How I Get Strong with Gymnastic Rings (Rings One Review)

A photo posted by Jonathan Mead (@jonathanmead) on

Personally, I like to train outdoors as much as possible, and in the forest if I can.

The fresh, oxygen-rich air is enlivening.

There are no distractions (especially if there's no service). It's just you and the movement.

Standard american gyms make me feel caged. I can sense an almost allergic reaction coming on as I approach them. As soon I leave one, I suddenly feel liberated.

Don't get me wrong, I see the value in indoor spaces for training, but my heart and soul longs to be moving in the wide open spaces of the wild.

Which brings us to a conundrum, how can you do strength training outdoors?

Sure, there are many movements that can be done without the presence of any equipment. But often the stimulus becomes too weak once you've adapted.

On the flipside, it's simply not practically to lug around a bunch of weights or machines with you everywhere you go.

This is why I love the gymnastic rings.

I was introduced to them in 2008 by my martial arts teacher. He brought them to the park to use as part of a conditioning circuit he often ended our classes with. Almost immediately, as if I'd been reunited with a long lost friend, I felt a deep kinship to this unwieldly and torturous apparatus.

Soon my teacher and two other dedicated students made a habit out of hiking into the San Gabriel mountains (barefoot of course). We'd scan the landscape for a tree with a sturdy looking branch, then mount the rings for a strength training session. Hearing the stream bubbling past, feeling the earth under our feet, I had a curious primordial feeling that this wasn't much different than the way our warrior ancestors trained. Maybe they didn't use gymnastic rings, but they were surely out in the wild, training and practicing their skills to hone their warrior abilities.

Knowing this made my heart sing.

Unfortunately when I moved to Oregon it became hard for me on hikes to find trees with branches low enough to hang the rings on. The lowest branches in the forest are often 20 to 30 feet from the ground.

Luckily though, I've recently found some trails that have great spots for hanging rings. Maybe even the perfect spot. So, I've been getting more ring time in the wild.

Practicing more cold exposure this winter has also made me more resilient to going out to train, even when the weather would rather make me want to bundle up next to a roaring fire.

Here's some of what I've been doing on the rings:

Obviously the portability of the rings is a huge plus. They fit nicely in a small backpack. Or you can just carry them in your hands, like my teacher often did.

But there are even more awesome benefits to rings training:

  • The adjustable height allows you to easily scale exercise difficulty. Pushups on the rings too hard? Try elevating them to hip or nipple height and you'll find a variation you can do.
  • The instability makes any exercise you could do on the ground instantly harder.
  • You can easily chain movements together to create movement flows.
  • They make you feel like a total badass.

In the early days while my training with the rings was fun and challenging, it was largely an unfocused, haphazard affair.

I dreamed of being able to achieve things like the muscleup, superman and higher level movements. But just throwing myself at the movement over and over wasn't getting me anywhere.

I tried books and forums like gymnastic bodies, but couldn't figure out a clear, progressive program for beginners.

Then, luckily I stumbled upon GMB. Their rings program had just come out and I was all over it.

The trail, my garage and my back porch became my strength laboratories. Now guided by the intelligence of a smart program, and the helpful coaching of friendly GMB coaches, I was actually seeing progress.

As I said above, I recently fell back in love with training with the rings. I think they're an amazing tool. However, I see almost everyone make the same mistake with the rings:

They just blindly start "doing stuff."

Don't make the common, dumb mistake with the rings

Basically, they're making the same, dumb mistake I did. Find something you think is cool, and just keep trying it, hoping you'll get better by sheer volume of attempts.

While this might work with some things, it's a dangerous gamble on the rings. If you're not strong enough and jump into an advanced move, you will often pay with elbow and shoulder injuries (ehem, like I did).

Because of the brutal nature of the rings, it's absolutely critical that you follow a well thought out, and progressive program that can be tailored to where you are starting. Just because you see someone doing an iron cross on Youtube, doesn't mean you are ready to jump in and try it. What you don't see is the the thousands of ring pushups they did and various other progressions for years before they even begin approaching a move like the iron cross.

So, with all that said, if you are interested in getting started with the rings, do yourself a favor and check out GMB's Rings One program (they also have an advanced Rings Two for those with a solid foundation on the rings).

Start your journey on The Rings

This is what I used, and I know it works.

And if you don't have a pair of rings yet, I highly recommend the wood rings from Rogue. I've owned several pairs over the years, and these are the best I've found.

That's it guys. Get out outside, and train wildly!

P.S. Soon I'll be back with a guide to warming up for the rings, and a basic beginner workout you can do to get started. So, stay tuned for that. Or if you're ready to jump in, check out Rings One from GMB.

They have a promo going for the next couple of days where you'll get a free shoulder mobility course, and a rings conditioning circuit.

Learn more about Rings One

Full disclosure: If you click on the link above and purchase GMB's program, I will get a cut. This helps me make more awesome videos and tutorials like this for you. I only promote products I've personally used and tested, so you can be sure they're top notch. Thanks for helping out!

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