Ring Push ups vs Bench Press, which is the better exercise?
Which exercise is more effective, ring push ups or bench press?
Both exercises share similarities in that they are compound exercises that target the chest, shoulders and triceps as the primary movers.
However each exercise has its distinct advantages. Bench press is more suited to scalable strength and muscles gain as you can easily increase the intensity of each rep by adding more weight. Whereas the ring push ups emphasise functional strength, joint health, shoulder stability and deep chest engagement. Lets take a look at the specific advantages of each exercise:
Why ring push ups are easier on your joints
One of the key advantages of ring push ups is that the rings are able to move and rotate in a way that is most comfortable for your joints. As the rings are suspended they are free to move and rotate in any direction you want.
The free movement of the rings allows them to turn a adjust to the optimal position for your wrist, elbows, shoulders and the connective tissue and therefore helps avoid pain and discomfort over the course of many reps.
With the bench press however your hands are in a fixed in place to typically a, wider then shoulder width position on the bar.
As the bar is straight and solid your hands and wrist can't rotate or adjust in the same way to the most comfortable position as you can with the rings.
Overtime, this can lead to soreness in the joints, particularly the wrist, elbow and shoulders joint impingement.
If you already have a sore wrist or you are prone to either golfers or tennis elbow (inflammation of the tendons) then loading up a barbell with heavy weights may not be the best approach for you and you may find more comfort with the various ring pushing exercises such as push ups and dips.
You can of course limit your bench press training which will help prevent any over straining of joints and connective tissue by reducing the exercise to a schedule of once a week for 3 sets or 12 reps, but if your joints cannot tolerate that then bench pressing will do you more harm then good in the long term and I would try ring push ups instead for a kinder to your joints pushing exercise.
Shoulder stability and injury prevention benefits of the ring push up
A unique and all too often overlooked aspect of gymnastic rings training is their ability to directly address a strength imbalance of the stabilising muscles around the shoulder joint.
This is because gymnastic rings are inherently unstable, so the body has to actively work to stabilise itself rather then relying on the stability of the equipment.
The first time you try any sort of rings training where your 'in hold' ( when you centre of gravity is higher then that of the rings) the instability can feel overwhelming, as with the rings push up.
However your body's adaptive response to this is to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint- the rotator cuff in particular.
The rings push up is a great place to start with suspension training as the instability can essentially be controlled and adjusted. The further lower the rings are to the ground the more intense each rep of the exercise is. Also your feet are on the ground which provides some additional stability.
Therefore if you are a beginner start at an easier angle and as your strength increases you can lower they height of the rings and increase the stimulus on the stabilising muscles as you get stronger.
The advantage of this is a stronger overall shoulder joint. Stable shoulders are far more resistant to injury.
The cause of shoulder injury with bench press is often because the primary movers of a pushing motion (chest, shoulders, triceps) are stronger then the muscles that support the shoulder and keep the weight stable.
Therefore as you increase the weight on the barbell the disparity of your chest and arms compared to the strength of the stabilising muscles leads to shoulder injuries.
Rings are a great tool to address this strength imbalance and ring push ups directly address the shoulders capacity for maintaining stability.
How ring push ups improve your bench press
Gymnastic ring push ups are one of the best ways to increase rotator cuff strength and therefore increase stability around the shoulder joint. This directly transfers to improving your bench press.
With bench press training you often hit a plateau both in terms of strength and muscles gain.
One of the best ways to overcome this plateau is to offer your nervous system a new form of stimulus in the form of the instability of ring push ups.
The pushing strength that you gain on the bench press does not transfer to pushing strength on rings particularly well.
This is because of the rings ability to expose the strength imbalance between the bench press's primary movers (the chest and triceps) and the muscles around the shoulder joint that are responsible for keeping your shoulder stable (predominately your rotator cuff).
If your shoulders are rock solid then this makes the a heavy barbell far easier to control. You spend less time and expend less energy fighting the control the weight if your foundation is rock solid and you can concentrate on the lift.
If you put in the ground work and become accustomed to ring push ups to the extent that you can perform 12 or more competent reps with equal effort applied to both the concentric and eccentric phase of the movement then this will serve you well in terms of improving your shoulder health and resistance to injury as well as increasing your bench press total.
Which most effective for strength and muscle gains?
The bench press has an overall advantage over the ring push up when it comes to strength and muscle gains. This is due to the ease of scaling the intensity of the exercise.
To keep gaining strength and muscle you need to maintain a progressive overload.
In order to maintain a progressive overload for strength and muscle gain you need to increase the intensity of each rep of the exercise within the appropriate rep range. (8-12 reps for hypertrophy and 3-6 reps for strength).
With the bench press you can continually add weight to the barbell to increase the demand on the targeted muscle groups (the chest, triceps and shoulders) and the body's adaptive response to the increase in intensity is to stimulate muscle growth and increase in strength.
As you gain more muscle and more strength, you can keep on progressing by adding more weight for a greater challenge. The bench press is a simple and effective exercise that is a main stay of gaining maximal strength and increased mass of the chest, arms and shoulders.
Ring push ups offer a different approach to muscle building and strength gain. For anyone who doesn't have experience with gymnastic rings or any suspension training, you will find the instability element overwhelming at first.
Ring push ups are far more difficult then regular push ups due to the free movement and rotation of the rings compared to the relative stability of a conventional push up on the ground.
The body responds to the instability stimulus by strengthening the rotator cuff, and the muscles around the shoulder joint (trapezius, deltiods).
The chest and core muscles also have to bare responsibility for coordinating the body during the exercise and making sure that you stay balanced whilst pushing which means there is increased time under tension- which an important factor for muscle gain.
The primary movers of the ring push up; the chest and triceps have far greater engagement with more muscle fibre recruitment, throughout the movement. This leads to more muscle breakdown and more potential for repair and muscle growth.
So in the initial stages of training ring push ups you can gain a lot of muscle and strength as the rings are a new stimulus for your body to adapt to rather.
Its likely (depending your personal physiology) that your chest, triceps, shoulders and forearms in particular will add mass and become more defined as you start really progressing with ring push ups.
The feeling is very humbling at first as ring push ups are so much more difficult then conventional push ups and offer such a different challenge to bench press that any crossover push strength does not directly transfer to the unique feeling of the rings.
Therefore there is a lot of scope for strength and muscle gain when you incorporate ring push ups into your routine.
However once you have become accustomed to ring push ups and you can comfortably perform more the 12 reps then the exercise (as with any exercise) will lose its effectiveness of continually building strength and muscular growth.
This is because you have adapted to the exercises and exceeded the optimal rep range for muscle growth and strength gain.
If you can perform a high number of reps then the emphasis of your training will switch more to strength endurance as opposed to increasing maximal strength or inducing hypertrophy.
Therefore you need to find a way of increasing the intensity of each rep to continue building muscle.
You can do this effectively with a weighted vest to continue adding resistance to the exercise. Although there are some practical considerations and limitations to consider when using a vest such as:
you can only add a limited amount of weight (usually 30 kilos or 66 lbs)
they are difficult to get on and off when at full weight capacity and you may feel its uncomfortable.
The better option is to progresses on to more challenging ring exercises such as dips. This works broadly the same muscle groups but instead of partial body weight, you support your entire body.
This is substantially more challenging then ring push ups and its the best variation to continue increasing muscle mass and gain functional strength. It is also a great gateway to high level ring techniques such as the muscle up.
Conclusion of muscle and strength gain: bench press or gymnastic rings
The truth is it is much easier to scale the intensity of the bench press for increasing muscle mass and strength. As with a lot of conventional weight lifting, the ease of adding weight plates to a barbell means you can consistently increase the resistance of the exercise and easily maintain a progressive overload that sufficiently challenges your chest, triceps and shoulders.
However as gymnastic rings provides such a unique stimulus it can offer significant chest triceps forearms, shoulder and core engagement that bench press doesn't emphasis in the same way.
Also you're muscle gain will be limited if you do not spend enough time under tension. With gymnastic rings push ups you have to keep balance and control throughout the exercise in both the concentric and eccentric phase.
The balance and coordination benefits of the ring push ups also are significant and the two exercises compliment one another very well.
Training gymnastic rings push ups will improve your bench press totals, thanks to improved shoulder stability from rings training which in my experience helps bust through bench press plateaus.
In terms of increasing strength and muscle mass the bench press is generally better because:
You can keep track of your strength increases in a very measurable way by how much weight is on the barbell, which is good for motivation
Its easier to maintain a progressive over load by adding more weight which helps you to stick with in either a muscle or strength building rep range
Ring push ups do offer muscle building potential with more muscle engagement from the chest, arms, shoulders and core muscles but there are ultimately limited by your body weight.
Ring push ups really stand out in terms of being:
Far kinder to you joints and tendons as the rings rotate and adjust to your body rather then your body adjusting to the equipment.
Much better at strengthening the stabilising muscles around the shoulder joint which leads to injury resistance shoulders and a solid stable base for other pushing exercises.
Ring push ups also emphasis balance and coordination so you can progress to more advanced ring exercises such as dips and muscle ups
The best approach is to train each exercise in synergy in a way the best serves your goals.
If your goal is to improve your bench press personal record then I would highly recommend supplementing your bench pressing programme with ring push ups. You will learn how to balance and control the barbell better because of improved shoulder stability and you will be far less likely to develop shoulder injuries.
Whilst the intensity of ring push ups cannot be scaled as effective as the bench press, you can progress to more difficult ring variations, such as dips, and potentially weighted dips and therefore carry on gaining strength and muscle with highly functional exercises that increase proprioception and have good athletic crossover.
There are significant benefits to both approaches and you should choose the exercise that is most appropriate for your goals but it is important to acknowledge both exercise compliment one another.
So rather then training each exercise in isolation, you can reap the benefits of both and develop well rounded strength.
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