastic rings.
In my opinion, rings and kettlebells can be the perfect mix of a minimalist training set up that allows you to target all key muscle groups. Not only can you target them, but you can target them with variety and novelty, making your sessions fun and interesting, therefore making them sustainable. Making the decision to just use rings and body weight training will make overloading your lower-body nearly impossible, so for good long term training results this is not recommended.
If you are a beginner and want to use rings, by all means use them in a well planned resistance training programme. This means a plan that provides exercises that can be performed with high levels of technical accuracy, meaning a great deal of the exercises in this list will be out of reach. As a beginner, mastering the most basic movements first with your bodyweight will be the priority, from here you can progress to the rings to add complexity over time.
Ring row eccentrics are an excellent way for beginners to build the initial building blocks towards being able to perform a ring row. This exercises will be far too easy for intermediate and advanced individuals so should not be programmed for them. However adding a tempo to the eccentric of a traditional ring row can be a great option. The difficulty of the ring row eccentric can be manipulated by the speed of the eccentric.
The ring row is a very typical ring exercise that is used by both beginners and intermediate individuals to build strength and by advanced individuals to build muscular endurance. The difficulty of the ring row can be manipulated through changing the foot positioning, the further away the feet are from the fixed point of the rings the easier this exercise becomes. This means it can be made very easy allowing a great deal of beginners perform it with competence and making it easy to progress over time through advancing the feet.
The feet elevated ring row is a great row variation for more advanced individuals looking to increase their horizontal pulling strength. This will be far too challenging for intermediate trainees and is reserved for more advanced individuals. These should only be performed if you are able to do them with control, there should be no aggressively pulling with a loss of core tightness.
The eccentric ring press up is an excellent variation for developing horizontal pressing strength. It is a very challenging exercise, and although it may seem like it is for beginners, this exercise is more for intermediate level trainees who can already perform 15+ press ups with great technique and a tight core. They should only be performed if you can control every portion of the movement.
The ring press up is a brilliant way to turn a push up into a strength movement for advanced individuals. It requires a great deal more stability and control than a traditional press up, making it substantially more difficult. This should only be programmed if you or your clients can perform 20+ traditional press ups .
The ring pull up is a fun vertical pull variation that can be used in training blocks from time to time. The hand positioning is slightly different, but not so much that it will create any different adaptations so it is more just for the sake of variety (or if you do not have access to a pull up bar). This exercise can also be useful to perform with a false grip if you are trying to perform a strict ring muscle up.
The ring active hang is another vertical pull alternative to the pull up bar active hang. Again the adaptations will be very similar to the bar. These can be made extremely challenging through performing them with a false grip, which can help you if you are working towards a strict muscle up.
This is one of the most effective straight arm strength static holds available in the gym. It is extremely challenging for a great deal of individuals, even advanced individuals who do not perform ring exercises regularly will find this very challenging. This exercise should not be performed by beginners as it will be too challenging and will not be performed with technical precision.
The ring top of press up hold is a brilliant way for beginners to work towards the ring support hold movement. It is still challenging and can be performed by all levels just for differing amounts of time. The elbows must be locked on this movement to get the benefits of the exercise, beginners can find this extremely difficult so make sure you are focusing on this point.
If you want to test yourself or your client, programme some bottom of dip holds, they will push your upper-body static strength very hard. These should not be attempted unless you are capable of performing multiple rings dips as they can cause tears in the pectorals in those who are not strong enough.
The ring hanging knee raise adds some instability to the traditional hanging knee raise, making it a slightly more challenging variation but broadly the same. This targets the anterior core very effectively. There are some ring variations that target the obliques but most of the effective core exercises are anterior core variations.
The ring long level plank is a very tough core exercise, the long lever plank is challenging enough as it is without the instability of the rings. If you are a more advanced individual and are looking for a challenging core variation, consider giving this one a try.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.