Suspension training is hot! It’s the latest! The greatest! Well, actually it’s been around for a long time. Gymnasts have been practicing some form of suspended training on gymnastics rings since at least the 1800’s. Although today’s suspension trainers have been upgraded to include comfortable grips for hands and stirrups for the feet, these modern innovations sprang from the original basic circular grips attached to a long nylon strap.
The still rings event has its roots in the original ‘flying’ rings events which were held up until the 1960’s in the United States. Although the rings are considered a training apparatus and event primarily for men, modern fitness enthusiasts have come to realize the benefits of ring and suspension training for all strength levels.
To illustrate this point, consider that suspension trainers like the TRX and Jungle Gym, as well as a set of rings, are height adjustable. If one cannot perform a free hanging iron cross, the straps can be lowered to allow the feet to touch the floor for an assisted version.
If a muscle up is too difficult, adjust the straps to perform dips or body rows. Increase the difficulty by changing the angle. The suspension trainer offers dozens of additional exercises for everyone from the beginner to the advanced trainee. The same is true for the rings, although it offers a smaller exercise selection.
The benefits of ring training for strength and muscle development are shown in the amazing upper bodies of collegiate and professional gymnasts, but which rings should you choose? Why is there such a large price discrepancy in various models, and what is the best material for good gymnastics rings?
Choose your Rings
Before buying a pair of rings, consider where the training is taking place. Most manufacturers offer straps that adjust from a few inches off the ground to 16’ or more. At these lengths, finding a place to attach your straps should not be a problem. However, make sure there is some type of measured webbing to make it easy to adjust the straps to equal heights. This is a huge time-saver and one of the perks offered by more expensive products like the EXF Crossfit Rings.
Gymnasts use grips and tons of chalk to hold on to the smooth surface of the ring during dynamic movements. Today, many companies produce textured grips. Two choices with textured surfaces are the XFIT Rings and the EXF brand. EXF takes grip to a new level by offering three surfaces on one ring; a non-slip rubberized finish, a micro-textured finish for a gentle grip, and a rougher finish for those who prefer it.
Wood used to be a common ring material, but today manufacturer’s prefer ‘thermoplastic’ or ABS plastic. The material seems to make a difference in price, if not quality. The XFIT brand is made from strong ABS plastic, while the PowerMax Fitness rings are made of thermoplastics. The PowerMax brand costs twice as much as the XFit ring.
Any difference in the strength of one material over the other may be negligible (people can only get so heavy,) but the materials are different. Thermoplastic is made up of polymer resins and can crystallize when exposed to extreme freezing temperatures. ABS (short for its makeup of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is exponentially stronger than regular plastic and not affected by temperature.
While these products offer an alternative to chopping down trees, wood rings are still made, and a good pair will stand up to any modern plastic version. Wooden still rings will be laminated and smooth, so chalk will be necessary (and maybe gripping supports,) but they are strong and have a unique feel in the hands. Don’t expect to pay pennies for them though. A well-made pair of wood rings? Over $100 (from American Gymnast.)
So which rings are the best? It all depends. The EXF rings have three grip choices, and a sleek smoky charcoal look. But for seasoned ring trainers, does the extra grip get in the way, or is it really put to use? Smooth wood or thermoplastic may be better to allow for hand movement during dynamic action, but better grip will help keep the hands on the ring when trying to perform muscle-ups, for example.
Before the final decision, always check the product reviews online. Strength should not be an issue with any of the materials or brands listed here, but buy a pair with long enough straps for the mounting location. Finally, be sure the vendor offers a 100 percent money back guarantee.
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Chris Montgomery (author) from Irvine, CA on June 03, 2011:
thespacesbetween-(cool name btw,) thanks for the input, I'll check out Gymnastic Bodies. Uncovered chains, yes, I tried that too-short workout!
thespacesbetween from London on June 03, 2011:
Wood rings are pretty special, but at the moment I'm using the Xtreme Rings available through the Gymnastic Bodies site -- good price, good quality. I'm happy with them. I've also used metal rings covered with day-glo plastic and hung from uncovered chains (not recommended).
EXFs look good -- hope I'll get to give them a try.