Ring Exercises for Physique Training

Q: James great post. You know I've trained on gymnastic rings this past year and got pretty good (full lay front and back levers, iron cross almost, Maltese/planche holds on rings) and also working on transitioning. The most visually impressive and easiest is the straight arm pull into inverted hang. Then you can go into back lever and roll out again. I've been doing this as my warm-up prior to hitting the weights. 

One thing though is I've lost a lot of size. It might be because I train everyday or diet/stimulant use but I'm much sleeker now, like a male artistic gymnast. And while you say that's much preferred it honestly doesn't look "jacked" enough, and I don't think you can achieve that guy's physique (>>) in your post with just ring training. 

Very few gymnasts look like that: Yuri Van Gelder, Brandon Wynn.  I actually spoke with Brandon, and he mentioned that weights would get your physique to that godlike impressive look much better. Just wanted to share this and get your thoughts.

I did a physique competition two years ago (trained primarily weights) and haven't reached that peak form since, despite maintaining strength on the big lifts and doing lots of ring work. So I suspect the ring work might be doing more harm than good when it comes purely to physique gains.

- B. Yu

My Answer: There's a big difference between gymnastics training and size training or bodybuilding.  Gymnastics is about performance, whereas bodybuilding is about looks.  Gymnastics is about movement and holds, whereas size training is about maximizing tension on a muscle to induce a physiological response: hypertrophy.

Gymnastics rings are simply a tool, and how you use this tool determines what results you get from it.  A hammer is a tool that can be used as weapon, or it can build a house.  You can use gymnastic rings to perform gymnastic exercises (Maltese, planche), or you can use them to build muscle (pull-ups, dips).

The thing is that ring exercises are open kinetic chain exercises.  Closed kinetic chain exercises are superior for muscle growth.  Pull-ups and dips done on bars are better for muscle growth than pull-ups and dips done on rings.

Ring exercises feel harder, because you're wobbling around all over the place.  You have to stabilize your body by tightening all of your muscles and really tightening up your abs.  Hence your nerve force is being split every which way on ring exercises.

But bar exercises are closed kinetic chain exercises. Most of your nerve force goes to the primary movers.  Your back and biceps get most of the stress when you perform pull-ups and chin-ups on the bar.  Your chest, front deltoids and triceps get most of the stress when you do dips on the bars.

So while it's impressive to do the Maltese or a planche on the rings, you're better off doing simple discrete movements on the bars as opposed to static holds on the rings if you want to build an impressive physique.

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