11 Undeniable Benefits of Gymnastic Rings Training
What are the benefits of gymnastic rings training?
Gymnastic rings are perhaps the most versatile training tool that exists. They're a wide variety of exercises that hit every single upper body muscle group with compound movements for muscular increase and strength gains. Gymnastic rings training also improves proprioception; which is the sense of the relative position of one's own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.
There are many other benefits of rings workouts which include:
Muscle building potential
Increased time under tension
Creativity and fun
Fluid compound rings movements are better for athletic performance
Upper body mobility and flexibility gains
Versatility- rings can be transported and used in many locations
Safer on your joints
Shoulder injury prevention
Increased levels of Coordination
Scalabe workouts for beginners to experts
Price of rings cost less then one months gym membership
This article explains all the unique benefits of rings training with a perspective developed from my own personal experience and through years of training.
With gymnastic rings, the size, thickness and material of the rings is important for your grip. Take a look at my guide to my favourite (and safest) gymnastic rings from amazon that I use personally.
Muscles building capacity
Gymnastic rings lend themselves very well to building muscle mass for three reasons:
All gymnastic ring exercises are compound movements
There is an emphasis on time under tension
The body has to stabilise itself through space therefore there are more muscle fibres recruited then conventional exercises.
First of all, the the entire repertoire of exercises that you can perform on gymnastic rings are all compound movements which means that the exercises recruits several large muscle groups at once to work in unison with each other.
Not only does this teach the body coordination between different muscle groups but taxing large muscles in different groups all at once leads to more muscle fibre breakdown, which when repaired (assuming you have the right diet) will build bigger, stronger and more functional muscle.
Of course you have to train in the correct rep range for hypertrophy which is 8 to 12 reps according to the American council on exercise
This is a contentious subject in the fitness community as muscle building is more nuanced then just the number of reps and sets but I would recommend 8 to 12 reps for 3 to 5 sets as a good guide.
Exercises such as pull ups and rows recruit biceps, forearms traps and particularly the lats, which helps build a tapered V shaped physique with broad shoulders, a strong and defined back and a narrow waist. Pushing exercises such as dips and ring push ups add size to your triceps, shoulders, core and chest.
Time under tension is another aspect of muscle building that is emphasised with gymnastic rings training. When you do you calisthenics staple exercises on a bar (pull ups, dips, l-sits etc) it doesn't take much effort to lock out at the top of the movement, like in a support hold at the top of the dip.
However rings are inherently less stable then fixed solid bars which means you have stabilise your body even whilst in hold. This is taxing on your shoulders, core and your chest and recruits a greater range of muscle fibres as your body coordinates and balances itself.
Because of the the instability factor of the rings, you have to execute exercises at a slower and more controlled pace. This forces you to focus more on a controlled eccentric (the negative portion of an exercise) as you are fighting for stability and you may have to maintain a specific hand position such as the false grip if you are doing ring muscle ups.
You can get away with a quicker less controlled eccentric part of the the exercise on a bar because you don't have to worry about maintaining stability to the same extent.
For example It took Lee Wade turner 46 seconds to complete the first 10 muscle ups of his consecutive ring muscle up world record, whereas it took Jarryd Rubinstein 22 seconds to complete the first 10 bar muscle ups in his world record for most consecutive muscle ups.
This means each rep on the rings took twice as long as the bar muscle up reps, which perfectly illustrates the gulf in difficulty and the demand on muscle groups between the two exercises.
The reason why this is so significant is because time under tension is one of the key factors for muscle gain. According to Jeff Cavaliere the optimal time under tension for muscle growth for a set is 45-60 seconds.
Because rings training....
Stresses the eccentric portion of the movement and...
Requires stabilising muscles to control the movement
this tends to put calisthenics exercises into the optimal time under tension window for each set, for more effective muscle building workouts.
The creativity element of gymnastic rings training makes workouts seem like play as opposed to a chore. When working out in a conventional gym setting, the work outs can become stale and you may attend the gym more through obligation then for enjoyment.
The monotony of counting reps as you grind out sets focusing on one muscle at a time can put a limit motivation.
The benefit of ring train is not only do you train compound movements that exercise several muscle groups simultaneously but you can transition to different exercises mid flow to keep it interesting and vary the challenge.
In this video I do a ring flow consisting of archer pull ups, typewriters, muscle ups, dips (with external rotation) and chin ups all in one set.
You can make every single set on gymnastic rings unique and work your body as one whole unit whilst emphasising different aspects of strength.
The fact that you can seamlessly transition between exercises means there is a constant time under tension as you are always moving/stabilising yourself from one movement to another. This has huge benefits for both muscle mass and functional strength.
Instead of moving in the same motion patterns over and over, (for example dead lifts or bench press) you can move more freely and creatively rather then in strict ingrained movement patterns.
This promotes the athletic application of your workouts. If you compete in sports at any level then you want your workouts off the pitch to assist and improve your athletic performance.
A rings workout with many transitions and different techniques teaches the body to perform and coordinate as one unit, whereas traditional lifting can get muscles accustomed to working in isolation which is not useful for sports and competition, nor for real world movement.
Gymnasts are pound for pound some of the strongest athletes in the world and they barely if ever practice lifting weights. Instead they work almost exclusively on skill work such as front levers, handstands, muscle ups and various transitions.
The strength and performance advantages gained from these movements are secondary to the acquisition of skill and movement. This develops a superior level of proprioception (proprioception is the sense of the relative position of one's own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement).
Gymnastic rings requires an ability to move in a more dynamic and varied way then lifting weights would ever require. Subsequently the level of coordination and functional strength developed through gymnastic training is a unique benefit.
Therefore the benefit of gymnastics training as supplementary exercise for sports performance is greatly underappreciated. It may also be considered less accessible to athletes with bigger, heavier frames however rings training can be scaled for difference sizes and abilities for beginners and experts alike.
I myself am 6 ft 4 and weigh over 200lbs and can perform a wide variety of weighted calisthenics based exercise on gymnastic rings including muscle ups with +20 KG (44lbs) however when I started training I was only able to do a few pull ups.
Gymnastic rings training is suitable for beginners seasoned athletes of all sports so incorporate rings into your training and start to reap the benefits.
Mobility and Flexibility
The exercises on gymnastic rings have the distinctive quality of training strength AND mobility simultaneously. This is often something that is overlooked in most style of resistance training.
For example, the average gym goer s isn't necessarily going to consider how lifting a heavy weight without stretching or a specific warm up will limit their upper body mobility.
A deficit of mobility and flexibility in the upper body can lead to injury and a lack of a range of motion that will restrict movement within the shoulder joint.
This lack of mobility can really hold you back in sports- in particularly in Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk and the snatch, but also in more common exercises such as a back squat. A restricted range of movement in the shoulder will make it difficult to grasp the bar securely and support the heavy weight you are trying to control and balance safely on your back.
If you are chronically immobile in your upper body it can make it difficult to perform movements such pull ups and presses, which will limit your overall training potential.
Training different movements with rings can expose a lack of flexibility and mobility imbalances you didn't even know you had.
Movements such as skin the cat and deep dips are excellent for stretching tight muscles and utilising the shoulders full range of motion.
Skin the cat is a great dynamic stretch that also is a great warm up for tough pressing movements such as muscle ups and weighted dips. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to a successful ring muscle up is the lack of mobility in the shoulders to shift from a pull up position to a dipping position.
If your shoulders and tight and restricted in their range of movement it can render some techniques too difficult, if not impossible. The restriction in your movement acts like added resistance to the exercise.
Once you gain mobility in the shoulders and upper body through techniques such as skin the cat, you can practice exercises such as dips with a greater range of motion which in turn recruits more muscle fibres and you get a higher return for your workouts.
One of the best attributes of rings training is undoubtedly their versatility and portability.
All you need to set up your rings is somewhere to hang them from and possibly some chalk for grip and you are good to go. I have personally hung my rings from tree branches in the park, over garage beams, on my free standing pull up bar and even over swing sets.
Setting up the rings takes 30 seconds and you have access to one of the most comprehensive upper body gyms in the world with a wide array of exercises with pulling, pushing and core focused movements.
Gymnastic rings typically weigh less then 2 kilos (4 lbs) so you can take them away with you on holiday or travelling and have a portable gym to carry with you wherever you go.
And with the price of decent rings around £35 ($50) the cost is less then the monthly cost of some gym memberships, for a pair of rings that have a huge range of exercises and will last a lifetime. The value for money is incredible for a training tool that is superior, in terms of functional workouts then any equipment that you will find in the gym.
Safer for your joints
One of the key benefits of training on gymnastic rings is that they are easier on your joints then training on pull up bars and dip stations.
The conventional pull up bar or dip station is fixed in place which can be good for beginners. When the equipment remains stationary, it eliminates the instability factor that is felt when training with the rings so the exercise are more achievable.
However the fixed nature of a solid bar means that your joints have to follow and adapt to the position of the bar rather then the equipment adapting to your movement.
This means that your joints, tendons and ligaments are following a line of motion that is set by the static equipment which can lead to strains, discomfort and even injury over time.
An example of this is a dip station in the gym with the bars set too far apart. Gyms tend to have a generic dipping station or parallel bars that does not account for the differences in shoulder width and size or preferred wrist positioning.
Training on a set of parallel bars that are not optimally spaced will be uncomfortable on your wrist and elbows over time and may cause some impingement in the shoulder joint.
Gymnastic rings however are much more versatile. You can very easily move the straps so that the rings hang approximately shoulder width apart and therefore you can customise the equipment to fit your physique rather then the other way round.
Also the rings themselves are not fixed in place like bars are and can move freely 360 degrees. This means that they can rotate throughout the course of an exercise which has two advantages.
You have to stabilise the rings which means more muscle recruitment and more gains
Your body moves the rings to the optimal angle and position that is the most comfortable for your joints and wrist therefore reducing the risk of injury
This means you can train at high intensity with a high amount of reps and have a lesser chance of injury then training on static bars.
I personally have train with both bars and rings extensively and I favour the rings for this reason.
When I had more of an emphasis on bar work in my training, I found I would pick up little twinges and strains when was training at a high level of reps. This niggling injuries or discomfort would compromise my training.
I have been training more on the rings now for about 5 years and the joints and connective tissue in my upper body has remained strong and injury free.
Ring training helps prevent shoulder injuries
Rings training helps prevent shoulder injuries in two ways:
Through strengthening the stabilising muscles in the rotator cuff
The dynamic movements of ring exercises improves shoulder stability in all directions
The free movement of the rings means that you have to actively work to stabilise yourself rather then relying on the equipment.
In contrast, when you exercise on parallel bars for dips or a straight bar for pull ups the equipment is solid and fixed in place in the ground.
This limits the amount your core and shoulders have to work to keep your body stable. You can almost passively hang from a pull up bar or rest in the top portion of a dip with your arms locked out on a solid dip station.
However this is not the case with rings training, thanks to the rings inherent instability. The instability of the rings is far more pronounced when you are 'in hold' at the top of the dip.
'In hold' is any position where your centre of gravity is above that of the rings like when you are executing dips or planches, as opposed to below the rings as with pull ups.
Whilst the instability is felt in the chest and core muscles, it's most felt in the shoulders. The four muscles of the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus, and trees minor) all contribute to the stability of the shoulder.
For most people the rotator cuffs' capacity to stabilise hasn't been tested as they're few exercises that put such an emphasis on shoulder stability.
So when people try rings for the first time, the demand on the shoulder stabilisers is overwhelming. This manifests itself in the form of involuntary shaking when in support holds on the rings.
This highlights a key strength imbalance that a lot of people didn't even know they had.
A stronger rotator cuff means a more stable shoulder joint. Ring dips in particular also incorporate the trapezius chest on the opposing side of the shoulder. This is a tremendous and under appreciated quality of ring training that helps prevent injury and your shoulder strength is tested at more angles of the shoulders ball and socket joint.
The shoulder joint is unusual in the sense that it allows the arms to rotate 360 degrees thanks to the ball and socket structure. With common, generic lifts such as bench press or overhead shoulder presses, the shoulders strength capacity is only tested at a specific angle. I.e. with an overhead press the weight is pushed up and down in a straight plane without any significant rotation in the shoulder.
This can lead to someone developing strong pushing strength at a certain angle but you can be comparatively weak at other angles. This strength imbalance is to the detriment of athletic performance and can possible lead to injuries or a stiffer, more restricted shoulder movement.
With rings the shoulder strength is tested through a particularly wide range of motion. For example, with the rings muscle up, your hands are directly above you head at the start of the movement at the pull up stage and the shoulder then has to rotate 180 degrees to get to the dip position with your arms in close to your body whilst constantly under tension.
This leads to a strong musculature around the joint as the muscle up tests the shoulders strength in a dynamic compound movement through a wide range of motion.
A stronger musculature around the shoulder joint transfers to other lifts and exercises. Shoulder stability, for example could be holding you back in a conventional lift such as the bench press both in terms of strength and solid upper body base to lift with.
If your shoulders are stable and strong at all angles of the shoulder joint then you will be able to handle large weights far more securely. Additionally, the level of coordination that is required to control the rings during pushing movement such as dips and ring push ups is another benefit that will carry over to the weight stack and improve your performance in the gym.
These qualities of stable, strong shoulders, increased coordination and control can be the stimulus that you need to bust through stubborn weight lifting plateaus too.
I personally have been a gymnastic rings convert for many years now and I have personally experienced all these benefits as well as new levels of strength.
I look forward to the workouts more as they no longer feel like a grind but an opportunity to develop skills (such as the muscle up) and gain functional strength as well as an athletic body.
Even if you are not even remotely from a gymnastic background, ring workouts can be integrated into your workout regime and are almost always work well as a compliment to other styles of resistance training.
Gymnastic rings have for a long time being an undervalued and misunderstood training tool however the cross over benefits are well worth the investment.
Add gymnastic rings to your training arsenal for well rounded athleticism and new levels of strength.
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