Fitness author and strength and conditioning expert Mike Volkmar believes gymnastic rings should be added as part of one’s workout routine. His new book Gymnastic Rings Workout Handbook contains everything one needs to know about exercising with gym rings to increase strength, improve mobility and build muscle including over 100 workouts. Below, check out Mike’s thoughts on how gym rings can improve your workouts.
You have seen them. At your local CrossFit box or gym. Your friend even mentioned they tried a few exercises in a group fitness center. You even saw Vince Vaugh use a pair in the movie Old School. We’re talking about a simple set of wood rings hanging from a pull up bar or rack. It is such a simple piece of equipment that can make a gigantic difference in your training. I personally use them in some fashion every day in my workouts.
#1 Gymnastic Rings Helps Everyone
With gym rings taking up very little space and rings exercises easily scalable for beginner to advance levels, gym rings are accessible and useful for so many, such as:
- Athletes who need to take a break from heavy barbell and dumbbell training and bust through existing plateaus
- The garage gym lifter who is limited by space
- The weekend warrior who enjoys training outside
- People who travel very frequently portable
#2 More Core Stability
Gymnastic rings require you to engage your core in all directions. Leave all those other core exercises you have been doing on the floor for years and actually engage your abs for the first time in years. Rings have two distinct advantages in core stability training.
#1 – The ability for single leg and single arm exercises. For example, progressing the basic Ring Plank (hands on the handles, feet on the floor) to a single arm plank will light your oblique muscles on fire.
#2 – The ability to increase the intensity of the exercise with advantage. Let’s stay with the basic Ring Plank in this example. The lower/closer/more parallel your body gets to the floor, the more engaged your core muscles. Next time you have your hands on a set of rings, hold a plank position at a 60-degree body angle. Now, take a big step backwards while holding the plank, to a body angle of 30-40 degrees. Now, if you can/dare, step backwards while holding the plank with you hands only a few inches off the ground. The gradual increase of intensity is impressive.
#3 Much Better for the Joints
The barbell is undefeated. Every lifter who has put in 20+ years under the bar has some cranky joints. Shoulder pain from Barbell Bench Press. Lower back pain from heavy deadlift from the floor. Knee pain from deep, heavy squats. Rings, however, allow for a neutral grip, which creates a healthier position for the shoulders. Rings are also a fantastic option for warm-up exercises when you have a barbell-centric program.
- Bench Day? 3 sets of 15 reps for Ring Row and Ring “T” Raise.
- Deadlift day? 3 sets of 15 reps for the Ring Single Leg RDL and Ring Front Plank Fallouts
- Squat day? 3 sets of 15 reps for the Ring Glute Bridge and Ring Reverse Lunges.
#4 Take Exercises to the Next Level
Rings can bring your usual push-ups, dips, pull-ups, and row workouts to the next level. This is reason alone to get a pair of rings. I had trouble brushing my teeth the day after I first tried Ring Push-Ups and Dips. Ring push-ups allow for a greater range of motion and shoulder stability. Rings dips humble even the strongest lifter. Ring pull-ups allow for the natural rotation of the shoulders and alleviate pain at the elbows. Ring rows are a fantastic assistance exercise that allows you to hit all the back muscles.
The rings also allow for a quick change of exercises called Mechanical Drop Sets. These are drop sets that start with the more difficult exercise and then drop to the “easier” exercise when your tired. These are crazy tough!
PUSH Mechanical Drop Set
Instructions: Take the Ring Dips to near failure leaving 2 or 3 reps in the tank. Then quickly shift to Rings push ups doing as many reps as possible.
1A. Ring Dip
1B. Ring Push-ups
PULL Mechanical Drop Set
Instructions: Take the Ring Pull-up to near failure leaving 2 or 3 reps in the tank. Then quickly shift to Rings Rows doing as many reps as possible.
1A. Ring Pull-ups
1B. Ring Row
I find a use for gymnastic rings every day – core, strength, mobility, or prehab exercises. It can be part of your daily routine as well. For more information on gymnastic rings, check out my book Gymnastic Rings Workout Handbook.
MICHAEL VOLKMAR, MS, CSCS, PES, CPT, received his master’s degree in Exercise Science with a specialization in Exercise, Nutrition, and Eating Behavior from George Washington University (GWU). In 2001, Mike started his well-traveled path in Sports Performance Training at the Junior College level (OCC, Onondaga, NY) working with the baseball team. He worked for three years as the Strength and Conditioning Coach at GWU, first with the Single A affiliate (High Desert Mavericks) of the Milwaukee Brewers, and later season with the Double A affiliate (Harrisburg Senators) of the Washington Nationals, before moving on to spend one year at the International Performance Institute of IMG Academies, FL. Mike continued his professional development by becoming the Director of Strength and Conditioning at the APEX Academies. Currently, Mike is the strength and conditioning coach at the Peddie School. A Division I baseball player during his undergraduate career, Mike is an amateur powerlifter with a passion for all things fitness. Mike has advanced specialty certifications in strength and conditioning, post-rehab exercise, athletic development, and sports medicine.