Valkyrie Fitness Bit #18: Ring Holds

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.

Straight Holds on the Rings

Straight holds are excellent starting exercises on the gymnastic rings. On their own, they help to build strength in the shoulders and major stabilizing muscles (especially the pectorals and latissimus dorsi). As the foundation of a longer ring-based workout, they help build the shoulder stability necessary to safely manage more complex actions.

Basic Position

Straight Hold Basic Position

Begin your Straight Hold with the rings level with your lower ribs, and your hands gently gripping each ring from above. Straighten your arms completely as you push or hop up, so that your body is entirely supported by your arms. Your back should be straight, and your legs should hang straight down in line with your torso. Keep your arms even with your sides and press down with your shoulders, rather than shrugging them up towards your ears.

Variations

There are many ways to modify the Straight Hold, with increasing levels of difficulty. Here are a few core variants. Work through this series as part of your workout, beginning with the basic position. Aim to hold each variation for 30 seconds, and repeat each hold twice.

External Arm Rotations

External Arm Rotations in the Straight Hold

This variation engages the latissimus dorsi more strongly, and challenges the rotator cuff to maintain shoulder stability through a difficult position. Begin in a Straight Hold, and slowly rotate your arms towards the outside, until your palms face forward. Keep your arms as straight as possible during the entire motion. Make sure to initiate the rotation with your entire arm, rather than just twisting at the wrist. Once you’ve turned out as far as you’re able, return to your original hand position. Repeat this sequence slowly and steadily over the course of a 30-second hold.

Hollow and Arch Transitions

Sequence of Hollow and Arch transitions from straight hold

This variation helps you to maintain scapular mobility throughout your hold. Beginning in a Straight Hold, pull down with your pectorals and transition slowly to a Hollow Body position, making sure to keep your lower back straight. Once you’ve reached that position, pull down your shoulder blades, and slowly transition back to an Arch. Move smoothly between the two positions over a 30-second hold, and aim for as much shoulder blade movement as possible.

Inverted Straight Hold

Inverted Straight Hold

The same Straight Hold can be inverted, in order to challenge your grip strength and force your shoulders to maintain stability along a new axis. Keep your arms straight and hang upside down, keeping your body as straight as possible. Your palms should face in towards your body, and you can rest your legs against the ring straps if you have difficulty staying up at first.

Inverted External Arm Rotations

Inverted External Arm Rotations from Straight Hold

Begin in an Inverted Straight Hold, and slowly rotate your arms to turn the palms forward. You will have to press them outwards slightly as well, in order to prevent the rings from catching on your thighs as they turn. Repeat the transition between both hand positions over a 30-second hold time.

Inverted Hollow and Arch Transitions

Inverted Hollow and Arch Transitions

Begin in an Inverted Straight Hold, and slowly transition through the Hollow Body and Arch positions. In the inverted version of this exercise, you’ll need to push up strongly towards the ceiling in your Hollow to prevent your back from collapsing, and keep your lower back very straight in order to avoid falling out of the Arch. Move slowly and as smoothly as possible from one position to the next.

Troubleshooting

My arms are shaking like crazy. How do I stay up?

Stability is the biggest challenge in ring work, and you will feel a little shaky to begin with. You can minimize wobbliness by keeping your arms in close to your sides and keeping your weight evenly distributed between them. You’ll notice that one arm is bearing more load than the other if there’s a difference in the height of your shoulders, or if one elbow is slightly bent. If you’re not sure if things are even, ask a friend to check your form.

I can’t get inverted in the first place. How do I get upside down?

Getting inverted can be tricky. The best way to get upside down without swinging is to focus on shifting your centre of gravity upwards. Hang on bent arms, with the rings next to your shoulders. Next, pull your knees up as tightly to your chest as possible. This will keep your centre of rotation right at the rings, and will bring your centre of gravity up high enough that you can just tip gently backwards and roll into an inversion. Don’t try to kick up with straightened legs, as that will pull your centre of gravity forward and send you swinging.

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