About a year ago I was introduced to the benefits of using gymnastic rings as part of my workout. I had previously been doing pull-ups as part of my workout routine, but I had used a stiff bar like most people do. I was doing OK, usually aiming for 5 sets of 10 before moving on to another exercise.
The problem I had with pull-ups was that, although difficult, I felt like I was working my major muscle groups a lot. I would switch it up doing overhand and underhand pull-ups, but there wasn’t much variation aside from those techniques. To explain what I mean, I’ll use the difference between free weights and fitness machines as an example.
When a person uses a bench press machine they are typically kept on rails and all effort is concentrated into a few large muscle groups to stimulate growth. By contrast, free weights do not limit a person’s range of motion, requiring smaller “stabilizer muscles” to become engaged in the exercise in order keep the free weights in alignment with the motion as it occurs.
Now, going back to compare gymnastic rings vs the pull-up bar, we see the same kind of stability difference. Pulling one’s self up on a pull-up bar is very stiff and solid – no motion occurs outside your own body movement. With this arrangement, the big muscles you use will be the most engaged in the exercise.
When gymnastic rings are utilized instead for pull-ups, they tend to sway back and forth and want to move horizontally as they are pulled down on. This additional motion requires the small stabilizer muscles to become engaged in the pull-up giving a more robust workout even though the exercise is technically the same.
It also helps engage the core because you’re going to need to control the swaying motion with your body weight. If you sway too much, you won’t even be able to do a single pull-up.
What Can I do With Gymnastic Rings?
Gymnastic rings are very versatile and don’t just have to be used for pull-ups. You also don’t have to be super strong to use them – although, to be honest, you may not be able to do as many pull-ups with rings as you can with a pull-up bar. It is a harder workout as far as I have experienced.
When doing any exercise, total number of reps should be less important than using good technique. I’d rather a person do 5 good pull-ups on rings than do 20 sloppy pull-ups. It’s common sense: we can’t expect to see great results if we do our exercises poorly. Focus on technique. Over time, your number of reps will increase, so just be patient and work to get stronger if you want to increase your rep count.
If you’re having trouble imagining what you can do with rings, here’s a list of exercises you can try. Combine them with an AMRAP for an absolutely killer workout:
- Overhand Pull-ups (palms facing away from your body)
- Works shoulders and triceps
- Underhand Pull-ups (palms facing your body)
- Works shoulders and biceps
- Works triceps and core
- Incline Push-ups
- Works triceps and pectorals
- L-Sits or L-Sit Dips
- Works core and triceps
- Ring hold support
- Works stabilizer muscles and forearms
You can get pretty creative with rings, if you want an intro course on how to us them GMB Fitness has a great intro on YouTube.
Which Rings Should I Get?
I recommend getting wooden rings if you are indoors. They feel the best in your hands and will give you the best grip without hurting your hands.
If you are outside, then you might want to consider polycarbonate rings unless you are willing to put them up and take them down each time you use them. Wood is my preference for doing exercises, but it doesn’t last forever if it gets rained on or baked in the UV rays of the sun regularly.
The exact rings I use are below, and after a year of regular use they are still in great shape! The straps are very heavy duty (as I’ve said before, I weigh 210 lbs), and they have a convenient cam on the straps which will allow the user to raise or lower them to perform different exercises. It only takes a second to adjust them, and I couldn’t be happier with my product. They’re also relatively inexpensive, which is a plus.
Titan Fitness 8″ Diameter Wood Gymnastics Rings with Cam Buckle Straps