A Beginner’s Guide to Training with Gymnastic Rings (Do a Ring Workout Today)

After today, you'll know everything you need to get started with gymnastic rings!

If you want to get started training with gymnastic rings, you’ve come to the right place!

We teach many of our coaching clients how to incorporate gymnastic rings into their workout, and today we’ll share with you the same lessons!

Here’s what we’ll cover so you can get started training with gymnastic rings:

The tutorials ahead are from our premium course Nerd Fitness: Rings, which I would encourage you to check out if you like what you see. It includes even MORE instruction, a skill-tree leveling system, plus exact directions on what to do, for how long, and when to advance.

What Are the Benefits of a Gymnastic Ring Workout?

Everyone can train with gymnastic rings! If you can reach the ring, you're good to go!

Show me somebody, male or female, who trains with rings and I’ll show you one healthy, bad-ass individual!

I used to think rings were only for gymnasts. But much like other bodyweight exercises, rings are great tools for beginners, too.

Young or old, male or female, big or small, you can start simply by spending a few bucks on a set of gymnastic rings and working on some very basic movements.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete beginner or a super-advanced fancy person (and it certainly doesn’t matter if you’re “skinny” or “stocky”, male or female, Gungan or Wookie): Anyone at any experience-level can train successfully — and safely — with rings.

How do I know so much about rings? Because I never leave home without them!

Steve always travels with rings, so he can do his training from any part of the world.

My love affair with gymnastic rings began as a simple crush many many years ago. I watched Olympic Gymnasts doing crazy stuff on the rings and said, “I also want to do crazy stuff on the rings some day, but I don’t know how.”

Displays like this are what first inspired Steve to train with gymnastic rings.

It was around this time that I had just moved to Washington, DC, and discovered that one of my fitness heroes, Jim Bathurst of BeastSkills fame, ALSO lived in Washington, DC. Eventually, I sheepishly asked him if he could show me around the rings, and he taught me how to get started with them.

In fact, he helped me get my first muscle up (flash back to Skinny Steve in 2011):

After that, I’ve been in love with ring training and they never leave my side. For the past four years, I’ve been using my rings and training under the guidance of an online coach (my friend Anthony Mychal) – the results have absolutely blown me away.

Which is why anytime I travel, I throw a set of rings and some chalk in my suitcase and I know I have a portable gym anywhere I can find a tree branch or swing set to hang them from!

I firmly believe that my quest to become Captain America has been aided by my ring training – it’s helped me build functional strength, bigger arms, broader chest, wider shoulders, and more. Plus I can now do cool things like this:

And rings aren’t just for dudes! You know Staci from Team NF, right? Here she is doing muscle ups with added weight:

In addition to ring push-ups:

 

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And ring l-sits:

 

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Now, you might have watched all those videos and then looked down at your stomach and said, “Uh, yeah. There’s no WAY I could ever do that stuff!”

WRONG!

Like any video game, there’s a leveling system you can follow. You start with basic movements like hanging from the rings:

You can start your gymnastic ring training by simply hanging from the rings!

Or holding yourself up in the push-up support position:

Holding yourself up at the peak of a push-up is another great beginner move with gymnastic rings.

You can then progress to slightly more difficult things like a chin-up:

If you own some rings you can use them like so for some advanced pull-ups.

Or full push-up:

Staci showing you how to complete a push-up using gymnastic rings.

And eventually end up doing all sorts of crazy stuff like muscle-ups:

Staci incorporates muscles up in her training, which is an advanced move for gymnastic rings.

And iron crosses:

The iron cross would be an advanced gymnastic rings move. We'll build-up to this one.

If I haven’t scared you off yet, let’s get you started down your path to ring domination. You know my friend/hero Jim that I mentioned earlier? He’s now on Team Nerd Fitness (and our Head Coach!), and he helped us put together a pretty killer resource to help you become…

THE LORD OF THE FLIES RINGS

[cue the Rivendell music]

What Are the Best Gymnastic Rings to Buy? (4 Things to Consider)

Gymnastic rings come in all shapes and data-lazy-sizes, but let's point you in the right direction on what to buy.

You might be lucky enough to train in a Crossfit Gym or a commercial gym that happens to have gymnastic rings available.

However, if you’re like me, you might train at home or in a gym that doesn’t have rings, which means you’ll need to buy your own.

Don't worry if you don't have much money, gymnastic rings are cheap!

That’s okay!

Rings are cheap (especially when you’re just starting and don’t need anything fancy). I’ve probably gone through 6-10 different pairs of rings to test them all out, and I’ll share my thoughts with you below.

For starters, you can either go with plastic/composite rings, or wooden rings. Jim, Staci, and I agree that wooden rings provide a better experience than plastic ones, but if plastic is your only option, make do with what you have!

Here are 4 things to consider when buying gymnastic rings:

#1) CHEAP AND EASY: If you’re not sure if rings are for you, but you’re ring-curious, I would consider starting with a set of wooden rings like these Peak Fitness Wooden Rings for less than $30. I guarantee the last thing you spent $30 won’t change your life the way these rings will.

#2) HIGHER QUALITY: My friend Peter runs FringeSport.com, and I can testify that his wooden rings are the highest quality rings I’ve ever used. If you KNOW you’re going to love rings and want to have a great pair that will last forever, go with these.

#3) FAST SET UP AND TAKE DOWN: These days, I use Rogue Competition Rings for one reason above all others. I have to set up and take down my rings each time I train, and the carabiners and segmented straps make for a quick set up and take down.

#4) SMALLER HANDS?: Look for rings that are in “FIG” size. These International Gymnastics Federation rings are a bit smaller and thinner, which allows for better control for smaller hands.

How to Set up Gymnastic Rings (How to Hang Your Rings)

You can definitely install your gymnastic rings yourself...just be careful!

Now, if you’re responsible for hanging your own rings, either at home or in the gym, there are a few key things you need to be aware of.

For starters, where will you be hanging them from?

Depending on your clearance or where you choose to train, ANY of the following could be anchor points for you to hang them:

  • A tree branch in your local park (Be safe. If there’s any doubt of stability, move on!)
  • The top bar of a swingset in the playground down the street
  • The highest pull up bar at your gym
  • The bar on the top of your squat rack in the gym
  • Two eye-bolts in your garage ceiling or use rafters/ i-beams in your basement or garage.
  • Hanging from your door frame pull-up bar

THE FIRST THING you need to do, if you have rings with proper clips, is learning how to hang them properly! I’ve seen MANY people hang rings improperly and can be very dangerous.

Here’s a video on how to hang your gymnastic rings, step-by-step:

If you are hanging them over something square or rough, it’s recommended to lay down some old towels first to minimize wear to the straps.

What’s that? You don’t have a place to hang your rings at home? Do you have a door frame? If so, you can MacGuyver a set up like Jim has done here in his home with a door frame pull-up bar! (His pull-up bar is this one.)

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"I shall either find a way or make one." . . I learned handstands + handstand pushups in my bedroom, which was about the size of a walk-in closet (plenty of kicked furniture). . . I got my first one arm chin-up in a musty basement next to a washing machine. . . Now that I work from home for @nerd_fitness, I bought a doorway pull-up bar and some rings for workouts and to keep myself sane during the work day (h/t @caseyneistat) . . Now I know that not everyone is going to feel comfortable with this combo on a home set-up (stay safe!) – and a big, fancy gym is always awesome – but just understand that it's the Wizard, not the Wand. You don't need perfect conditions to get after it! . . L-sit muscle-up to forward roll. Your move @stevekamb! . . Also, @Nerd_Fitness is going to be releasing a Rings/Handstand course soon! Buy your equipment and get excited!! . #NerdFitness #CampNF #Gymnastics #Rings #Bodyweight #Calisthenics #MuscleUp #Hannibal

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Depending on how much clearance you have, you might need to adjust the ring height a few times so that you can do work above or below the rings. (Exercises like dips, supports, and l-sits require different heights than rows and front lever holds).

WHAT ABOUT GLOVES? Working with rings (and barbells) will inevitably build up some callouses on your hands. While we here at Nerd Fitness will simply pumice or shave off the extra skin, that might not appeal or be an option for you.

You can certainly wear gloves during your ring work, but we recommend against it.

A better alternative?

Take care of your hands and use some chalk to hold on tight!

Gymnastics chalk can be applied lightly to the points of contact (fingers, palm, and wrist) in order to absorb sweat and oil and give a better grip. There is even a “liquid chalk” product if your gym doesn’t allow regular chalk!

  • Chalk bag (this is what I use on my hands when I train)
  • Liquid chalk (what Jim uses in Gyms that don’t allow traditional chalk)

The 7 Best Gymnastic Ring Exercises for Beginners

Metal rings can be tough to handle. What's a better alternative?

The exercises below can help anyone get started TODAY with rings; you don’t need a childhood full of gymnastics practice.

Here are the 7 best gymnastic ring exercises for beginners:

#1) Hang From the Rings

You can start your gymnastic ring training by simply hanging from the rings!

One of the simplest exercises to do? Hang from the rings! This exercise is accessible to beginners, but is no joke.

It will help build up the grip strength necessary for future skills, and you may not be able to go long at the beginning.

If hanging from your ring is too difficult for you:

  • Simply adjust the rings so that you can hang from your arms and have part of your feet on the ground.
  • Don’t worry if you feel like 99% of your weight is still in your feet, there is still that 1% in your hands and arms, and that will definitely improve over time!

For those hanging from the rings with no problem, you can practice hanging scapular retractions. This is a fancy way of saying that we’re going to pull our shoulders and shoulder blades (scapulae) down away from our ears.

The scapular retraction is a simple but important workout to build shoulder strength.

Do this with elbows totally straight, so all movement is going through the shoulders. Retract, relax, repeat. Tough stuff!

Here’s a video of Jim and myself going over the movement:

 

#2) Support Position

This looks easy, but actually requires decent strength to hold yourself up on rings.

If you have never used rings before, even just holding yourself up with straight arms will be challenging! The rings will want to move all different directions.

Just like the hang from the rings, you can also set the rings up to a height where you can assist with your feet on the ground.

If you can't do a regular straight arm support hold, no problem! Lower the rings and assist yourself with the floor.

And again, even if you feel like 99% of your weight is in your feet, we can still work and improve the 1% that you are putting into your arms!

#3) Ring Rows

When starting off, keep yourself at a higher angle like so.

Ring rows are a classic exercise to build yourself up to a pull-up. You can set the rings up somewhere around hip to knee height. Then grab the rings and lean back to start the exercise.

By moving your feet forward or away from the anchor point, you can position your body in an infinite number of angles (which will adjust the difficulty).

  • Make it easy by leaning back just slightly,
  • Make it hard by putting your feet up on a bench and starting horizontal.

Ring row with feet on box

With an infinite number of angles you can position your body (to adjust difficulty), they are for absolutely everyone.

Make sure whatever your rings are attached to is solid before leaning back with straight arms and body. Then puff your chest up and pull it to the rings!

The closer you get to the ground, the tougher your ring row will be!

#4) Ring Chin-ups

If you own some rings you can use them like so for some advanced pull-ups.

Chin-ups on rings work the same as they do on the bar. You can also move your hands around easily to different positions (palms forward, inward, and backward).

Not quite at a chin-up pro yet?

Adjust the height of the rings to be able to assist with your feet! Or use a box like so:

A box or sturdy chair can help you do chin-ups at first.

#5) Ring push-ups

Staci showing you how to complete a push-up using gymnastic rings.

Push-ups on the rings will be much more challenging than ones on the ground, because you have to stabilize the “ground” before you even move!

Just like rows, you can adjust your body at an infinite number of angles to the ground to make the exercise easier or harder.

#6) Ring Dips:

The ring dip is a great way to build back and shoulder muscle.

Ring Dips are one of my favorite exercises for the awesome challenge they provide. Lower yourself down until your chest touches the rings (yes, that low!) and then push up until you are in a straight arm support position.

As with many of the other ring exercises, you can easily adjust the height of the rings so that your feet can assist a little or a lot.

The floor can help a lot when doing ring dips!

#7) False Grip Practice

The false grip is a way to hold onto the rings so that the wrist is in contact with the inside edge of the rings. This will allow us to build up to more advanced skills like the muscle-up! (Aka a ring chin-up that transitions into a dip!):

The muscle-up is one of the most badass exercises you can do!

Think of the false grip like a hook on the rings: between your forearm and hand.

To perform a false grip:

  • Place your wrist, pinky side and just below the crease of the wrist, on the inside edge of the ring.
  • Flex the forearm hard.
  • The support point is on the wrist, with the hands grabbing firmly to the ring.

The false grip will help you when you advance to more difficult gymnastic rings.

Any of the pulling and hanging exercises we went over can be done with a false grip, just be warned that they’ll be a lot harder!

Want help pulling this all together for a full-body workout? Our Nerd Fitness Coaches can do just that, plus they’ll check your form to make sure you’re training correctly!

4 Tips and Tricks for Using Gymnastic Rings

See! Even cartoons can use gymnastic rings!

Keep the following four points in mind as you begin your gymnastic ring training:

#1) Your relationship with rings isn’t going to be a “do this for a month and be done”. This is a lifelong relationship – if you like it then you should put a ring on it. Get it? Because Beyonce and also Gymnastics.

Get used to playing with rings as often as you can… wake up your inner kid again and just enjoy moving around on the rings.

You didn’t think about a structured workout when you were a young kid on a playground; you just moved around and had fun. And while you’re discovering that fun again, your grip, muscles, and joints will be getting stronger.

#2) “What if I don’t have rings?” Well, if you want to learn to swim, you’ll have to eventually get into a pool, right!?

Like this dog, sometimes you just gotta go for it. So buy rings!

But if you’re at home, waiting for your rings to arrive, you can still perform a number of these exercises! Pushing and support exercises can be done on two sturdy chairs or the ground. Pulling and hangs can be done at a jungle gym (even the false grip can be practiced on a bar!). Be safe, but get creative!

#3) GO SLOW AND BE PATIENT! I know people who started doing violent kipping muscle-ups before their body, joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons were ready… and they injured themselves pretty seriously.

I even struggled with elbow tendonitis for a bit thanks to pushing myself too hard too soon on the rings. So slow down, build up your strength in each exercise slowwwwwly, and…

#4) Have fun with them. Remember, our goal is to find a workout that is not only something we don’t dread, but something we can look forward to! Working out without realizing it is a sure way to commit for the long term.

I’ll mention that helping people find workouts they enjoy is one of the benefits of our coaching program. If you dread heading to the gym to jump on a treadmill, maybe we can help!

How to Get Started Training with Gymnastic Rings

You are now ready to start your ring training!

You now know everything you need to get going with gymnastic rings: what rings to buy, how to set them up, and how to train with them!

It’s time to shine my young Padawan!

Anakin is ready to start training with gymnastic rings...as soon as he wraps up this podrace!

Want help progressing with your gymnastic ring training from here? I’ve got 3 great options for you!

#1) Our course NF Rings walks you through absolute beginner basics right up to nailing you first strict muscle up!

#2) If you want step-by-step guidance on how to build a gymnastic ring workout, get stronger, and even eat better, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:

Your NF Coach can help you lose weight and get healthy!

#3) Join The Rebellion! We have a free email newsletter that we send out twice per week, full of tips and tricks to help you get strong, get healthy, and have fun doing so. 

I’ll also send you tons of free guides like our Strength Training 101 ebook when you sign up:

Okay, your turn!

I’d love to hear from you:

  • What sort of questions do you have about getting started with rings?
  • What is the biggest thing holding you back from giving them a chance?
  • Have you already trained with them?

-Steve

PS: I enjoy this gif way more than I should:

See! Anyone (like this panda) can use gymnastic rings!

I told you gymnastic rings were for everyone!

Photos: Gymnastic Rings, Small Child Gymnastic Rings, Iron Cross, Gymnastic Rings, three rings, Gymnastic Murals Rings, Rings.

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