Valkyrie Fitness Bit #17: Intro to Rings

Valkyrie Fitness Bits is a twice-weekly series of videos and blog posts covering a single exercise each. Learn to build strength and mobility for your martial arts training, and mix and match your favourite exercises to build a workout that fits your goals and training style.

Gymnastic Rings

Gymnastic rings are a versatile and powerful tool for strength training, and an inexpensive way to really boost your workouts at home. We’ll be spending a few weeks developing how to use them effectively, beginning with the 3 basic grips, and the deadhang.

Grips

How you grip the rings has a dramatic impact on your arm and shoulder alignment, your range of motion on the rings, and which muscles you engage to maintain stability or pull up. The following three grips are the most commonly-used in the gymnastics holds that we incorporate into our training, and you should become comfortable with all of them.

Standard Grip

Standard Ring Grip, with palms facing forward

In the Standard Grip, the palms face forward, and the fingers and thumb gently encircle the ring. The wrist is generally straight in this grip, and the hands are aligned with the arms when you hang down. This grip is used in pullups and most straight holds, and strongly engages the deltoids and upper back.

Reverse Grip

Reverse Ring Grip, wth palms facing backwards

The Reverse Grip has the same finger and thumb position, and the same wrist alignment, as the Standard Grip. The only difference is that the palm faces backward, rather than forward. This grip is used for chinups, and engages the latissimus dorsi and biceps more strongly.

False Grip

False Ring Grip, with bent wrists

The False Grip allows you to smoothly transition from hanging below the rings to pushing up above them, and is critical to actions like the muscle up. Begin by resting the large muscle below your thumb (the “meat” of your hand) on the rings with the palm facing forward, and then gently wrap your fingers and thumb around each ring. Your wrist will be bent at a sharp angle once you lower your weight onto your hands.

Deadhang

Two stills of the deadhang, one showing full extension, and one showing a partial extension of the arms

The deadhang is a great exercise for building up your grip strength, and getting used to the alignment and muscle engagement demanded by each grip position. It’s also a nice way to stretch out the back and relax at the end of a long day, or as the finish of a workout session. In general, you should aim to hold your deadhangs for 30 seconds.

Begin in whatever grip you prefer, and slowly shift your entire body weight onto your hand, pulling your feet up off the ground. Make sure that your legs align with your torso, instead of pulling up towards your chest or back behind your hips. Your arms should be straight, and your shoulders should be actively engaged in supporting your body’s weight.

Troubleshooting

Man, the False Grip is uncomfortable. I can barely do it!

This is a challenging position for the wrists, and it may take you some time to build up to an extended hold or deadhang. You can begin by making a fist and bending your wrist over a bar or the rings, and gradually increasing the weight on your hands until you can support your weight. From there, you can progress to a full grip. Gymnastics WOD also offers a nice three-part progression for working up the False Grip, if you need a more gradual way to get used to this position.

I can’t get to a full deadhang when I’m in the reverse grip.

You may find your arms twisting or your grip failing when you go to a full arm extension while in the reverse grip. If this happens, you’ll have to work up to the position gradually. Begin in a hang with your arms bent to at least 90 degrees, and slowly lower your weight. Stop in the lowest position you can manage with your hands still in the proper grip, and hold there for 30 seconds (see the image on the right in the “Deadhang” section above). Over time, you’ll be able to support yourself in lower and lower positions, until you eventually achieve a full deadhang. This same approach can be taken with the other two grips.

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