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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Be a Lord of the Rings!

Frank Zane in 70's

In these strange times, when so much seems to be falling apart and in endless flux, it is time to focus on the self.  Even when there is little you can accomplish in the realm of politics, including the collapse of the cities and schools, law and order and endless reckless spending- you can work on your own health, wellness, and fitness!

Enter the rings.  Gymnastic rings that is!  Up until a few years ago, the notion of using rings seemed far-fetched:  in my youth, such tools were never available.  No one back then even knew how to use them, but when you saw things like the Olympics, these amazing god-like athletes could be seen (most from European countries) doing incredible feats of crazy strength and control.

They were fun to watch, but like tight rope walking and trapeze acts, nothing that one aspired to.  But, the incredibly lean, defined physiques of those gymnasts were sure to catch you eye - how to look and perform like that?!  It seemed impossible, what they did, and yet there they were, doing it.

I’m here to tell you though- gymnastic rings are the best kept fitness secret in the world!  You can get your own set, these days, quite inexpensively, and hang it in your basement, garage, or from a basketball hoop or playground structure easily.  A sturdy tree branch in the summer months is also perfect, and can be set up and taken down in a couple of minutes or so.

Lots of gyms now are closed, or at least restricted (with masks and social distancing- needlessly I am convinced), but still, it is the case.  And it is also the case that you can replace a whole gym with a set of rings!  And actually, it turns out- most exercises are better and more result producing than the standard, rigid bar of machine versions.

Take the pushup, for instance: done on the rings, the pushup is far harder than standard pushups, and far more versatile and safer on the joints, while also building strength in the ligaments and tendons along with the muscles involved.  In addition, the balance required also helps with balance and strengthening the vital core stabilizers of the body, including the abs and the smaller muscles of the trunk and shoulders.

For instance, I am convinced that the ring pushups are far superior to the barbell bench press, in every conceivable way.  Your arms on both sides go through a complete range of motion, in a very controlled fashion- unlike a bb bench press, that is an unnaturally shortened motion, where the shoulders do not completely retract, and the barbell encourages a ballistic upward thrust to achieve an illusion of strength.  

The rings pushup forces you to use a slow, controlled rep speed, and a complete retraction and controlled return using your own body weight and a safe plane of motion with no momentum to ‘impress yourself and others’ as to a heavier weight that you are not really using to maximum advantage.

And, in fact, the further beauty of the rings is that you can make the pushup not only harder, but easier as well.  Let’s say your rings are mounted up high, as they should be- you can walk forward away from the mounting point, and then the pushup is much easier- you can be standing almost upright, at a slight decline on the rings rather than parallel to the ground.  This will make the pushup as easy as you want to make it!  You can easily make it as easy as doing pushups standing against a wall, or slightly more difficult, simply by walking back to be more directly underneath where the strap is hung.

In fact, this is what I do each ring workout:  I start out almost standing erect, and do a set of pushups that is easy, followed right away by a set of flies on the rings.  

Then, I walk backwards a step or two, and repeat- a set of pushups and flies where I am at a 45 degree angle to the floor.  

Next, a set of both where I am far back, where I am almost parallel to the floor,, for another double set.  

After that, I put my feet up on a stool, well behind where the rings are hung from, and where my feet are higher than my hands.  Now, this is a hard set, which I follow with flies, which are even harder!

After that, I walk far forward again, and do a set of pullovers, while standing with the rings, and then turn around, facing where the rings are hung, and do rows, slow and controlled as all rings movements should be.  

Now, this is a very complete, safe, and very effective chest workout, in and of itself.  It’s fast and effortless, with no changing of weight plates or even pins as in a machine, and actually covers the whole upper body, as the stabilizers are hard at work on each and every set.  As I said before, the abs are hard at work on pretty much every exercise done on the rings.

Next, you can shorten the straps to about shoulder height, and leaning back, do the same thing with rows on the rings for sets, alternating with pull-ups on the rings, or at least negatives done with your feet on the ground to assist slightly.  This is a real back stimulator- trust me.

“But Jay,” you say- “what about my skinny little legs?”

Or flabby legs, as the case may be…

Hold on to both rings, lean back, and do squats!  I have found over the years that squats, done leaning back as in a hack squat, are far preferable to standard flat-footed barbell squats with a heavy weight.  Standard barbell squats mainly do two things very well:

Give you a fat butt, and heavy, blocky thighs.  Also, a potential to wreck your lower back, and ruin your knees.  Sound good?

So, stick with squats done leaning back on the rings.  When you can, start doing them, still leaning back, on one leg at a time- pistol squats!  The rings can help your balance, leaving you to concentrate on pure strength, in a healthy and functional way, with the stress on the frontal thigh, which is what you want bigger- not your butt.

Now here is where I venture into actual gymnastic moves, a little.  I work on straight arm strength, which is the foundation gymnastic moves, as opposed to bent arm strength, which is the standard weight lifting standard.  Straight arm strength is ignored mostly, and so takes a long time to develop!  

To start, get in the pushup position, and hold for 30 seconds or so.  Then, you can push your arms out and around in a circular motion while holding, and extending your arms out in front of you while holding.  This will gradually strengthen you for holding, rather than pushing.

Next, shorten the straps of the rings, just below waist height, and hold yourself on the rings as in the top of a dip.  That’s it- just hold.  It’s hard- work up to 30 seconds or so, assisting with your toes off the floor until you are levitating on your arms alone.  Rest and repeat.  

Once again- this is hard.  See it as a kind of fun- just do a little bit, for a long time, as recreation after the strength building is done.  It’s actually completely optional: but I will say- once you get ring training in your system, the training does not seem complete if you don’t get in a bit of this ‘gymnastic circus training’ in your workout!

Now, I am turning 69 this year in April.  My chances of becoming a world class gymnast are slim.  You would need to start very young!  Also, I have zero desire to do so…

BUT- as an adjunct to training, to become the best me I can be: 

Rings are the BEST!

I have no desire to be a circus performer.  But, I can still be, a 


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