Gymnastic rings are one of the best pieces of equipment you can own. You can create a ton of workouts from the comfort of your own home.
If you find it difficult to create time for workouts, I’ve got examples in this article using gymnastic rings or a suspension trainer.
So without further ado, I give you my fitness equipment crush. The gymnastic rings and two gymnastic ring routines.
THE CONVENIENCE OF GYMNASTIC RINGS
A few years ago while traveling the globe I was super concerned about how I was going to work out.
I know what you’re thinking. “Who cares dude. You’re traveling the world, just enjoy the freakin experience!”
Practicing daily physical movement is something I really value and prioritize. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed Japan, India, Egypt, Thailand, and France as much if I wasn’t able to workout.
So I brought a pair of gymnastics rings. A pretty boss piece of equipment that will allow you to add tons of variety, skill, and challenges to your daily workouts.
The roommates and I have a couple of rings set up in the backyard so that we can easily head out there and get in a quick workout whenever it’s needed.
For those of you that are looking to add a little variety to your workouts, are tired of the same old bodyweight stuff, or need something that you can train with I can not recommend them enough.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO A GYMNASTIC RINGS WORKOUT (WHY USE THEM?)
A few benefits of training with rings:
- The rings don’t take up much space and are portable making them easy to travel with and to have at home.
- They can work the entire body
- Really require you to engage your core, a common weakness for most people.
- The instability of them requires coordination, intense focus, and uses very small stabilizing and supporting muscles, ligaments, and tendons that are often not worked.
- Allow you to practice cool skill work like the muscle up
- Are great for working through a full range of motion, providing increased flexibility and muscular strength.
- Are great for improving balance
- There is no fixed path of motion which makes them easy on the joints
- Help to improve grip strength which translates well when trying to perform tasks ranging from picking up heavy dead-lifts, opening pickle jars, or arm wrestling Sylvester Stallone.
- Are just plain awesome for adding another dimension and variety to basic movements like the pull-up, push-up, and dip just to name a few?
WHAT ARE THE BEST GYMNASTIC RINGS TO BUY?
What do you do when you want to find information on anything? You “google that beast” right?
If you’ve already googled gymnastic rings I’m sure that you noticed a few different types that you can buy. Even if you didn’t “google-it” just yet there’s a good chance you will and might be wondering what the differences are between the various rings you can buy.
Gymnastic rings: Wood, plastic, or metal.
Wooden rings are usually best for grip as they will absorb moisture. Plastic and metal rings repeal sweat/moisture which can make them a bit slippery at times. There are ways around this by using chalk, tape, or even pine tar. However, chalk and pine tar can get a bit messy. Taping your rings works well but in my experience creates more friction and can lead to blisters or your hands ripping.
They’re usually a little on the light side which makes them great for travel but can also make them feel a little less substantial while in your hands. If you really like to feel secure then metal rings would be your best bet. However, the extra weight with the metal rings can make them a bit dangerous. Because they will be moving around you may have to dodge them like Neo from the matrix in order to avoid getting hit by them.
If you plan on keeping your rings outdoors then plastic rings will be your best bet as they hold up well under a variety of weather conditions, unlike wooden and metal rings.
Metal rings are usually your most durable and will last the longest.
My personal preference is these wooden rings for travel and when working out at an indoor location followed by the polycarbonate plastic rings which my roommates and I leave up in our backyard.
Gymnastic rings and TRX or suspension trainers
I’m a huge fan of the TRX but if you want to save yourself a bit of money. I’d opt for a pair of gymnastic rings instead. Gymnastic rings will allow you to pretty much do any exercise you can do on the TRX.
HOW DO I SET UP THE GYMNASTIC RINGS?
Gymnastic rings are crazy easy to set up. All you need is a sturdy place to hang or anchor them from. The picture to the right is how I have them set up in my backyard.
- A secure beam
- Pull-up bar/rig
- Garage rafters
- Football goalposts
- Monkey bars
Anything that’s secure and can support your body weight, and provides roughly 9 feet of vertical space to work with will do. If you will not be performing any advanced moves like the muscle-up exercise then you can most likely get away with a little less space.
The rings are pretty unstable and they’ll be moving around quite a bit so you’ll also want to make sure you have enough space in front, behind, and to the sides of you.
Hanging your rings from rafters
If you plan on hanging them from rafters I suggest doing so with an eyebolt. You can pick these up at any home improvement store like Home Depot (side note: the lumber section may just be my favorite smell in the entire world). You’ll want to screw these bolts horizontally instead of vertically. This will make them less likely to become loose as you are using them.
Included with your set of rings there will also be strapped. Look for rings that offer about 18 feet worth of strap. This will allow you to set up the rings at various heights so that you can perform all exercises. (Pictures of what is included can be seen here)
There will also be an anchor attached to each strap. These are to secure the rings in place once you have found a spot to hang them. Basically, they will keep the rings attached to the straps so that you don’t end up on the ground.
Lastly, look for rings that do not have the straps going through a hole or slit in them. You’ll want a pair that allows you to run the strap right through the center of the rings like this. This will allow for more functionality and movement as you use them.
Once you’ve found a sturdy home for your rings simply toss that strap over the bar, tree branch, or whatever it is you plan on hanging them from. Then run the strap through the ring and secure it using your anchor. Make sure that you run the strap in the correct direction of the anchor. Most anchors will have an arrow indicating this. Getting this right will save you some serious bumps and bruises.
The last thing you’ll want to do is the distance the rings so that they are about shoulder-width apart.
A great tutorial on how to hang your rings can be found from the team over at Gold Medal Bodies. They also have a pretty sweet rings specific training program.
HOW TO GRIP THE GYMNASTIC RINGS
Properly gripping the rings can make a huge difference in performance while performing different exercises. There are three main grips that you’ll use when using the rings.
Neutral Grip: The neutral grip is used most often during upper body pulling movements like ring rows and ring pull-ups. Get as much of the ring into the palm of your hands as possible so that pressure is taken off of your fingers. Wrap your fingers around the rings and secure your grip by placing the thumb over the top of those fingers. Do not flex your wrist, keep it straight.
False Grip: The false grip is used most often when transitioning from below the rings to above the rings like in the muscle-up exercise. You will want to position the rings deep into the palm. You may even feel the rings pressed against the small bone on the outside of your hand where the wrist and hand connect. SEE HERE
To do this position the rings in a neutral position. Move your hands to the inside of the rings so they are touching the backside of your hand. Run your fingers through the rings and wrap them tightly around them. This is when you will feel the rings pressed against the small bone (pisiform) of the hand and wrist.
Wrap your thumb around your fingers to secure the grip and flex your wrist so that it is bent. This can be a difficult grip to master at first. More pictures of the false grip can be seen here and here.
ABOVE THE RINGS GRIP
Above the rings grip: This grip is used most often when performing upper body pressing movements like the push-up, dip, or during static holds while above the rings.
The rings should be set up at about shoulder-width apart. Position yourself inside of the rings with arms by your side. Grip the rings so that they are positioned in the crease of your thumb and pointer finger. Press down firmly on the rings so that you feel some pressure in the meaty part of your palm found directly under the thumb.
Keep your wrists as straight as possible as you press yourself up so that your feet are now off of the ground. Keep your arms as tight to your sides as possible. You should actually feel your arms pressed up against you. This will help to create stability and keep pressure off of the shoulder joint.
If you’ve never been on the rings before you may find that just holding yourself in this position will be tough enough. More pictures of the above the rings grip can be seen here and here.
STABILIZING YOURSELF ON THE GYMNASTIC RINGS
Jumping all-in does have its advantages and sometimes you’ll find that to be your best approach to accomplishing a goal or task. But what I’ve found over the years coaching clients, talking with behavior change experts, and experimenting on myself is that concentrating on one small thing at a time works best.
One of the hardest things to learn when first using the gymnastics rings is just simply keeping those damn things stable. It can get super frustrating just trying to hold a plank position or to hold yourself above the rings as if you were going to perform the ring dip exercise.
If you’ve never been on a set of rings before when you first attempt these you’ll probably notice some serious “jimmy arm” action going on.
When your arms flail, shake, and spasm beyond your control. Uncontrollable laughter may ensue afterward because it is almost comical.
To work on your “Jimmy arm” syndrome when first attempting to perform static holds (plank, dip position above the rings, ring L-sits, or raises) first make sure that you’re above the ring grip is on point (see section and video above).
START ON YOUR KNEES
Adjust the height of the rings so that when you grip the rings while on your knees with an above the ring grip there is a slight bend in your elbows.
Make sure to keep your wrists straight and your arms tight by your sides. As you straighten your arms you’ll feel your knees slightly lift off of the ground. The tops of your feet or toes will still be on the ground to help stabilize you.
You will now most likely feel your weight shift into your hands and shoulders. Keep those wrists straight and arms tight by your side. I like to position my chin so that it’s on my chest with my eyes looking towards the ground.
HOLD THE POSITION TIGHT
Try and hold this position for as long as you can. I would even use a timer as a way to judge your progress. If you are not able to hold yourself steady for a good 30-60 seconds keep practicing this until you can. Perform 3-5 sets of holds a couple of times a week until you are able to hold yourself up comfortably for 30-60 seconds.
If you are already able to do this from your knees you can then start to practice from your feet.
You will set the rings up shoulder-width apart and stand in-between them. Using your above rings grip apply pressure to the rings before actually lifting yourself off of the ground.
Make sure that you are standing directly underneath the rings and not in front of or behind them. If you are not directly underneath them this may cause you to swing back and forth once you press yourself up and lift your feet off of the ground.
KEEP THE ARMS TUCKED IN
Keep your arms tight to your sides so that you can feel them against your rib cage. Your arms should be locked out at the elbows and your wrists should be straight. Again, I like to position my chin so that it is slightly pressing against my chest with my eyes facing the ground.
Once you are able to hold yourself above the rings with your feet off of the ground you may be ready to rock some awesome ring exercises like the assisted dip, ring dip, or ring push-up.
If you’re not quite there yet practice holding yourself in this position a couple of times per week. 3 to 5 sets of holds for as long as you can help you to get used to the instability of the rings, strengthen your grip, chest, and shoulders, and let your nervous system no that you mean business 🙂
CAN YOU BUILD MUSCLE WITH GYMNASTIC RINGS?
Yes. It down to getting good at the basics and repeating them consistently over an extended period of time. I know, such a boring answer but there are too many “hacks” on the internet making a simple process far too confusing for most people
So what are the basics of building muscle or losing enough fat to see the lean muscle you already have?
- To build muscle you need to be in a caloric surplus. Eating more calorie than your body needs
- To lose fat you need to be in a calorie deficit. Eating fewer calories than your body needs
- Eating enough protein to help build and repair the lean muscle you break down when resistance training (5)(6)(7)(8)
- Resistance training with progressive overload to let your body know that it needs more lean muscle
- Enough sleep and rest to allow your body to recover and repair
- Managing stress
For a more in-depth explanation of how to build muscle and get stronger visit our FREE guides
- Getting started with strength training guide
- Getting started with nutrition and weight loss guide
- How to build lean muscle
HOW DO I START RING TRAINING (A BEGINNER WORKOUT ROUTINE)
If you’re feeling steady Eddie holding yourself up on the rings then you might be ready to start rocking some exercises.
Workouts on the rings can be pretty difficult and require some serious upper body strength but that doesn’t mean the beginner will not be able to use them. If you can perform knee push-ups, push-ups, and inverted rows using a bar then you are ahead of the game. The rings will add some nice variety and challenges to those exercises.
HOW TO DO THE ROUTINES
All of them are set up in a circuit so that you will be performing one exercise, resting the specified amount of time, and then moving onto the next exercise.
After you have completed all of the exercises that is one set. You will then rest the listed amount of time and repeat another set of all of the exercises until the required number of sets is completed.
For a quick reference on reps, sets, rest, and tempo refer to this article. It will be a HUGE help.
On a side note, you’ll notice that the leg exercises do not need you to use the rings. This is simply because it’s not really necessary. The rings will most likely make many of the leg exercises like squats, lunges, and pistols a little easier as they will provide support throughout the range of motion. I would stick with using your own body weight, adding dumbbells, or even barbells to these movements.
BEGINNER RING ROUTINE
- A1: Walking lunges, 20 reps x 3 sets; rest 30 seconds
- A2: Ring rows, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 30 seconds
- A3: Ring Knee Push Up, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 30 seconds
- A4: Ring Plank Knee-In, 8-10 x 3 sets; rest 30 seconds
- A5: Mountain climbers, 30 reps x 3 sets
Rest 1-2 minutes after you have completed your 30 mountain climbers and repeat the entire circuit. Once you have completed three full circuits you are donezo!
Walking lunges, 3 sets, 20 total steps (with or without dumbbells)
Gymnastic ring rows, 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Gymnastic ring knee push-up (or push up without rings), 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Gymnastic ring plank knee-in (or regular plank knee to elbow), 3 sets, 30 seconds
Mountain climbers, 3 sets, 30 reps (15 per side)
TROUBLESHOOTING THIS WORKOUT
Q: I can’t perform the required reps all in a row
A: Totally cool. You can perform as many reps as you can, and then move onto the next exercise. Or you can perform as many reps as you can. Rest a little and then finish the remaining number of reps.
Q: Can I rest more or less than is specified?
A: Absolutely! Adjust the rest as needed. If you’d like to make the workout harder try and rest less. If you feel you need to make it a little easier, rest more.
Q: I’m not strong enough yet to do some of the exercises. What should I do?
A: No worries at all. Try coming off the rings if you are having a tough time with some of the exercises. So if you can’t do ring rows try inverted rows instead. If you have a tough time with knee push-ups on the rings try doing them on the ground instead of at an incline.
INTERMEDIATE GYMNASTIC RING ROUTINE
- A1: DB Front squats, 10-12 reps x 4 sets; rest 30 seconds
- A2: Ring pull-ups, 8-10 reps x 4 sets; rest 30 seconds
- A3: Ring dips, 8-10 reps x 4 sets; rest 30 seconds
- A4: Ring L-raises, 8-10 reps x 4 sets; rest 30 seconds
- A5: As many double-unders or single jumps as possible in 30 seconds.
After you have completed your 30 seconds of double-unders or single jumps rest 1-2 minutes and repeat the circuit. Continue until you have completed 4 total circuits or 4 sets of each exercise.
You can make these exercises harder by adding a weight vest, or by holding dumbbells between your legs. You can also slow the tempo down. For example, when performing the ring dip try slowing down the pace at which you lower yourself. Count 3-5 seconds (or more) while lowering yourself down before pressing out of the movement.
ADVANCED GYMNASTIC RING MOVES AND AWESOME RING RESOURCES
Check out the following gymnastic ring resources.
These resources also have great tutorials and information for the beginner all the way to the advanced. They also provide great tutorials for more advanced moves like the muscle-up, front and back lever, and the iron cross (Vince Vaughn style).
Gymnastic ring training can be a great way to add some variety to your training. If you’re looking to mix up your workouts a bit or are finding it tough to CREATE time for your health I’d think about picking up a pair.
GYMNASTIC RINGS: LEVEL 1