We keep hearing how great gymnastics rings are as a workout tool and how we should all be using them for a host of reasons………
One of the obstacles we run into is this idea that rings are exclusively for the advanced. Of course this isn’t true but there seems to be a gap in the market, where nobody knows how to bridge between intermediate bodyweight strength and a beginner.
It may surprise you but most people have enough bent arm strength for rings, it’s the straight arm strength that’s lacking. This makes sense really. Think about it: when do you really perform straight arm strength work with conventional weight lifting? Even in moves like dumbbell chest flyes there’s still a fair kink in most people’s elbows.
This is evident when reasonably strong people take to the rings and can actually do moves like push ups and dips, and even chin ups, but what you’ll almost always see is a HORRIBLE lockout and shrugged shoulders near lockout. This is where we see the beast that is straight arm strength showing up!
How the hell do we go about getting this straight arm strength then?
The same way we scale any move on rings; by understanding and intelligently manipulating leverage. I have a 3 stage sequence with sets, reps and hold times structured in a way that allows you to work your way from very little stability on rings, to a decent level. Even if you’re someone that’s already more advanced, these drills can work as a lovely warm up for straight arm work. I use these as a warm up myself and with people I work with.
Step 1: Static ring planks
Set the rings low – around shin height – and perform a straight arm plank hold. Don’t worry too much about the positioning of the rings. Just ensure arms are straight and the scapula is slightly protracted (upper back slightly rounded). Now hold this for 10-20 seconds. Once 20 seconds is comfortable you can graduate to step 1.2!
Step 1.2: RTO (rings-turned-out) static plank holds
Same ring position and set up as above, only this time you’re going to turn the rings out as much as you can. Aim for a full turn out – as you can see in the picture below. The turned out position will condition the elbow tendons and biceps for more advanced loading in future. Again, aim for a solid 20 second hold.
Step 1.3: RTO plank fly pulses
Building upon the static stability you’ve gained, we will now add movement into the mix. Assume the RTO plank position and perform 10 straight arm pulses out to the side; think of it as a ‘baby fly’. If you can get the rings to 45 degrees from the midline of your body, you’re doing mighty well. But don’t fear, even small pulses are very effective and will build stability as you resist your body’s natural urge to move.
Step 2: Foot supported rings support hold
The height of the rings will need to be similar to your plank height (maybe slightly higher?) and you’re basically going to find the top position of a triceps dip, but on rings. The feet and legs will be out as straight as possible. Shoulders down and back. Arms straight. Now hold for 10-20 seconds. As you gain more confidence, again, turn the rings out as much as possible – aiming for a full turn out shown below.
Step 2.2: Feet assisted rings support hold pulses
Deceptively difficult, these pulses will test your strength and stability to the max as even a 20-30 degree angle between arms and torso takes a TON of strength. Aim to make the pulses smooth and fluent before you try and move the rings out too far. Sets of 10 reps once again.
Step 3: THE SUPPORT HOLD
You’re now in business and won’t be using any assistance; fighting gravity is your mission. Begin with a straight arm support hold and as per usual, ensure the scapula is depressed and the shoulders are down. Elbows must be locked and you’re keeping your body as still as possible. If you can only achieve this with the rings/hands turned in, so be it. Accumulate the necessary time under tension and work towards turning them out progressively.
Step 3.2: THE RTO SUPPORT HOLD
You will now be looking for a solid turnout – almost as much as a 90 degree ring turn out if you can! Perfect form here is to have no contact between your forearm and the rings, as well as having the rings maximally turned out, as before. This isn’t something that will happen linearly; each time you do it you will not just jump from one advancement to the next and may well have days where you feel you’ve gone backwards. Fear not, this is normal and conditioning the tendons and tissues for moves like these takes time.
Step 3.3: RTO Support pulses
Yep, just when you thought there was a final touchdown line you realise there’s more. And that’s the awesome thing about rings……there’s always ways to make things appropriately harder. Adding an outward pulse to the arms does the trick. How far out you go will largely depend on your strength level. Needless to say, going very far out is essentially moving into the territory of the iconic ‘iron cross’.
Putting the progressions into practice
Subject to what level you’re at, you’ll either perform both the static and dynamic pairing for your strength level.
You’re a beginner and are at the plank level: Train 3 sets of 10-20 second plank holds and 3 sets of 10 straight arm pulses. The same applies for the more advanced levels. For those at a higher level or even training for different straight arm elements, such as the back lever, this whole sequence can be ran through as a circuit to warm up.
Once you achieve 3 sets of 20 seconds and 3 sets of 10 pulses WITHOUT shaking or kinking the arms, congrats……..you may go ahead and level up!
If you have any questions about this routine or would like more info on gymnastics ring training, just comment below or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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