Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gymnastic Rings Exercises - Get Built Like a Gymnast

Gymnastics rings are becoming increasingly popular for use in the home gym.  It's easy to believe that the use of rings are beyond mere mortals when you've watched professional gymnasts use them in their routines.  And even though there certainly are some movements that many of us won't achieve, even those professional level athletes began their training with certain exercises on gymnastics rings that we all can do.

The simplicity of the rings makes them one of the most inexpensive, yet amazingly effective tools in the industry.  And the instability that is inherent in their design and function will develop strength and stability like no other piece of equipment can.

When most of us think about building strength and muscle mass, barbells and heavy weights normally come to mind.  Yet, when we look at those collegiate and olympic level gymnasts, their chiseled physiques impress on us that heavy weights are not the only solution.

We're not going to fool you into thinking that training with gymnastics rings is easy.  It's not.  It does take commitment and consistency to achieve the results you are after.  But one remarkable characteristic of the design is that by raising or lowering the height of the rings in most cases we can adjust the scale and difficulty of the exercise to match any athletes current ability.

And unlike a barbell, kettlebell or dumbbell that can cease to challenge you as your strength increases, that same set of gymnastics rings hanging in your gym can challenge you every single day without having to purchase more or heavier weights.  


When watching a professional gymnast's routine on the rings, one of the first things you will notice is that their feet never touch the ground.  As a beginner, the majority of our time is going to be spent with our feet on the ground until we build the strength necessary to stay supported above the rings.

Even if you are no stranger to the gym, much of the gym equipment that is used to develop pulling and pushing strength is static in nature.  A static pull up bar or selectorized machines are perfect examples of this type of equipment.  Gymnastic Rings are completely different in that in addition to mustering the pulling or pushing force, you also have to stabilize the rings.  They will naturally want to float away from your body and you will need to fight that every step of the way.  That's a good thing.  But fighting that instability is a characteristic that is not normally trained in many common workout programs and you'll need to build that strength.


To get us most familiar with the types of exercises and benefit gymnastic rings training can bring, we will focus on four basic foundational movements in the beginning rings program.

The PULL - generally whenever we move our body from below the rings to a point closer to them is considered a pull.  That pull can look many different ways with varying degrees of difficulty depending on our body position.  Keeping our feet on the ground during pulling movements makes them easier while lifting our entire body up to the rings is more difficult.

The PUSH - once our body is on the same plane as the gymnastic rings, moving further away from the floor transitions into a push as in the ring dip.  As in the pulling movements, the more of our body weight we push above the rings, the more difficult the exercise.

STABILIZING - one of the least commonly practiced exercises for the new gymnastic rings owner deals with stability holds.  Getting our body into a certain position on the rings then holding it there for time is of tremendous benefit.  We don't always need to be moving though an exercise to be working.  Ring stability holds should be part of everyone's programming.

The CORE - whenever we move our feet from the ground toward the rings or even overhead, we give our core an amazing workout.  This fourth aspect of training with rings just can't be duplicated with any other tool the way it can with this piece of equipment.  And no matter if we are moving through a pull, push or a stabilizing movement, our core is always involved to some degree.

Below we will outline four basic exercises to get you familiar with using gymnastics rings.  All of them can be scaled up or down depending on your strength level.  Before you increase the difficulty, be sure that you can perform 3 sets of 8 with 1-2 minutes rest in between.  For the stability holds, start by holding for a total duration of 1 minute over 5-6 sets.  Once you can hold that position for one minute without a break, increase the difficulty.


Pull, Push & Core - 3 sets of 8 with 1 minute rest in-between

Stability Holds - total hold duration 1 minute


Ring Row - to help us to begin to develop that pulling strength, we start with the ring row.  As in most exercises, raising or lowering the height of the rings varies the difficulty.  Start with the rings at shoulder height with your feet planted firmly beneath.  Grab and hold the rings with your palms facing each other.  Now, while keeping a solid plank body position, extend your arms and drop your body backward.  The only joints that should be flexing are ankles and elbows.  Once your arms are fully extended, return to the starting position.  

For this exercise, start with your feet anchored next to a wall or with a stack of bumper plates.  When the ring straps hit about 45 degrees at the bottom of your movement, it's time to reposition your feet away from just under the rings to keep the exercise most comfortable.  

When your feet have moved so far from the rings that you are flat on your back in the bottom position, to increase difficulty, now raise the height of your feet by placing them on a bench or plyo box.  Once this is mastered, you can add weight to your chest.


Plank Push Up - any time we move our upper body above the rings, we now use a different set of muscles.  Transitioning above the rings is now becomes a pushing movement.  The plank pushup is one of the most fundamental movements but even if you are comfortable pushing out a set of 20 standard plank pushups, once you add the instability of the rings, the movement becomes much more difficult and effective.

There are a few beginning variations.  Start with the pushup position on the knees and the rings just above the level of the ground or raise the height of rings and keep that solid plank position.  You can also play with the position of the rings during this movement as well and it is best to mix it up throughout the sets.  The rings can be held with palms facing each other or with palms facing your feet.  Both are excellent.  With palms facing in, concentrate on keeping the elbows in tight to the body.  With palms facing your feet, elbows naturally flare out to the sides.

Gear Tip - one really great exercise for those long for an extra challenge here is called the Ring Turn Out [sometimes referred to as RTO].  This is an especially challenging movement where you turn the rings from palms facing each other to palms facing out.  This does take some time to develop the strength and flexibility, but at the top of the plank pushup position is a great time to practice.  The lesser amount of weight you are holding up makes this movement easier.  When you've got it mastered, try it during ring supported position [see below]


Knees to Chest - nearly every exercise that you will perform with gymnastic rings will involve your core to some level.  To accentuate your mid section, hang the rings high enough so that when you are hanging from them, your feet are just off the ground.  Keeping the knees together, bring the knees up so that your thighs are parallel with the ground.  Lower your feet to the ground and repeat.  Once you've mastered 3 sets of 8 here, you can increase difficulty by allowing the knees to separate but curl the body so that the knees now come up to just under the arm.


Stabilization Holds - it's not often that we walk into the gym to see someone in a stabilization hold. But it does provide great benefit and is surprisingly difficult.  When training with gymnastics rings, stabilization is everything and incorporating holds into your routine is critical for success.

Some movements require a hold or hang from beneath the rings and although stabilization holds here are effective, it is much more beneficial to work on holds above the rings.  To begin, hang the rings high enough so that when you hold them at your sides, your legs hang comfortably off the ground.  

For some, it can be a bit of a challenge to hold for more than a few seconds in this supported position but to build strength we will attack it a bit differently.  Instead of holding for prescribed sets, instead work on holding this position for a total of one minute in as few sets as possible.  Every time you come down off the rings, the clock stops.  Rings should be held palms facing in with shoulders normally positioned.  Once you've worked to a static hold for a total of one minute straight, now work on holding this same position in Rings Turned Out [RTO] position.