Perhaps like most men, one of the main goals in life is to develop a strong physique. This is not only great for impressing others, but having great strength comes with many benefits. They can include:
- Being able to lift heavy things
- Better health
- More energy
- More confidence
- Gain in popularity
- Reduced likelihood of injury
Although we may all want that strong, fit physique, the journey to obtain it is NOT the same for everyone. Some individuals try really hard and still struggle to gain a few extra pounds of muscle whereas some don’t have to try as hard and can easily gain muscle.
My Journey in Developing Strength
I was not the usual type that focuses ONLY on upper body strength. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I was someone who focused more on leg strength. I did not necessarily train for it specifically through weight training, but more so through sports that involve legs. Basically, I was like a guy who never skipped leg day.
A majority of my leg strength comes from my background in Tae Kwon Do, a martial art focused on kicking. Since kicking was practically all I do in that sport, it is no wonder why my legs were stronger than my arms. Therefore, when it came to gymnastics, sprinting, parkour, squats, kicking sports, or any activity involving legs, I tend to do better than others that do not have that leg background.
There came a point in time though when I needed to lift heavy objects (including people) for quite some time. This was where I started to realize that I needed to train my upper body strength more. My upper body strength was above average, but I figured a little extra training can do wonders. I remembered that there was one equipment when I was involved in gymnastics that I always avoided, and it was also one that required A LOT of upper body strength to use well. I decided to purchase a set and give it a try. The equipment that I decided to give a try was: Gymnastics rings. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases)
I wasn’t necessarily a professional or took official classes for gymnastics, I was more so like the guy who went to the open gym sessions to mess around and try different moves. I mean, I did take an “introduction to gymnastics” class during college but what I mainly learned there was balancing, rolling, stretching, jumping, and doing conditioning exercises. Not necessarily the most muscle building type of movements, but still better than nothing. Quite oppositely, gymnastics rings WILL build muscle (and extra).
Why Gymnastics Rings are So Effective in Building More Muscle and Strength?
With regular types of exercises, one can say that the movements involved are fairly “stable” or “fixed”. For example with doing bicep curls. The only resistance would be the weight itself and the workout involves a “one directional” movement. To increase the level of difficulty, one would just need to increase the weight of the dumbbell. Another example would be doing push-ups. Although you are using your body weight, the movement is fairly “one directional”, mainly up and down even if it involves core and various arm muscles. Of course, free weights (less one directional) are better than machine (fully one directional).
Gymnastics rings, on the other hand, are different. The movements you perform are NOT “stable” or “fixed”. This means that your body will not be moving in a “one directional manner” (on a stable platform) but rather in a “multi-directional manner” (with an unstable platform). In order for your body to perform those movements on the rings without falling off them, it will need to recruit more muscle fibers than it normally would with “one directional” exercises. These extra muscles would then work to stabilize your body during gymnastics rings use. If you use those extra muscles more often, they become stronger (and bigger) too.
In Other Words…?
That may all sound a bit confusing, but here is an example. Let’s compare regular exercises to be like standing on a solid platform (floor) which is fairly simple. Gymnastics ring exercises can be like standing on a Bosu ball (the half yoga ball) or a floating platform/log. So between standing on the floor versus on a Bosu ball (or log), the latter requires so much more effort because it is combines both strength with balance. You are unable to relax at any given moment and you are using more muscles to avoid falling off the platform.
Additionally, with regular weight lifting, you would perform one of your sets, take a break, then continue with your additional sets. With the gymnastics rings, you don’t necessarily take a break but you transition in between movements. During each movement and even during the transitions, your muscle is contracting the whole time. Gaining muscle happens in one of two ways: increasing the resistance (the weight used) and also the time during contraction. Gymnastics rings help accomplish BOTH which means MORE muscle building.
What Exercises Can You Do With Gymnastics Rings?
Honestly, the amount of movements are endless and up to your imagination. In gymnastics, the goal is to always strive to perform the most difficult movement. Of course, not everyone is trying to become a gymnast, but here is a video of some basic movements you can try.
- Ring support hold (just hold yourself there)
- The usual “stable” exercises (Rows, Pull up/Chin ups, Dips, Push-ups)
- If some of these are difficult, you can use your leg for support: both legs at first, then 1 leg, then none
- Whenever possible you can also rotate your wrist during these exercises for an added level of difficulty
- L-sit, chest fly, skin the Cat (like a back/front flip motion), Muscle-ups
- You can combine these with the beginner exercises above for an added level of difficulty
- i.e. Dips + L-sit, Push-up + chest fly, Pull up + L-sit, etc.
- Iron Cross, Body Levers (back or front), Handstand
Basically, you want to start easy and build your foundation. It can take a while but once you gain more strength, you can slowly work your way up the level of difficulty in exercises.
My Experience with Gymnastics Rings
Since I had that background with gymnastics and parkour, I did pick up on the gymnastics rings a bit easier than most people. After about a week or two, I already started to notice significant increases in my strength.
From one of my (hardcore) sessions, I was able to gain 2 pounds of muscle overnight. I only say this because that same day, I only had 500 to 800 calories and it was all from eating chicken vegetable soup with rice. Other days, I would gain 2 pounds after eating 2 regular meals (1500 to 2000 calories worth) and then lose those pounds the next day (net gain of 0 or 1 pounds). So that weight had to have come from extra muscle mass. My water intake/outtake, restroom habits, and everything else were pretty regular.
When I tried my push-ups and other “stable” exercises, I immediately notice how much easier it was. It was quite amazing. I was also able to balance better when doing handstands and I was also able to do push-ups without my legs touching the floor. Not quite a full planche yet but maybe one day.
Currently, I still have not been able to perform the advanced movements.
My Experience with Weight Training
I also had my fair share of regular weight training for my upper body also. I did the usual bench press (I was able to lift 205 pounds for a set of 5 at one point in my life), bicep curls, chest fly, rows, lawnmowers, you name it, I probably did most movements with free weights and machines. For certain movements, my weight trained body was stronger but bulkier for certain muscles and I did lack in flexibility. I was also a lot heavier and couldn’t perform some gymnastics moves with ease. In terms of a more balanced strength/muscle build with flexibility, I think my gymnastics rings trained upper body did better for me.
This is not to say one is better than the other since it really depends on what one is looking for. Here is a video on gymnastics movements between that of a bodybuilder and a gymnast. It is quite interesting to watch.
If you are looking to gain muscle while toning down, check out my post about intermittent fasting.
Since the movements done on gymnastics rings are “unstable”, your body will recruit more muscle fibers to aid with the movements. This will lead to more overall muscle building and increase your strength.
This is not to say you should give up your weights especially if you love and have been doing it your whole life. If you want to target certain muscle groups to build in size/strength, weight training will help. But just as an alternative/supplement, you can incorporate gymnastics rings into your exercise routine. You will train muscles that you’ve never train before which equates to even more muscle building. Just remember that initially, it will be extremely difficult, and do not expect yourself to be at the same level of a gymnast!
Now what if you combine BOTH weight training AND gymnastics rings (weighted vests, ankle/wrist weights, etc.)? Now that might be something worth trying for the ultimately muscle gain…
By taking small steps to train yourself with the basic movements, you will gain strength day by day as well as muscle mass. Who knows, perhaps after a few months of training on the rings, you might find yourself able to do movements that you never would’ve guessed was possible!
Did you enjoy this life hack for gaining more muscle? Please leave a comment below!