Rings Training

Rings training has been around for a long time, since the 1800s.

Today, it has evolved into a formal apparatus and discipline in the sport of artistic gymnastics practised predominantly by male athletes, due to the staggering strength requirements of a typical competitive rings routine.

We have all seen it before on TV when the Olympics are being aired – heavily-muscled men with cannonballs for deltoids, bulging biceps and huge lats that resemble meaty wings, performing breathtaking routines that include spectacular swings and brutal strength elements.

Most of what we get to see of the rings discipline is pitched at such an advanced level that the average fitness enthusiast will tend to shy away from it, thinking that rings training is something reserved solely for the elite and the professional sportsperson.

However, while it is true that rings training is tough – the need for the practitioner to stabilise the freely-moving apparatus places a much greater demand on both muscle and joint strength as compared to the use of a static bar, anyone who’s in reasonably good shape can incorporate rings training into his or her fitness and exercise programme.

Sure, it will probably take you 6 – 7 years of training for 6 – 8 hours a day, 6 – 7 days a week to achieve the level of skill and proficiency that is exhibited by an Olympic rings gymnast, but you can still achieve plenty with 1/2 hour sessions on the rings, 2 – 3 times a week.

I have just gotten my own set of wooden rings along with a few like-minded friends about 2 weeks back, and I have been blown away by the sheer versatility of this ancient apparatus.

I know I’ll be raising hairs on some people by saying this, but if you’re serious about building some real strength and muscle, forget about all the new-age fancy stuff like your TRXes and your suspension trainers. The rings are a piece of time-honoured equipment that has been in use by athletes for more than 100 years, and it has helped build some of the strongest and most impressive human physiques that our planet has ever seen.

The unique challenge that is presented by the circular shape of the apparatus develops enormous grip and forearm strength when handled correctly. While it is entirely possible to use a normal finger grip on the rings, if your aim is to eventually perform more than just simple hangs and pull ups with the apparatus, you will have to learn how to do the false grip.

A false grip simply involves you gripping the rings with the meat of your palm, with your wrists flexed powerfully downwards, so that your hands and forearms resemble a pair of muscular hooks. This grip allows you to bring your torso above the level of the rings, so that you can transit into a huge variety of moves (when you become strong enough).

Another important aspect of rings training is the massive strain that it places on all of your upper body joints – the wrists, elbows and shoulders must be kept tight for you to even have a hope of stabilising yourself in basic positions. Rings gymnasts owe their prodigious physical development to the sheer amount of straight-arm strength that they employ – think iron crosses, maltese crosses, planches and inverted crosses.

Ease into rings training by practising simple supports to get your upper body joints, especially the elbows, used to the type of straight-arm strength that will be needed for you to progress to the more advanced moves on the apparatus. Over time proper training with rings will give you joints and tendons of steel.

Although rings has been the traditional realm of male athletes, there are women who have accomplished amazing feats on the apparatus. Lillian Leitzel, a circus performer in the early 1900s, could reportedly perform 27 one-arm pull ups on a suspended ring, along with a series of one arm holds and levers.

CrossFit has brought rings training back to the fitness community at large in a big way, and the Internet abounds with videos of lady CrossFitters banging out dozens of consecutive muscle ups on the apparatus. During the Ido Portal upper body strength coaching certification course I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing such a specimen of the fairer sex in action for myself – a female CrossFit Asian Games champion, making ring muscle ups look like a piece of cake.

If you were to get your own rings, I’d suggest wooden ones for better feel and grip as compared to their plastic or metal counterparts. This eliminates the need for wraps or chalk on most movements, and hence cuts alot of hassle. My own set of rings come from Rogue Fitness, which offers a huge array of sporting equipment and is the official equipment supplier for the CrossFit Games.

Easy to set up, easy to use, and easily portable. The rings ship in a cardboard box, and the whole set consists of a pair of rings (duh!), a pair of heavy duty nylon straps with sturdy metal buckles for securing and adjusting the length of the set-up.

For now I’m limited to performing a very basic rings routine which I’m sure a 10 year-old gymnast could pull off with ease and aplomb. But hey, I’m not a professional, and I’m just getting started. 🙂

My routine consists of a muscle up to a L-support, and then a drop to inverted hang, and lower to straddle front lever, before pulling out of the front lever back into a muscle up. I’m also training to lower myself from a support position to the coveted iron cross, and I’m making some progress and getting stronger in that respect.

If you are new to rings training, start out with whatever you can do, and build yourself up progressively as with all other forms of training. I’d say it’s wise to master the straight-arm support and the muscle up first, before you move on to stuff like planches, levers and crosses.

I know rings training may seem like a pretty intimidating prospect for those of you who’re thinking about incorporating it into your routines, but do not worry or fret. No one’s born a gymnast – gymnasts can do what they do simply because they train. So can I. And so can you.

So for those of you out there who’re serious about your strength training, and are looking to add a new dimension to your trunk and upper body work, look no further. Rings training will build you a great deal of strength, and because you’re working with your bodyweight the ladies will not need to worry about looking like He-Man or the Hulk from working the rings.

If you’re not chemically-aided or drug-assisted in any way, your body will retain its ideal proportions from bodyweight strength work. That’s the reason why gymnasts have such aesthetically-pleasing physiques – slender and supple for the gals and lithe and muscular for the guys.

Would you like to have the strength and physique of a gymnast, and master a host of cool skills to boot? Rings training is the perfect, age-old answer for the well-informed modern-day fitness enthusiast. 

What would you call a hundred bucks, give or take a little, for something this awesome?

Me? I’d call that a good investment. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

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2 Responses to Rings Training

  1. My personal experience is that when you start performing Rings exercise, it seems you first time to pick up the Dumbbells to workout. It’s completely different kind of training. And this is tough and is a killer. It kills my nervous system.

  2. How true. I guess it’s the same for anything and everything that we’re doing for the first time, first time’s usually a b****. However over time our bodies will tend to adapt to what we do and our capacity for the particular activity will increase. This process of growth and adaptation is painful though, and the results will only be rewarding to those who want them badly enough.

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