Rings: The Best Workout You're Not Doing

When in comes to strength & conditioning, it’s the simplest tools and methods that stand as the most effective. Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, medicine balls build strong bodies and are never out of style. Let’s face it, there ain’t nothing like the old school. Today, I want to talk about an often overlooked tool.  A tool that has the potential to build freakish upper body strength and maintain healthy joints and connective tissue.  A tool that is ultra versatile, portable, and affordable.  A tool that, with the right training, will sculpt your physique and turn you into a superior man.

I’m talking about the gymnastics rings, the greatest upper body workout around. Seriously.

For the record, I’m not gymnast (file that under shit general movers love to say). Like you, I’m a regular guy that just wants to be strong, lean, and athletic for a lifetime. I’m always experimenting with different practices that might support these goals.  My journey into ring training started a few years ago by playing around with different movements and skills.  However, it wasn’t until I finally bought my own pair that I got the full experience.  This was pretty much one of the best investments I’ve made for my physical training. In hindsight, I wish I had been put on to the benefits of ring training much earlier in my journey.

5 Reasons to Train Rings Gymnastics rings don't get a lot of hype. They're absent from mainstream gyms and under-utilized in many CrossFit gyms.   But I’m telling you, the rings are legit - do yourself a favor and buy a pair.  And in further support of that cause, here are my  top 5 reasons why rings are the greatest workout you’re probably not doing.

1. Building Muscle Gymnastics rings are an effective way to build muscle. You can half-ass your way through some basic calisthenics and weightlifting. Not so much with the rings, there is no cutting corners and no bullshit.  You have to earn every single step forward in ring training.  Building muscle is about stimulating your muscles to grow.  The amount of stability required to perform the exercises properly supplies this stimulus and growth happens.   The secret is simple, rings make you work harder to control your own bodyweight.

2. Joint Health, Functional Strength & Body Awareness The rings are a unique tool that allow you to strengthen a greater range of motion and force the body to be connected.  The slower progressions through exercise allow the shoulders and elbows to adapt for greater strength and resilience.  The exercises build functional strength in the sense that the body must be connected to be successful. This yields a more effective training and significantly increases body awareness.

3. Versatility  It's not all about iron crosses, levers, planches, and other such freaky gymnastic skills that may take years to master. The basic progressions for strength & conditioning as seen in the video are great for general fitness.  Pretty much anyone can learn these exercises and understand how to adjust the leverage to make an them easier or harder.  This stuff won't win you any gold medals, but it will get you ripped and impress some people.

4. Portability The rings travel anywhere and it's easier than you think to find a place to hang them.  At the gym, hang them on a pull-up bar or squat rack.  I’m a big believer in moving outdoors as much as a possible.  Explore your local parks and you’re going to find a few perfect tree branches or playgrounds to accommodate your ring training. Bonus you’ll get in more nature time and more walking time and you need that.

5. Cost Expect a decent pair of wooden rings to run you about $70 USD. Plastic rings will be around $40 or $50 (hint: buy wooden), or the DIY-lovers can construct some for under $20 (biased opinion: buy wooden).  Regardless of your choice, this is a nominal fee for “tha gainz” that are going to be yours.  Training equipment is an investment in yourself.  When it comes rings the cost / benefit ratio is unbeatable.

Starter Ring Workout

Lastly, I want to leave you with a template to structure your ring sessions. These are the  most foundational skills from the video that will build your strength and joint integrity.  The workout can be performed in straight sets or supersets.  As always quality of movement is king, scale each skill to your current level.   Build up slowly and safely on your path to more bad ass skills and combinations.

A1. Ring Push Ups / Plank Hold - 8 Push Ups / 10s Plank Hold,  4 sets A2. Body Rows - 15 repetitions,  3 sets

B1. Arm Support - 10-30s hold, 4-6 sets B2. Dips - 3 repetitions, 6 sets

C1. Pull Ups - 3 repetitions, 6-8 sets C2. Active Hanging Tuck / L - 10s hold, 5 sets

D1. Triceps Press - 8 repetitions,  3 sets D2. Biceps Curls - 8 repetitions,  3 sets