As someone whose engagement with the Olympics is mostly limited to watching the gymnastics, I was thrilled when Gymbox announced a new class focusing on gymnastic rings. There are few better demonstrations of sheer strength and control as watching gymnasts hold themselves steady on the rings, and the flips and tricks they pull out are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
If you want to improve your whole-body strength, not to mention your mobility and general bad-ass-ness, you could do a lot worse than incorporating gymnastic rings into your workouts. You’ve probably seen the rings hanging from the frames in each Gymbox venue, and this class aims to teach you how to use them, and how to work up to that most impressive of strength-movements, the muscle up.
Fortunately for those of us who don’t like trying new skills with everyone watching, the class is studio-based, so you can save the rings on the gym floor for later. It means that class is a lot more like the other aerial classes, giving everyone the chance to really give things a go in a more intimate environment, with other people all trying the same thing.
The class begins with a lengthy, and vital warm up. We spend a lot of time working on our wrists and forearms, stretching them in all directions to prepare for what’s coming. It’s then onto mobility, and testing out some basic strength movements using the rings. Even with my feet on the crash mat beneath me, the pull ups and chin ups are a challenge - not simply because my upper body strength leaves quite a lot to be desired, but because you need to engage every muscle to stabilise on the wobbling rings.
I’m reminded of the words of one of my fitness heroes, Steve Kamb, who swears by gymnastic rings training as part of his “superhero training”. He points out that you don’t have to be a superhero to train on rings – you train on rings to become a superhero. It’s heartening to think that, as I wobble my way through ring push ups, I’m doing some of the most efficient weight training work I can be, and what’s tough now will someday be nothing more than a warm up.
The class moves next to one of the building blocks of muscle ups – being able to hold yourself up straight and steady, holding onto the rings down by your sides. Our instructor makes it look easy, jumping into position and hanging there casually; the rest of us need a bit more help. We split into pairs to support each other, the person on the ground helping the person on the rings to keep their arms close to their sides. I normally prefer to work on my own, but it’s actually very reassuring to be able to talk about the class, to find out you’re not the only one finding it tough, and to have someone cheering you on as you take what feels like endless attempts to get into position – and then to celebrate with you when you get it!
We end the class learning the false grip – a weird, unnatural grip that allows you to perform a muscle up – and putting it into practice with some more pull ups. Our instructor tells us this will play an increasing role in the class as the weeks go on, allowing us to progress towards smooth muscle ups that don’t feel quite so awkward.
The next day, my arms are very well aware of all the pull ups; the day after that, my abs join the party. I don’t think my body quite knows what’s hit it. False Grip is a great way to change things up from the usual dumbbell and bar work, and whether you have spaghetti arms like me, or muscles like Wolverine, it’s an amazing strength work out.