There are a lot of exercises one could be doing on the rings and in this article, I’m going to be covering the most important gymnastics rings exercises if your goal is to build strength and muscle as well as control on the rings. These are compound movement patterns known as the basics.
Now, this information is far from revolutionary but the basics should serve as the majority of your training, whether you’re a beginner just starting out or an advanced trainee. This is because the basics are tried and tested exercises that work. They have survived the test of time and are regarded as the basis for that very reason.
These are the exercises that will build that foundation for you to build upon. Focus on progressing on these and you WILL build muscle, lose fat, perform and look better. So, without any further ado, let’s get right into things.
The Top Position
This exercise is one that many people regard as one of the most important exercises on the gym rings as it will build body control as well as core and straight arm strength that you’ll need for almost every other exercise, which makes sense considering that if you can’t hold yourself up on them you won’t be able to do very much.
This may look/seem easy, but rest assured, this is way more challenging than it looks, and if you’ve never trained on the rings before, you might not be able to hold your self up for very long, which is completely fine as we all got to start somewhere. But on the bright side, the strength builds up very fast, in my experience.
Cues for the Top Position are:
- Jump up with control and avoid having the rings swing too much (make sure the rings are directly below the anchor point);
- Push down through the rings;
- Don’t shrug your shoulders (push through your shoulders);
- Keep your chest up;
- Squeeze the core and glutes (the more tension you have in your body, the easier it will be);
- Aim for that nice straight body position;
- Keep the rings close to your body.
As you progress with this exercise, you’ll want to work towards having the rings turned out. This will increase the challenge of the exercise so only attempt it when you’re somewhat comfortable with the exercise.
The Top Position lays the foundation for learning cool movements like the L-sit, as well as being great for helping with the straight arm strength you will need for your dips, specifically in the lockout stage, which some people may struggle with.
The Ring Dip
OK, so you’ve probably heard of dips and most likely have done one before. This is a great compound exercise that works a lot of muscles in your upper body, like the shoulders, chest, and triceps.
Only that when performed on the gymnastic rings they are a LOT harder to do. You could be able to do 15 or 20 dips on the parallel bars and still struggle to get one single rep on the rings. I kid you not, it’s really THAT challenging.
Cues for the Ring Dip are:
- Again, jump up with control and avoid having the ring swing too much;
- Squeeze core and glutes (always keep nice body tension when performing the exercises)
- Keep the elbows in (don’t flare them out, they should be tucked in at your side)
- Keep the chest up, nice and proud;
- Focus on lowering with control and don’t let the shoulders go past the top portion of the rings;
- Lockout the elbows and turn the rings outward at the end of every rep.
Locking out the elbows and turning the rings outward at the end of every rep is very important and it is the proper way to them. Always work with good form and a full range of motion. You’ll progress much faster this way.
If you can’t do a dip, just do negative reps (also known as eccentrics). These are great for building strength because you’re working through the same movement pattern you want to do, only in reverse. We’re about 140% stronger in the eccentric part of an exercise so it’s a great way to build strength for a movement we can’t do yet. So if you can’t do a dip, stick with your negatives and you’ll be sure to get your first dip in no time.
If after you build your negatives up to at least 3 sets of 12 reps, you find that you still can’t perform a dip because you’re struggling with the pushing phase, then another great exercise you could use is the assisted ring dip. It’s the same as the regular ring dip but you’ll want to have your feet placed on the ground or on an object, like a box or a step so that when you push up you can assist your self pushing up by using your legs. This is a great exercise because it takes some of the weight off your upper body and allows you to build your pushing strength more efficiently because you’ll be able to get more volume in as opposed to if you were to do just 1 or 2 dips in a given set.
Now, if you’ve worked through the previous progression(s), the next time you jump up on those rings you will be sure to get your first ring dip. All the same previous cues apply.
The Ring Push Up
This one might seem really easy but I’ll assure you once more than it’s harder than it sounds/looks. Everything, when done on the gymnastics rings, is harder lol.
Like the Ring Dip, this exercise is also a great upper body compound push exercise that you wanna get strong at.
All good conventional cues apply:
- Squeeze core and glutes (keep the body tension throughout the exercise);
- Rings under shoulders;
- Palms facing each other;
- Elbows in;
- Shoulders to rings (again, don’t go below the rings);
- Lock your elbows and turn the rings outwards at the end of every rep.
If you can’t do push-ups yet, just do assisted push-ups by simply placing your knees on the ground or having your rings set up higher.
Again, always use full ROM (range of motion) and good form. Quality over quantity!
A Pull Up on the rings isn’t that much different from a Pull Up on the bar, to be honest. So if you’re already familiar with a regular pull up, you shouldn’t have a problem with these.
One important aspect that is commonly neglected when performing pull-ups is the scapula engagement though. You should always activate your scapula by depressing and retracting your shoulder blades thus going from a dead hang (when you’re just hanging from the bar) to an active hang and then pull up for reps.
Don’t drop into the dead hang after you do one repetition, instead of lower until your elbows are straight but still in an active hang. It’s important to control the movement.
Cues for the Pull Up:
- Use the active hang;
- Control the movement;
- Squeeze your core and glutes (keep a nice body tension)
- Chin above the bar;
- Absolutely NO kipping.
Once again, be sure to always work with a full ROM and good form. Remember to activate the scapula! If you’re having trouble with it, I recommend you practice it before your pull-ups.
If you can’t do Pull Ups (which you should if you’re considering taking up ring training) just do negative reps.
The Ring Row
Rowing is an essential part of any workout program and should definitely be a staple in your training if you want to maximize your pulling gains. It will get you a stronger back and will help you increase your pull up numbers as well.
Some people think this is an easy exercise, but if you do it right, you’ll see they’re not that easy. Respect the exercise and reap the rewards!
Cues for the Ring Row are:
- Use a neutral grip;
- Keep a neutral neck during the movement;
- Keep the core and glutes engaged;
- Don’t let your hips sag;
- Activate your scapula before pulling;
- Chest to rings (think of driving your elbows behind your back)
I recommend holding the top position of the row for a couple of seconds in every repetition as this is the most challenging part of the exercise and you’ll get the most out of it if you do it this way.
Adjust the difficulty by leveraging your body position. So the more vertical you are, the easier the exercise will be.
Once more, always use good form, full range of motion and work at an intensity that is appropriate for you.
This is all you need!
These are all the exercises that you need to get started with your ring training journey.
Get working on these and you’ll be making gains for days.
Focus on progressing by either doing more reps or sets, doing a harder progression of a given exercise or simply by making it harder by adding weight or reducing the time you rest in between sets. Every week you should be striving to achieve at least one of these things.
These are the exercises that later on will allow you to move on to crazier movements like the muscle up and whatnot.
Be consistent, be patient and train hard and you’ll get good results.
Happy training everyone!