The Last Implement You’ll Ever Need for the Upper Body Development

Today I would like to share my thoughts on the ultimate upper body strength training implement. What do you think it is? Barbell? It is cool and effective, but it requires lots of additional equipment like plates, squat stands, and possibly a power rack and a bench, as well as it is not quite mobile. What’s else? Sandbag? While it definitely does the trick, you are limited to the size of your bag and the amount of filler you need. Kettlebell? Not really. Again, it is mobile only if you have a car, and it is definitely limited to the heaviest one you have (unless you know this).

So what is it? Is it your bodyweight? Close enough. In my opinion, gymnastic rings are the ultimate upper body strength developer. How come? Let’s find out.

The Rings

The Ultimate Training Implement for the Upper BodyAt a first glance, these two simple objects are nothing scary. In fact, you may get confused how such a primitive design can yield such extraordinary results. Seriously, how hard performing basic exercises on gymnastic rings can be? Well, the first “test-drive” may surprise you a lot. For example, when I bought my pair of rings, I already had solid strength with weights. Additionally, at that time, I could easily do 25-30 reps in regular parallel bar Dips. The first time I tried dipping on rings, I had a reality check. I struggled to finish pathetic 5 reps. That exact moment I got a deep appreciation for these primitive tools and realized their true potential.

Just for fun, let us compare my two performances. The first one is from the end of 2011:

The second was made yesterday (2/6/2014):

I used 60 kg of additional resistance in the first video and 36.5 kg in the second.

Of course, the conditions are far from identical, so you cannot call this “the experiment”. The only thing that is somewhat similar on both videos is my bodyweight.

Anyway, the first video was shot 2+ years ago and I have gained a decent amount of strength since then. The last time I performed Weighted Dips, I was having fun with 55 kg for 5 sets of 5 (and it was at spring of 2013). Still, on the second video, I’m far from 55 kg.

Additionally, on the first video, I was fresh. On the second one, I have already performed 7 sets of Freestanding Handstand Push-Ups.

However, despite all these facts, you can see how much harder the Ring Dips are compared to the Parallel Bars’ ones.

From my current experience, I can say that gymnastic rings can be the last training implement you will ever need in your quest for the ultimate upper body strength. I guarantee that there will always be a harder exercise, no matter what your your level of strength is. Let’s examine this progression path as an example:

1. Ring Push-Ups – these are not that hard. If you were training for a decent amount of time, then this exercise should not be much of a challenge.

2. Elevated Feet Ring Push-Ups – things just got harder.

3. Ring Dips – at this stage, I guess, anyone’s strength will be challenged to some degree because of the instability of gymnastic rings.

4. Bulgarian Ring Dips – again, things got harder. You will feel it in your pecs.

At this point, many people believe that the Dips progression is mastered. This is just partly true. Once you are here, you have several possible scenarios. Here is one of them:

5. Ring Muscle-Up – you will need it in future.

6. Strap-Assisted Ring Shoulder Stand – it is a bent-arm handstand with feet touching the ring straps.

7. Strap-Assisted Ring Handstand/Handstand Push-Up – this can be a huge jump in intensity, but you will figure something out.

8. Free-Standing Ring Shoulder Stand – another nice intensity boost.

9. Free-Standing Ring Handstand/Handstand Push-Up – this is the limit of desires for most of the trainees out there. But if you think that the potential of the rings stops here, think again.

10. Inverted Muscle-Up – start in the inverted hang, pull yourself up, make transition to the Shoulder Stand, and push yourself into the Handstand. This is a feat only a tiny amount of the Earth’s population possesses. Still, it is far from everything.

11. Inverted Cross – have you seen the Iron Cross? It is the same, but inverted.

12. Inverted Butterfly Pull-Up – get into the Ring Handstand, lower down into the Inverted Hang, pull yourself back up with – wait for it – COMPLETELY STRAIGHT arms.

By the time you master this step, you will possess inhuman upper body strength and musculature to match it. At this point, you can just maintain the awesomeness or screw it all and move on in the pursuit of greatness.

OK, this part is purely hypothetical as I haven’t seen anyone to perform it yet. Still, I believe it is possible to achieve with hard work, smart programming and patience.

13. One-Arm Ring Dips

14. One-Arm Ring Muscle-Up

15. Strap-Assisted One-Arm Ring Handstand/Handstand Push-Up

16. Free-Standing One-Arm Ring Handstand/Handstand Push-Up – this one and the next are ultra-hypothetical, but anyway.

17. One-Arm Ring Inverted Muscle-Up.

This sequence of exercises was shown here not for vague discussions of possibility/impossibility, but rather to inspire you, and of course, to prove my point. As you can see, even the strongest people in the world (including professional gymnasts who practice their ring routines almost daily) will find where to progress with ring training. Just think for a moment that I have shown here only one progression of the myriad of possible others. The potential of this tool is truly immense.

Furthermore, do not forget that you can mix exercises into sequences. This fact increases the number of possible ways to gain strength with the rings to immeasurable.

What Is So Special About Those Gymnastic Rings?

Just one word – “instability”. The demand of this ring instability is so high that it creates a unique opportunity for almost infinite intensity. It is highly unlikely that you will ever outgrow this simple yet effective training tool.

Where to Find Gymnastic Rings?

There are two ways to obtain those bad boys:

1. The first one is to buy them. I use EXF rings. They are durable and comfortable for me. They are not wooden though, so if you buy them, do not boast in front of the ring purists. Their penises will shrink and fall off the second they hear that.

If you know a good wooden brand, feel free to go with it. If not (just like me), then you can find a link to EXF rings on this page.

2. The second way is to make rings yourself. I haven’t done that, so proceed at your own risk.

A simple YouTube search gave me these results:

Tips on Ring Training

Finally, here are some tips:

1. If you struggle to move from one progression step to the next, then use the good old back pack, or a weighted vest. You can read an in-depth article on this subject here.

2. Do not be afraid to add weight to basic exercises. If your goal is to build as much muscle as possible, simple drills are your best friends. Ring Dips and Ring Pull-Ups with added weight in 6-8 repetition range will build all the muscle you’ve ever wanted.

You can use the Simplest Weight Belt for this purpose:

3. Remember to differentiate Bent-Arm and Straight-Arm strength. Doing the same moves but with completely locked arms is another effective method of progressing further.

4. Feel free to experiment with different ring height. You can come up with interesting and effective progression steps. Just like I did here:

Closing Thoughts

Gymnastic rings without a doubt are one of the most powerful tools in any strength training arsenal. They are simple, mobile, durable, and, importantly, they bring results. What else could you possibly need? As always, thanks for reading.

Play rough!

Alex Zinchenko

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

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10 thoughts on “The Last Implement You’ll Ever Need for the Upper Body Development

  1. Robert

    I totally concur. I bought rings 6 months ago, for about 60$ and I consider it probably the best investment in my training and myself. I’m proponent of minimalistic training: rings, bar and floor is all you need to push yourself to the maximum. Nice article.

  2. Pingback: 6 Lessons in Effective Strength Training -

  3. Bobby

    Loved this article. One thing on physique/size, how would you rank weighted ring dips and chins vs their weighted BAR equivalents and also vs. the barbell compounds.

    I’ve trained extensively this past year with rings and love it so much (more fun than weights, joint feels great, overall beasly athleticism) that I’m thinking of doing them only for upper body and squats/Dl/olifts for lower body.

    My only concern is size. Instability from rings is great for strength/stabilizers but I’m wondering how that measures up vs stability and absolute loading you get from weights.

    Thanks for thoughts.

  4. marcel morlok

    Good article, i definetly subscribe!

    May I tell a little part of my story:

    Did some some upper body ring work (mainly dips, push ups, pull ups and body rows) for about 9 months. Finally i did about 12-15 ring dips with good form (lean forward, gironda style). My own weight was around 90kg.
    Then i entered the gym and did 1x5x100 on the bench. I followed a 5×5 routine for 12 weeks, pushed the bench up to 5x5x100. I did no ring work during that phase. After that 12 weeks, i barely could do 5 freakin ring dips with not even close to proper form.

    Okay, body weight increased about 6 kg, but still i lost 7-10 reps on the rings, allthough i gained good strength on the bench. For me, there is no doubt which tool is better when it comes to strength.

    Also, because theres one comment about muscle size: For me, dips (no mather if on rings or on bars) always hit my chest much more then benching.

    Greetings from Germany,

  5. Julian Nemec

    Alex! Ive read a lot of your articles since the last weeks and i want to ask you how many times you would recommend me to workout each muscle per week if my goal is just getting big with Basic Calisthenic exercises? I am rly not interested in Planche or all that stuff i just want to get bigger.

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      It’s all about weekly training volume. Do as much as you can recover from. Of course, concentrate on progressive overload.

      – Alex

  6. Murtles

    As I’d prefer not to have hair on my palms here’s my comment. Interesting and well written article. I have rings for about 3 weeks and really enjoy using them. I can perform the basic exercises quite well…i.e. pull/chin ups, dips and inverted tuck lifts. I add some extra weight in a backpack to to lower rep high intensity somedays.
    As for dips they defintely hit the chest more or at least it feels that way than the fixed bars.
    Also it’s easier to do little variations and the stabalising your body needs to do means more work for your body and I feel a better work out.


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