Gymnastic rings are probably the best equipment a calisthenics athlete can own. On versatility alone, rings smoke the competition. They are simple and adjustable. Fundamentally built with only two straps and two rings, this provides a seemingly endless array of exercises for entry-level to world-class. For upper body calisthenics training, nothing comes close. This article discusses how and where to hang gymnastic rings and their many benefits.
If you own rings and are wondering where to hang them, fear not. One of the benefits of gymnastic rings is the ease of setup. Because all you need is a firm place to hold the straps, you can almost always find a way to hang your rings safely and quickly. Here are some popular locations:
- Garage rafters
- Pull-up bars
- Swing sets
- Jungle gyms
- Stairwells (hanging from the upper floor)
- Smith machines
- Tree branches
Things To Consider Before Hanging
Gymnastic rings can be hung almost anywhere. However, there are some things to consider when deciding a location.
The most obvious consideration is the amount of room you have to go up and down. Thankfully, most ring sets come with straps that are much longer than what we need, so slinging the straps over high places usually solves this problem. Just make sure you have the strength to throw it that high, and you don’t accidentally bean someone in the head when it comes down.
There are two kinds of vertical space to consider:
- The space below the rings
- The space above the rings
I like to hang the rings high enough where I can hang without my feet touching the ground. Just use a stool or stand on your toes to get it this high. Also, I want enough clearance above the rings where I can comfortably do muscle-ups and dips.
Your surrounding area is also essential. For example, if you are near a wall, you risk bumping your limbs against it and messing up your set. If possible, always make sure you have plenty of space to swing around. Always consider the possibility of falling, even if it has never happened before. Having anything dangerous nearby is out of the question. Remember, any injury can interfere with your training and make you weaker. Here are some things to avoid:
- Anything sharp, like jagged rocks.
- Fragile items, like ceramic, glass, or your little brother.
- Excessive commotion nearby. This includes kids running, cars driving, or even people exercising. If you’re worried about being bumped during your set, move.
Strength exercises often take us to our physical limit and temporarily make us unable to protect ourselves like we usually can.
The Bounce Test
Your rings probably come with a recommended weight load. Take this with a grain of salt, and always check your rings before initiating your first set. I do something called the “bounce test” to make sure the ring and straps are in good order. It’s exactly what it sounds like.
- After hanging a ring, grab it with both hands and lift yourself off the ground.
- Bounce lightly while supporting your weight with the rings. The bounces greatly increase the weight load on the straps. If the strap can handle your bouncing, it can handle your set.
- Repeat with the other ring.
This section mostly concerns people who intend to hang their rings and leave them there. Doing so works great in some places. Especially indoors.
If you intend on installing rings permanently or semi-permanently, make sure they are safe from wear and tear. Rain and snow can weaken the straps and rust the buckle. Additionally, make sure you are safe from wear and tear while doing the exercises. If you live in a cold climate and hang your rings outdoors, make sure you are comfortable enough to do your set without injury.
Rings can be made from plastic, wood, or even metal. I’ve found the plastic versions much more common. Similar to checking your exercise environment, check your rings to make sure they are healthy enough to easily support you. Although it is rare, wood rings can splinter and rot—especially if you plan on leaving them outdoors.
Whenever possible, I like to exercise outdoors. I usually go to a nearby park. Thankfully, the great outdoors has provided us with many places to hang rings.
- Tree branches. If possible, try to lay a hand towel where the strap touches the bark. This reduces wear.
- Pull-up bars. Even if you’re lucky enough to have some bars handy, there are some exercises best done on rings.
- Pavilion rafters
- Outdoor stairwells
- Swing sets
- Jungle gyms and other climbing equipment
- Soccer goal posts
As much as I like the outdoors, I head indoors when it gets excessively hot or cold. I’m all for mental training alongside physical training, but when the environment affects my exercise efficacy, I move. You are slightly more limited indoors, but there are still many popular choices.
- In the gym
- Pull-up bars
- Smith machines
- Cable crossover machines
- Exposed rafters. These are sometimes found in the garage.
- Drilled eye bolts. Install these horizontally if possible, so they are not being pulled straight down.
Hanging Gymnastic Rings!
Hanging rings are built very simply. There are three main parts to the rings.
- The straps
- The rings
- The buckles (attached to the straps)
Setting them up is equally straightforward.
- Throw the strap buckle-first over the hanging point.
- Feed the buckle through the ring.
- Press the buckle lever and feed the other side through it. The strap should go through the “middle” of the buckle and not the end. There is usually a directional arrow that indicates this.
Hanging Out – Bars Or Rings?
When I first began to seriously study and train in progressive strength calisthenics, I had just moved to a small village in Germany for study. I found myself faced with a question that is probably pretty common in the bodyweight world: where should I do my pull-ups? This can be a somewhat difficult question to answer if you are new to an area (and don’t speak German, in my case).
After some searching, I finally found some parks with jungle gyms and ladders. Because these were for kids, I was often forced to either do horizontal pulls or fold myself into uncomfortable positions to fit underneath the bar. I eventually bought a pull-up bar designed to fit between doorways. However, my landlord didn’t want me drilling holes into my apartment. So I tension-mounted it. This worked, but I was always worried about crashing to the floor and breaking my knees. In addition, this made muscle-ups out of the question unless I wanted my head to go through the ceiling. The local gym nearby had a pull-up station, but it was small and I couldn’t do more advanced progressions on it.
I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by buying a pair of gymnastic rings. To this day, I still recommend these to bodyweight fitness newbies and experts alike. I suppose, in the back of my mind, I always knew I could order some online. However, like most people, I had only seen them used by gymnasts on TV to do insanely hard static holds. I’d never thought to use them for pull-ups, much less other strength exercises.
Had I owned rings in Germany, I could have walked out of my apartment and done pull-ups from the nearest tree. Instead, I had to walk a mile to the nearest park with a jungle gym. This doesn’t sound like a lot—unless you’re walking in subzero temperatures, which is pretty common in North Germany.
Alright, enough whining. I have nothing against pull-ups on bars. I trained almost all my pull-up progressions on them—from horizontal pulls to one-arm pull-ups. If you have access to a pull-up bar and it works well, go ahead and use it. However, if you have trouble finding a place for pull-ups, which can be pretty common in the city, get some rings. You will not regret it.
This article mainly discusses gymnastic rings for pulling exercises. As an alternative to pull-up bars, this is natural. However, rings can be used for a plethora of other exercises, from dips to handstand push-ups. It is generally accepted in the calisthenics community that exercises done on rings are more difficult than ones done on parallel bars. Rings have an element of instability, requiring the athlete to fire his or her stabilizer muscles intensely. As a result, many are dismayed to find they can not do as many reps on rings. Personally, this never bothered me because I believe strength and control are words that belong in the same sentence. What’s the point of being able to do a movement very well if you can only do it under ideal conditions? True tests of strength in the “real world” almost always involves instability, slippery surfaces, and unweildy objects. Therefore, I believe practicing on rings gives us more practicality to most of our movements, with some exceptions.
I was inspired to write this from my own experience in using gymnastic rings and finding places to hang them. If I missed anything, let me know!