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Fitness & Health

18th Nov 2019

If you can only do one exercise at the gym, make it the ring chin-up

You probably think the most effective exercises are the bench press, squat and deadlift. But the gymnastic ring chin-up is up there with the best

Alex Roberts

Gymnastic ring chin-ups

If you were asked to reel off a list of the most effective, bang-for-your-buck exercises, you’d probably opt for the usuals

That is, the big three – bench press, squat and deadlift. But one bodyweight lift (the gymnastic ring chin-up) arguably even better than these.

There’s no denying how effective the big three lifts are. After all, they are prime examples of compound exercises – lifts which recruit more than one muscle group at once. They aren’t the only compound exercises, though. And they may not even be the best, in the case of the ring chin-up.

From a personal perspective, if I could do only one exercise for the rest of my life, it would be the gymnastic ring chin-up. Here I am including it in a recent workout:

Firstly, let’s break down how you perform the gymnastic ring chin-up:

  • Set the rings at your preferred height. They can be tricky to set up at first, so make sure both rings are parallel to the floor
  • Perform your standard pull-up, finishing at the top with your chin above the rings
  • Retract your shoulder blades when pulling your body up, and keep your elbows tucked in
  • You’ll have to work harder to keep your body stable – be mindful of this and try to eliminate swinging

Why is the gymnastic ring chin-up so effective?

The unfixed nature of the rings may seem a lot tougher to manage at first, and you won’t be able to lift as much weight with this style of pull-up. Rings will naturally recruit more muscle fibres however, so your return on investment is high.

That said, ring chin-ups are easier on your shoulders. Think of the standard pull-up, done using a fixed, straight bar. Your only course of motion is to move up and down. For anyone with existing shoulder pain, that can prove a problem.

With rings, your body will naturally contort around the free space until it finds a position in which it is most comfortable.

There’s muscular tension in every single part of the chin-up. The proof is in the pudding, too – just look at the main proponents. Every four years, when the Olympic Games come around, people remark ‘how are these gymnasts so jacked?!’ and it’s because they’re including so much ring work in their routine.

You won’t find a dumbbell curl or tricep extension in sight. That’s not to say you shouldn’t include those lifts in your routine, but gymnastic ring chin-ups should certainly feature, at least.

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