Every once in a while I’ll buy myself a toy. Most recently it was a pair of wooden gymnastics rings. I guess toys get more functional and less exciting as an adult (though nothing in the world is prohibiting me from attaching LEDs and glitter to the straps (except maybe potential reduction in functionality)). Or you know what? Fuck that noise. I’m gonna straight up contradict myself and here’s why: Gymnastics rings enable a bunch of great outdoor fitness work that would’ve been tricky before.
So what’re the benefits of rings? I’m sure you asked (though more likely you were asking where the nearest toilet was. I have selective hearing). They’re versatile and useful in all manner of places. All you need is a sturdy horizontal bar and you can use them in some manner. Full range of motion the bar would ideally be around 3m tall, but you can work around that just fine. They normally come with adjustable straps, allowing for a bunch of differing exercises at each height.
One of the fundamental reasons that gymnastic rings are such a great tool for workouts is that they’re free-hanging. Bars are usually sturdy, meaning the work of stabilisation can be offset onto them. You don’t need to work to keep a bar in place. If that’s the case you should probably find somewhere else unless breaking your body is top of your list of priorities. Rings, however, will go wherever your body lets them. It takes work just to stay in position for each exercise, let alone doing a ton of reps. You’d be surprised how hard it is just to keep still with a straight body, your arms locked out, holding yourself above the rings. For a bunch of stuff, that’s your starting position. With that in mind, if you’re using rings be kind to yourself and understand that strength and higher reps will come with time. Don’t beat yourself up for finding it difficult at first. Your body will invariably beat itself up just trying, it doesn’t need your help. This will train your core to stay rock solid.
So what can you do with rings?
DIPS: Dips are a fundamental exercise. You’re holding yourself upright above the rings, palms gripping the inner bottom of the ring. Dips involve lowering yourself with elbows coming back into a right angled position, then pushing back to the starting position. Range of motion will come with time, but this will be pretty tough at first. It’ll fire up your triceps, work rotator cuffs and help your core stability.
Pull Ups: Pull ups are pull ups, so they’re always gonna be a slog. Rings will let you do chin ups (to work biceps), wide or narrow pulls. A big difference is not having to work around the bar, so you can pull straight up. It’s killer for your lats, biceps and a slew of back muscles.
Horizontal Row: Ring rows are fantastic. It’s often hard to work your horizontal pull muscles and rings allow for a great range of movement. One of the best things about ring rows is that they’re adjustable for any skill level. The more upright you are, the easier. Eventually you can work into this kind of shit (without someone holding your foot) which is totally badass (and really fucking hard).
Ring push ups: Working the opposite muscles, you’ll find ring push ups to be far harder than normal. Keeping stability takes a lot of work and your range of motion will be different when you’re suspended. Like regular ol’ push ups, you vary the width to hit a bunch of assorted muscles.
Mountain Climbers: Get into that lower body too. You’ll find that your stabiliser muscles work overtime to keep your back flat and stop you rotating too hard. TL;DR you’re in a push up position with your feet in the rings, bringing your knees to your stomach (alternating legs).
Ring Pike (with feet in loops): This one will grind your core pretty hard (and works as great progression to Pike Press) and gets into shoulder press territory. Ever wanted to learn handstand push ups? Why not start here?
L-Sits: They’re so much harder than they look. If you can get to 30 seconds you should be pretty stoked. This takes so much core stability. Letting yourself down after a long hold has the same level of satisfaction as taking a huge shit. The height of your legs will dictate how difficult the hold is.
So most things that a TRX could be used for, rings stand in perfectly. There are also a bunch of more advanced exercises you’d be hard pressed (sorry not sorry) to try on a TRX.
Muscle Ups: Using a false grip, these take a shit ton of strength and technique. Especially if you’re doing strict non-kipping ones. I find muscle ups to be far easier on rings than the bar, primarily for the same reason that I like doing pull ups with them. You’re not having to phase shift through a solid metal object, which is a tough endeavour for non-Kitty Pryde folks.
L-Sit to Handstand: Do you wanna look like one of those old timey Venice Beach muscle men? Is holding yourself rigid off the earth not tough enough? Set up next to a boardwalk and master this shit. The transition can be worked on with a tuck to tuck shoulder stand. It’s next level shit, but holy hell is it a great show-off move.
Who wouldn’t want to be muscular Jesse Eisenberg? What’s cooler than a billion dollars and muscles?