As we approach the peak of summer with the ever more prevalent blue sunny skies, the willingness to train outdoors becomes more and more a preference compared to confines of a stale-aired, overcrowded solitary confinement (Gym). However the thought of conventional forms of outdoor training – traditionally, running, cycling or even push-ups and pull ups probably doesn’t drive your motivation levels to maintain a consistent outdoor training regime.
Every 4 years the Olympics comes round and of the plethora of events that are screened on TV, NONE are more impressive than gymnastics – More specifically, Olympic rings. Here is why I think the Olympic rings are king of all training equipment.
#1 Olympic rings provide a total body workout which requires total engagement of your core. Training on Olympic rings requires you to focus on controlling both the upper and lower limbs throughout the dynamic movements performed. For example, the Olympic ring row when performed correctly requires you to keep your entire lower body ‘hollowed’ thus engaged whilst you use your upper limbs to pull yourself up. This is a fantastic tool for spatial awareness whilst training.
#2 Superior grip strength. Studies have shown the comparison between grip strength and stability. In all honesty, Olympic rings require you to have good baseline grip strength if you don’t want to look like you’re having a seizure on them. Multiple studies have shown that static grip strength is a valid indicator of overall muscular strength and endurance (Trosclair et al. 2011). When training on Olympic rings, engaging in the dynamic movements requires you to grip the rings as hard as you can throughout the entire movement. Over time as your grip strength increases you will be able to better engage the smaller synergist muscles which are critical to keeping you stable and efficient throughout the movement. For example, take the ring dip. As your grip strength improves you will be able to perform multiple repetitions with less energy lost trying to find balance.
#3 Gain strength and size. Have you noticed all gymnasts have an insane power to weight ratio. Not to mention they all look aesthetically as f*ck! This is because these athletes have subjected multiple muscle groups to an enormous amount of time under tension. Studies shows that in order to grow stronger, progressively overloading muscle groups by in inducing muscle tissue to longer times under tension, is the only way to consistently grow bigger and stronger muscles. The cross sectional area of a muscle tissue is also shown to have a dose response relationship between strength and size. Olympic rings are fantastic because you are using your bodyweight to subject multiple muscle groups to healthy times under tension which will result in you building functional exercise induced strength gains.
#4 Improving joint health and flexibility through range. If there is one thing the Olympic rings will contribute to, its great joint health and flexibility. Olympic ring exercises when performed correctly, demand that you have sufficient mobility across the entire range of movement. Lets take the ‘skin the cat’ exercise or German hang; this exercise facilitates both active and passive strength across the entire range of the shoulders. You simply will not be able to progress this exercise if your shoulders aren’t healthy and flexible.
#5 Superior balance. Olympic rings are not fixed in their position so there is a great reliance on your body to create as much stability in order to perform exercises smoothly. To remain stable your fine motor strength must be active. The Olympic rings tunes your body to ‘turn on’ those smaller muscle groups to keep you stable and the gross motor strength enable you to perform the powerful movememnts.
Check out how olympic ring training creates elite level balance - https://youtu.be/TYqUlv401mM
#6 Impressive stuff. Olympic ring exercise are such a contrast to the traditional gym exercise such as the bench press, Shoulder press or even the squat. Being able to carry out Olympic ring exercises will always bring attention to onlookers as it simply isn’t that common. It’s also so impressive to someone have such aesthetic control over their own bodyweight.
#7 Use them anywhere. Just throw the straps over a stable tree bark, bars or anything stable and you are good to go!
Training regularly on olympic rings and developing that superior grip strength is likely to lead to hand callouses at the distal end of the metacarpals and so regular hand care is advised to maintain as soft hands as possible.
About the Author
Osei Agyeman is a chartered Physiotherapist (MCSP) with an additional degree in Sport and Exercise science. Having also completed a Level 3 Personal Training and Level 2 Gym instructor qualifications my experience of Rehab, health and fitness are extensive. Oss is passionate about maximising performance through optimal functional movement. He takes a keen interest in nutrition and the power of how food (or no food) affects the body’s biochemistry. Oss offers no quick fixes or cheat methods for goal attainment but is a strong advocate for consistent and sustainable progress through hard work.
Trosclair, D., et al. "Hand-Grip Strength as a Predictor of Muscular Strength and Endurance." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 25 (2011): S99.