You can get started training most of your body without using any equipment… I say most, because you’ll neglect a group of muscles that are involved mainly in pulling related exercises. Pulling movement patterns are crucial for training your back, arms and grip – and overall developing a strong, healthy and balanced upper body. Sure, you can google some inexpensive alternatives and come across exercises such as pull ups on a door frame or rows on a table. But these are just temporary solutions that do not allow you to perform exercises with proper technique (or without eventually damaging your house). If you want to get things done right, I highly recommend that you invest on a piece of equipment that will last you a lifetime and get yourself a set of gymnastics rings.
Besides pulling movements such as rows and pull-ups, there is a bunch of other exercises you can do with them for the rest of your body. You can also get started with suspension trainers but rings are superior for a lot of reasons that I’ll be mentioning in a separate post. My favorite ones are that rings have a more solid grip and suspension trainers are also not usually designed to support fully weighted pull-ups – something that will limit you as you get stronger and want to do more advanced workouts.
GYMNASTIC RINGS SIZE
You will find two main ring sizes available on the market: The smaller 1,1 inch FIG. ones (International Gymnastics Federation official size) and the bigger 1,25 inch size ones (typically used in sports such as CrossFit). I find that women or men with small hands prefer the FIG ones. The rest of us usually prefer the bigger 1.25 inch sized ones. You could also say that the bigger ones improve your grip strength a bit more, due to the less narrow grip they require. Don’t worry too much about ring size though, since you’ll eventually get used to whichever ones you end up with. The material of your rings is something way more important to take under consideration.
STEEL VS PLASTIC VS WOOD
There are three main choices when it comes to the type of material you want your rings to be made of: steel, plastic and wood. Plastic and wood are the two most popular choices nowadays. You can still find a few options when it comes to steel (at least in most of the popular websites). It’s not something we’d recommend for most people though, especially for your first set of rings.
For starters, steel is a lot heavier than wood and plastic – which makes the rings not that practical to carry around. It also makes them dangerous, if they swing towards your face., something that will eventually happen if you train with rings in the long run. To be honest, I actually like how steel rings feel. Their rugged surface feels nice and sturdy against my hand’s skin. I must be the exception though, since, at the time that I used them in my bodyweight training studio, most people found them either too rough or too slippery when their hands started to sweat. Therefore, if your hands sweat easily, if you have sensitive skin and if you don’t like rough skin (something to think about, especially for the ladies) – definitely do not go for steel rings.
Plastic rings will last more, especially if you plan on frequently exposing them to rain and humidity. In case, for example, you would want to leave your rings in your backyard overnight. In the long run, that would be something that could cause steel rings to rust. As to wooden rings, getting them wet too often can cause them to absorb water, expand and eventually delaminate. Plastic rings are also lighter than steel (60% -70%) and a bit lighter than wood (20-30%). If packing light is important to you, this is also something to consider.
If you do get plastic ones, go for polycarbonate (PC) textured rings. They are the strongest and they have a pretty solid grip. That is when your hands are dry of course… because when your hands start to sweat, wooden rings are superior to both steel and plastic ones. In terms of skin damage (blisters, etc.) polycarbonate textured rings are a bit friendlier than wood and steel.
Wooden rings benefits
I left wooden rings for last. Not because I’m not a fan of them though… On the contrary, they are by far my favorite choice. In terms of grip, wooden rings are undoubtedly superior. As I mentioned above, plastic and steel will become slippery if you start to sweat a lot or have clammy hands in general. When it comes to wooden rings though, sweat just makes them stick better to your hand. Wooden rings will last less than plastic and steel. But, if you treat them decently, you can train with them for at least a decade (maybe even more).
Besides their superior grip, another important reason I love wooden rings for, is aesthetics and emotional connection. Wood is simply more pleasing to the eye and it has a warmer/cozier feel. As humans, we always feel more intimate with objects that are closer to unprocessed earthy elements such as wood.
When it comes to the straps that will accompany your gymnastic rings, safety should be your first concern. This means that you want a quality secure-system that keeps them fastened. The most common system used on the market nowadays is the cam-buckle. Quality-wise, you’ll find two main types of cam-buckles:
- The narrow ones that are made for 28mm straps
- and the wider ones, made for 38mm straps.
Especially for a beginner, the wide 38mm straps and buckles are the ones to go for. For starters, having tried a lot of sets of different straps, we found that the wider buckles are usually made of thicker and better-quality metal, making them more heavy-duty.
Their second advantage is that wide straps are more comfortable since They don’t cut into your arms as much as the 28mm straps when you’re doing exercises such as dips and muscle ups. Finally, the 38mm straps also offer more support and stability, especially when it comes to doing exercises such as dips and muscle-ups due to the bigger area of support for your arms to press against). This comes especially handy when you’re new to ring training and there is a lot of shaking going on.
Pricing and final points
If budget is a consideration, plastic rings are usually around thirty percent cheaper. Therefore, a decent pair of wooden rings will usually cost you around forty-five dollars, and a decent plastic pair will cost you around thirty dollars (not including online shipping costs). Before placing your order, check what kind of straps come with your rings. As mentioned previously, the 38mm straps and cam-buckles are the preferable choice.
After six years of bodyweight training and trying all kinds of equipment, gymnastic rings the one piece of equipment that I still keep using in almost every workout. Having tried a lot of different types and brands, my favorite ones so far are the 1.25 inch wooden rings from Garage Fit which also come with excellent 38mm straps and heavy-duty cam-buckles.