The global pandemic and functional fitness movement have created a resurgence in popularity for calisthenics training. Using one's own body weight to perform movements is a fantastic way to get a full-body workout without an expensive gym membership or equipment.
Gymnastics rings are a versatile piece of equipment that you can use at home or at the local park to help improve your lean muscle mass, strength, and stability. Here are six gymnastics ring exercises you can do at home.
Benefits of Gymnastics Rings Calisthenics Workout
Calisthenic training offers several benefits for athletes of all levels. Young or old, male or female beginner or elite, the benefit of using your own body weight is that you can scale your workout to suit your needs. This type of training also forms the foundation for progression and load-bearing exercises over time.
There's a lot of confusion surrounding whether calisthenics training is as effective as weight lifting for building muscle strength and mass. A few studies have measured the effectiveness of building upper body strength with calisthenic push-up training versus loaded bench press training. The results showed similar growth ratios comparable to the subject, highlighting bodyweight training as an effective way to build muscle. A similar study showed that a low-load bench and bodyweight push-up training yield similar results for hypertrophy and strength gain.
The added benefits of using those classic wooden rings for bodyweight training include better activation of core and stabilizer muscles, added resistance, and the ability to perform hanging exercises. One of the challenges many athletes face when trying to perform calisthenics at home is the limited options for performing pull exercises; gymnastic rings solve that problem.
6 Exercises with Olympic Rings
Once you have a high-quality set of Olympic rings, you can start your full-body calisthenics workout. Here are six of the best gymnastic ring exercises to get you started.
Top Position Hold
As with any type of ring training, it's best to start at the start. Top position holds are a static hold that will create a strong foundation for progressions. Before you can do dips and tucks, you need to support and stabilize your body weight. This practice is similar to performing dead hangs with a pull-up bar.
- Adjust the rings to be slightly above hip height when you stand between them.
- Start between the rings with feet hip-width apart and hands firmly grasping the rings in an overhand grip. Your palms should be planted on the bottom inside of the rings with your knuckles pointing at the floor.
- Jump and push your arms to full extension, keeping your hands tucked close to your body, shoulders back, and chest up.
- Hold for as long as possible before slowly lowering back to the ground.
Start with 10-15 second holds and 10-15 second rest periods in between, scaling as you become stronger.
Ring rows are often one of the first Olympic ring exercises athletes learn. They're usually included in CrossFit WODs and can be easily scaled for athletic level by adjusting one's foot position. Ring rows work your traps, shoulders, and back.
- Grab the rings with an underhand grip, palms facing each other.
- Lean back, letting your arms stretch to full extension. Walk your feet in toward the rings so that your body creates an angle with the floor. The less space between your back and the floor, the more challenging this movement will be.
- Brace your core and pull your chest toward the rings, letting your elbows bend and keeping them tucked.
- When the rings reach your armpits, pause, squeeze, and slowly release back to full extension.
Maintaining an engaged core is essential for ring rows. Consider this movement similar to a hanging plank for better visualization.
Ring push-ups are a fantastic way to work the major upper body muscle groups while targeting the smaller stabilizer muscles for a compound movement. Ring height plays a key role in this compound movement— the lower the rings, the more intense the exercise. This movement will target your chest, shoulders, core, and triceps.
- Grab the rings with an overhand grip, with palms resting on the inside bottom of the rings and knuckles facing downward.
- Walk your feet backward away from the rings until you're in an inverted plank position with arms fully extended. Again, the smaller the angle between your body and the floor, the more challenging this workout will be.
- Brace your core and lower yourself toward the floor, keeping your elbows tucked.
- Pause at the bottom of your range of motion, and slowly push up back to full extension.
Slow and steady wins the race with these push-ups. There's no using momentum to cheat your reps when you need to stabilize your entire body.
After you've mastered the top position hold, the next step is to try dips. The motion of this exercise is nearly identical to performing dips on a dip bar or parallettes. As with the push-ups, you'll experience better activation of the stabilizer muscles. Dips target the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
- Adjust the rings so your feet won't touch the ground at the bottom of your dip. Stand between the rings, grab them with an overhand grip, and push yourself into a top hold position.
- Lower your body, allowing your elbows to bend as you keep them tucked beside you. Keep your shoulders back, chest forward, and eyes ahead.
- Stop at the bottom of your range of motion and push back up to full extension.
If you aren't ready for the full dip, try with a shorter range of motion or use dip negatives to improve your range and strength over time. You can also use a resistance band for extra support.
While the rings are primarily for working the upper body and core, there are a few creative ways to work the lower body as well. Split squats are unilateral exercises that target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. The gymnastic ring split squat is similar to the Bulgarian split squat you know and love (or hate).
- Set the rings to approximately knee height.
- Stand facing away from the rings, and place your right foot into the associated ring.
- Step your left leg out so that your right leg is partially extended behind you. You may have to adjust your positioning based on your build and range of motion.
- Hinge your hips back, bending your forward, left knee until your back, right knee just touches the floor, keeping your chest upright and eyes ahead.
- When you reach the bottom of your range of motion, explode back up to full extension to complete the rep.
- Complete all of your reps, then switch to put your left foot in the ring.
Proper form is essential for this movement. You should feel the burn in your glutes and quads, not your knees. If you experience knee pain, stop and adjust your positioning.
Finally, it wouldn't be a list of ring exercises without knee tucks and progression to L-sits. This compound movement engages the entire body, with a special focus on the core.
- Adjust your gym rings to be overhead, allowing you plenty of room to hang.
- Grab the rings with an overhand grip, knuckles facing each other, and lift your feet.
- Brace your core and pull your legs upward, allowing your knees to bend.
- At the top of your range of motion, pause, squeeze, and slowly release.
- When you reach full extension, pause for a moment to reduce swinging.
To progress to an L-sit, start by moving to leg lifts, keeping the legs straightened as you raise and lower rather than bending your knees. Once you build both grip strength and core strength, increase the pause at the top of the movement until you're performing a beautiful hanging L-sit.
Our Top Pick: Rogue Gymnastic Wood Rings
The straps are made of heavy-duty nylon, while the cam buckles allow for easy set-up and adjustment, no matter where you’re at.
They include Velcro straps so that the excess strap stays securely out of the way while you’re working out.
The all-natural wood rings give you the best grip in the business; made of quality Birch, these rings provide a textured, grip-friendly surface that you can handle without chalk.
With an incredibly natural feel and American craftsmanship, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a pair of rings with better durability and comfort than the Rogue Gymnastic Wood Rings. This is why we chose this set of gymnastic rings as our top pick.
You don't need a costly gym membership or sprawling home gym to get fit. All you need is a pair of rings, some good music, and motivation. Use these calisthenic ring exercises to improve your strength, stability, body composition, and overall athletic performance.