For those that are looking for a new variation or progression of the pull-up exercise, try adding ring pull-ups to your workout program. While bar pull-ups can pretty much be done anywhere that there is a playground or soccer goal or a sturdy tree branch, the same can be said for using a pair of very portable and affordable gymnastics rings, as long as you have a stable structure that can support your bodyweight safely. As the rings have various height adjustments, you can also use them for numerous other unstable push and pull related exercises as well as lower body and core workouts.
Benefits of Ring Pull-Ups
As a compound exercise that focuses on your upper body, pull-ups target your latissimus dorsi, upper back, biceps and forearms. One of the most important benefits of using rings as opposed to a regular pull-up bar for pull-ups is that the rings will allow for better joint position and natural movement. Unlike using a bar, which requires your hands to be fixed into one place, rings have the ability to move independently and free, allowing the body to dictate a natural form to hang and perform a pull-up. Whereas a bar restricts the range of motion and movement, rings allow for a more relaxed and comfortable movement pattern.
Using rings as opposed to a standard pull-up bar also allows you to focus on improving your grip strength. As one of the most functional movements that we do on a daily basis, grip strength comes into play when we open jars, carry groceries, play sports or use gym equipment. In order to steady your body, your hands, forearms and core need to be completely engaged.
Speaking of your core, although your abdominals and lower back are working when using a standard bar, they are limited compared to when you have to stabilize your body from swinging on the rings. Everything from arms, shoulders, back, abs, hip flexors and even your glutes completely turn on in order to halt any unnecessary swinging movements that takes place. Not only do you need to focus on containing the swinging movement when moving through the concentric phase of a ring pull-up, but just as importantly the eccentric phase. We have already talked about how rings are less forgiving than a standard bar, so on the decline from your pull-up you have to maintain proper form just as much in order to control the swinging motion.
For those who thing that they can bang out a quick set of ring pull-ups, chances are your form and control isn’t where it should be. As you have to focus on your stabilization throughout both phases of the exercise, time under tension is at a premium, which means that your muscle groups are engaged twice as long.
Beginning Ring Pull-Ups
Pull-ups of any type can be an extremely challenging exercise as it not only takes strength but also coordination. Just because you can hammer out a set of pushups or bench a couple of plates, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can execute a proper pull-up, let alone a ring pull-up. For some, even just hanging on the rings and controlling your movement could be the first step. One way to get started is through “assisted” pull-ups. Using an additional piece of equipment or even the floor itself to help support your body weight, work on improving your upper body strength while progressively lessening any assistance and adding more of your body weight to the lift.
Some people believe that using a resistance band acts too much like a sling-shot and eliminates a significant amount of weight from the exercise, cheating your performance. However there is the option of progressing from different levels of band resistance. One method of using a resistance band is to thread it through both rings and have it act like a seat with your legs in a “L sit” position. From this position, you can train your upper body through the movements and still challenge yourself to control the stabilization. A progression from the seated position is to place your knees or feet on the loop of the band, adding more of your body weight to the movement. Gradually removing one leg/foot and transitioning from a thicker to thinner band will provide more of a challenge.
Check out our Gymnastic Rings here!
Ten Tips For Ring Pull-Ups and How To Do Them
Now that you are ready to tackle regular ring pull-ups, here are some tips to a successful set of reps.
1. Make sure the rings are adjusted to the proper height so that your feet do not touch the ground between reps.
2. Hold onto the rings with an overhand grip, arms straight, body at a standstill hand, slowly, with control, being to pull your body upward. Make sure your shoulders remain relaxed and your legs are tight together.
3. On the concentric (upward movement) bend your arms and slowly pull yourself upwards until your shoulders are level with the rings (think of your chin being above a standard pull-up bar).
4. Pause for a 2-3 second count and then slowly lower yourself back to a hanging position (remember time under tension), pause and repeat for the number of reps.
5. Myofascial Release exercises. Using a foam roller and massage balls to help increase your range of motion and mobility, target areas such as your lats, upper back, arms and pectorals.
6. Proper warmup exercises include lat pulldowns (using a resistance band), rows (using a band or rings), face pulls (using a band).
7. Hang out. Simply enough, get used to hanging out on the rings even before you consider executing a single pull-up. Practice different grips (neutral, false and above the ring). Work on increasing the duration of your hold for up to a minute as that is roughly the average time to complete a proper set.
8. Strength and mobility exercises. Increasing your grip strength though heavy weighted exercises such as farmer walks, deadlifts and rows. Even something as simple as trying to palm a basketball or volleyball will assist with grip strength. Regular upper body exercises such as chest press and shoulder raises (front, lateral, overhead press) will also play into increasing your pull-up reps.
9. Don’t forget your body weight exercises. Sometimes you will go to the gym and see people who can push and pull a ton of weight, but they struggle to perform the simplest body weight exercises such as push-ups, burpees, squats, lunges and core work. Training with body weight only helps to challenge your mind and control your body.
10. DO PULL-UPS! The best way to get better at doing something is to keep doing it (as long as you are doing it safely). Add a couple of pull-ups each day you are in the gym or out at the park, even if you don’t have access to rings.
Check out our Gymnastic Rings here!
Advanced Ring Pull-Ups
After mastering the basic ring pull-up, challenge yourself to something different.
Adjusting the distance of the rings to be either further apart or closer than what your normal position might be. These will target many of the same muscle areas but focus on smaller muscle groups.
After setting up for a regular pull-up, raise your legs up into a L-Sit position, parallel to the floor. This will target your abdominal muscle groups even more than regular pull-ups.
A progression from the pull-up, ring muscle-ups combine the movements of a pull-up and a dip into one movement. Using a false grip, pull yourself up until your shoulders are above your hands. Transition smoothly from the top of your pull-up into the lower position of a dip and then push yourself back up out of the dip.
Add additional weight either by means of a weight vest or dip belt/plate. With either option, be careful to slowly increase your weight in order to keep proper form and safety.
One arm pull-ups
Deemed by many as the ultimate pull-up goal, this variation is only for those who have completely mastered the basic version. Learning proper balance and control of the rings with two hands is an accomplishment for many, so just think how challenging it will be to do so with just a single arm.
Be Aware of These Mistakes
As with many exercises, people tend to want to do more than they are physically ready and able to. Often we see things and think, “aw man, that’s easy, I can do that”, which is great in theory, but then when it comes to proper execution and safety, it gets bypassed. Same goes for pull-ups on the bar and rings. When performing ring pull-ups, be aware of these common mistakes.
Cheap Equipment: As with any piece of workout equipment, the cheaper it is chance are the lower the quality. Wooden rings are usually the standard as they are the most comfortable to grip, whereas plastic and metal may last longer, but are not as highly recommended.
Letting your body swing: When performing a strict pull-up, your body should not swing in any direction on either your elevation or decline. Don’t allow momentum to pull you up, use your back strength.
Ring Height: Make sure that the height of your rings provide you a correct distance from the floor, with an average of 2-3 feet of space between your feet and the floor. Having proper ring height will allow for your body to hang naturally, rather than having to cross your legs behind you.
Don’t Think: Instead of thinking that you have to pull your body up, try visioning pulling your arm, elbow and shoulders down and in.
Full Range Of Motion: Don’t cheat yourself out of the complete exercise, it will not make things any easier. A full range of motion for a pull-up starts from a dead hang and moves all the way through pulling your shoulders up to the level of the rings (imagine your chin above a bar)
Elbows and Shoulders: Don’t allow your elbows to be too narrow as it will be more of a chin-up movement rather than a pull-up. Also, make sure that your shoulders are down and back, rather than having your shoulders up to your ears.
For those who are looking for a progression challenge from regular bar pull-ups, the ring version certainly provides that for you in a variety of ways. From stabilization through core activation to emphasis on upper body strength, adding ring exercises, especially the variety of pull-up workouts to your schedule is a great functional and fun upper body training method that can be challenging from beginner to experts.
Looking for the right gymnastic rings for your ring pull-ups?