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A pair of gymnastic rings.

Q | My gym has gymnastic rings, but I’m not a gymnast. What can I do with them?

A | Available in a growing number of health clubs and gyms, gymnastic rings are a versatile tool that can build upper-body and grip strength while also challenging and strengthening your core, back, and hips.

“Core stabilization is the foundation of any movement,” says David Freeman, NASM-PES, OPEX CCP, national Alpha Training manager at Life Time. “Ring exercises teach you how to activate your core muscles so you can get the most benefit out of every exercise you do, from beginner to advanced.”

Their adjustable height and angle allow people of nearly every fitness and skill level to use them.

The average nongymnast exerciser can use the rings in much the same way as a suspension trainer, such as the TRX. Adjust the handle height to hold a plank or to perform pushups and inverted rows. (For more TRX moves you can do on the rings, see “TRX: Strength Hangs in the Balance“.)

Rings are also useful for practicing hangs, which improve overall hand, forearm, shoulder, and upper-back strength and are a common progression to body-weight pull-ups.

The rings increase the difficulty of these traditional moves thanks to their inherent instability, explains Fawn Friday, NASM-CPT, a competitive weightlifter, personal trainer, and fitness-studio owner in St. Paul, Minn.

Because your hands are not in a fixed position (as they would be if you performed pushups on the floor or pull-ups from a bar), ring exercises build stability and strength, and they give the joints more room to move naturally. This can make exercises more challenging — as well as more comfortable for those with shoulder-mobility issues.

The keys to performing any ring exercise, says Friday, are threefold: Brace your core, tightly squeeze your glutes, and keep your shoulders down and back, away from your ears.

Ring Hangs

Ring HangsIllustration by Colin Hayes

Why it works: Builds grip, shoulder, upper-back, and core strength.

  • Stand directly beneath a set of rings and grasp a handle in each hand, gripping the rings in the meaty part of your palm, not in your fingers. Your wrists will be straight, creating a line from knuckles to forearm. (Reach the rings by standing on your tiptoes; if they’re too high, use a sturdy box or bench for a boost. Avoid jumping; you’ll expend energy trying to stop your swing.)
  • Engage your core, squeeze your butt, and pull your shoulders down and back. This will feel like the start of a pull-up.
  • Begin with three sets of 10-second holds. Build up to three sets of 30 seconds, increasing hold time in five-second increments.

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