Required Equipment: Gymnastic rings
And if you’ve ever watched the Summer Olympics or the CrossFit games, you have probably seen gymnastic rings. But the rings are not just for Olympians or CrossFitters!2Joke time – If a vegan does CrossFit, which do they talk about first?. They are an excellent choice for commercial or home gyms as well.
There are a lot of awesome exercises you can perform with the rings – such as ring pull ups and ring push ups – and today I want to show one other great move: the ring dip. I’ll also show you some great variations to help you build ring dip strength.
First, for those unaware, the ring apparatus consists of two rings that hang freely from a rigid -usually metal – frame. Each ring is supported by a strap, which in turn connects is suspended from the sturdy frame. The athlete, who grips one ring with each hand, must control the movement of the rings and his or her body movements at all times.
Due to the extreme strength and body control required in Olympic movements, typically only male gymnastics use rings. However, rings can be used by athletes of virtually all levels to build your upper body strength. So, let’s dive in…
AT A GLANCE: - A dip is a great way to build strength in the chest, shoulders, and triceps - A ring dip has the added benefit of requiring additional stability, control, and coordination - There are many variations - some easier, some harder - that make the exercise accessible to beginners, CrossFit athletes, and others
What is a dip?
To perform a dip movement is pretty simple: the athlete supports themselves on a dip bar or from a set of rings with their arms straight down and shoulders over their hands, then – in controlled manner – lowers their body until their arms are bent at a 90 degree angle at the elbows. Once there, the athlete extends their arms which lifts their body up, returning to the starting position.
In lieu of a bar or rings, you’ll also see people performing dips using a bench. While a simpler exercise, it’s a pretty good option especially if you lack equipment.
Now most gyms will have a dip bar and the majority of people will perform a strict dip using that. But gymnastic ring dips bring some unique benefits with it, including the fact that rings are much better in a home gym than a large, bulky, and single purpose item like a dip bar.
Bar dips and ring dips are very similar exercises. They’ll work (roughly) the same muscles in the same fashion. But where the rings really shine is in training your stability and coordination.
In a stationary dip, the bar (or bench) is completely fixed. It’s a solid mass that doesn’t move – you move your body around it. But with gymnastics rings – while anchored up top – you must perform additional work just to stabilize the equipment.
This means you get additional support from smaller muscles as you move your body weight throughout the movement. If you don’t, the rings will rotate, twist, or otherwise move on you and you won’t have a stable movement.
Not only that but because the rings aren’t fixed like a bar, you can easily modify the exercise as you perform it. Want a full range of motion? Just go lower. Want more chest involvement? Extend your hands out wider as you lower yourself.
This freedom of movement – while making the exercise harder overall – allows your body to track naturally over the same range of motion. This is better for joint heath and your connective tissues. Anytime you can learn to do a fundamental bodyweight movement without resorting to poor technique is a win.
Lastly, in a home gym setting, gymnastic rings are a fantastic piece of equipment.
- They don’t take up a lot of space
- They’re very affordable, more so than a dedicated ring bar.
- They’re highly versatile. In addition to ring dips, you can perform all kinds of great exercises like ring rows, ring push ups, muscle ups, and others with just with a simple apparatus.
Now that I covered the benefits, let’s quickly talk about the muscles worked in dip. Ring dips are a compound exercise as they work a bunch of muscles simultaneously. Specifically, the major muscles worked are the anterior deltoids, the pectoralis (both major and minor), and the rhomboids. In other words, your chest and shoulder muscles are worked heavily with some back involvement.
Like I mentioned, you can easily change muscle emphasis just by your hand and ring positioning. The wider you go the more you work your chest muscles and change emphasis on your shoulders and arms. For example, if you were to perform one of the hardest exercises called an Iron Cross, you would have to have significant chest strength as well as strength in your middle deltoids and biceps.
If you were to take a narrow position with the rings, you’ll get significantly more triceps activation with less chest activation.
Performing ring dips is pretty simple in theory, not quite as simple in execution. Let’s take a look at how you should setup and perform a ring dip. If you’re more visual, you can skip to the video right below the text.
The first step is to adjust the rings to the proper height and position. Don’t set the rings too high or too wide – your feet should be able to touch the ground when at the bottom of the dip and they should be shoulder-width apart.
Once your rings are set up, stand in between them with a good grip: rings held in your palms, thumbs wrapped around and wrists straight. Now, lift yourself into a locked out top position – with your arms locked out and externally rotated. This means that the rings shouldn’t be shaking, and you’re holding a hollow body position with toes pointed slightly in front of you.
“Externally rotated” means that the chest should be open, shoulders back, and elbow creases are rotated to face forward – which will also rotate the rings slightly out.
From your locked out position, you’re now ready to do the exercise:
- Your hips should be under your shoulders.
- Keep your core and quads activated.
- Point your toes and keep them slightly ahead of your hips.
- Begin to bend at the elbows while keeping your shoulders compressed down.
- As you lower your body, send your elbows back and let your chest drop forward slightly.
- With your arms in contact with rings, descend until your shoulders are lower than your elbows. Pause at the bottom before pushing into your hands to straighten your arms to the top position.
Note, you should be able to move through the full range of the ring dip while maintaining good posture. If you can’t, then you look at the regression options listed below to make the ring dip easier to perform.
This video has a more complete breakdown –
There are quite a few variations of ring dips that can be performed. First, let’s look at a couple ways to make it harder…
Weighted Ring Dips
Adding weight to a movement is one of the oldest and quickest ways to make a movement harder. If you can bang out multiple sets and reps of an unweighted ring dip, there’s no reason not to add weight. The best options would be to use a weighted vest (or a dip belt), in which you can secure some additional weight to your body.
Elevator Ring Dips
In this variation you’re essentially lowering to a specified point in the dip, pausing for a few seconds, lowering again, then pausing again, and so on. For example, you might pick out for 4 points along the ring dip path where you stop and pause before you get to the bottom.
This is a tremendously hard after just a few reps and builds “time under tension”, in that you are constantly working over a longer period of time just to complete some reps.
Bulgarian Ring Dips
In this variation, you simply move the rings out wider than the normal approximately shoulder-width distance. The wider position makes the rings harder to control and also shifts the emphasis to more of your pecs, lateral deltoids (shoulders), and stabilizers.
If you get good at this variation – who knows? – maybe someday you’ll be able to do the vaunted Iron Cross.
Can’t do a ring dip? No problem, there are quite a few ways to make the movement easier. Use these variations to build up to your first ring dip.
The variations below – listed from easier to harder – are a great way to get started for beginners or work on any “sticking” points you may have.
This is the most straight forward way to make ring dips more accessible. While the setup is the same, in this variation you’ll just hold yourself up on the rings. You want to maintain the hollow body position without a lot of shaking or instability.
Shoot for 20-30 second holds before progressing to a strict ring dip or a negative variation.
Can’t hold yourself up without a lot of shaking? Then scale the ring dip by lowering the rings so that you can keep one or both feet on the ground. That redistributes your body weight away from your arms to feet. Then, little by little, remove you feet until you can hold yourself up just via the rings.
Alternatively, you can use a box or bench out in front of you to rest your feet on. The more your foot or leg rests on the box, the easier the dip will be. So, as you get stronger, play your with foot positioning to increase the intensity.
Kipping Ring Dips
Kipping, if you don’t know the term, is a way of swinging your body to gain momentum. It’s primarily used in CrossFit for certain movements, like ring dips or pull-ups. The kipping movement stands in contrast to a “strict” movement in which you don’t use any momentum. While many think of kipping as “cheating”, it’s within the rules of CrossFit and can be a good way to build up strength provided you do it safely.
So, in kipping ring dips – once you’re in the bottom position – you’ll use your knees and legs to get momentum so you can return back to the top more easily. It should look like this –
Kipping properly does require some coordination but if you practice it a few times you should be able to pick it up pretty quickly.
A quick side note: slowly lowering during an exercise is commonly called a “negative.” That lowering or eccentric phase is when a muscle is lengthening while under tension. 3Muscles can only contract or not. And having time under tension is a great way to develop the strength and mechanics needed to perform the complete exercise.
With this drill you will practice initiating the lowering phase and maintaining tension at the bottom (or “in the hole”), the most vulnerable part of the ring dip.
Start in a ring support hold. Begin the lowering phase of the dip descending as slowly and controlled as possible. When you reach the lowest point possible without falling or losing control, return your feet to the ground. That’s 1 rep. To perform another, start back up in the top holding position. Also, keep the reps in a set pretty low (no more than 5-6 reps).
One last note, negatives can lead to a lot of muscle soreness. Much more so than the ‘concentric’ phase of an exercise. In the case of the ring dip, that means don’t overdo slowly lowering from the top to the bottom position unless you want to be sore 4Being sore is a good way to figure out which muscles exactly were worked!
Ring dips are a great exercise to build stability and upper body strength, namely in your triceps, chest, and shoulders. While not easy, there a lot of variations – some easy, some hard – you can do in order to become proficient at them. And doing rings dips is an efficient and effective way to train and is something that everyone – beginners to advanced athletes – should strive to do. Happy training!
Are rings good for dips?
Absolutely! Rings are versatile, cheap, and are an efficient to workout your upper body.
Are ring dips harder than regular dips?
Yes. Due to the instability of the rings, you’ll find ring dips much more challenging than standard dips. But there are plenty of easier variations you can do on the rings.
What can I do instead of ring dips?
How do you progress to ring dips?
There are many great variations you can use to progress to doing a full, strict ring dip. Some of those variations include a static hold, kipping ring dips, feet supported ring dips, and negative ring dips.