My Favorite Training Programs: Ring Mastery

I was standing in the plumbing aisle of our local Home Depot, holding a printed article from

“Let’s see…I need the 1.5″ PVC…but they only have the 1.25″ PVC…”

It was 2007, and after reading “Gymnastics rings occupy a place in our training that only the barbell can match. Kettlebells and dumbbells, medicine balls and stretch bands, while essential to our practice, are second tier tools to the rings.” in the CrossFit Journal, I decided I needed rings. But the only gymnastics rings I could find online were $129 plus shipping, so I was trying to make my own from instructions I’d found online.

The DIY version involved cutting PVC, then warming it in boiling water and wrapping it around a pot to form a perfect ring. I think you were supposed to fill the resulting ring with sand to give it strength, and then seal the ends with PVC glue and end caps.

But standing in Home Depot, I was doubting my DIY abilities. While I couldn’t really afford to spend $129 at, I really couldn’t afford to waste $40 and build crappy, unusable rings. So after deliberating for a few weeks, I ordered a real set…and they came with a beginner program.

Ryan Hurst was the founder of Here’s his Beginner’s Program:

  • Top Position Hold – 3 sets of 5-10 seconds. A deceptively difficult position that is far from easy to perform, this exercise challenges the strength and stability of even the strongest people in their first time on the rings.
  • Dips – 3 sets of 3-5 reps. This classic bodyweight exercise for the chest, shoulders, and arms is made harder by the instability of the rings.
  • Reverse Row Sit Back – 3 sets of 3 reps. This move combines a row and chin-up, and teaches coordination and body control; it also strengthens all areas of the back.
  • Tuck/L-Sit – 3 sets of 5-10 seconds. A first step into leverage holds; there are hardly any better exercises than this for your core.
  • Chin-Up/Pull-Up – 3 sets of 1-3 reps. Just like dips, this is a standard bodyweight exercise for a reason. It’s the most efficient way to strengthen your entire upper body and core. Tighten your butt and legs as you do it, and it turns into a full body move.

This program was a harsh dose of reality: I thought I’d be hitting muscle-ups and Archers within a week, but quickly learned that ring training is ridiculously hard. Forget the tricks: just getting ON to the rings is a challenge. For that reason, I’m convinced, ring training fell out of favor in many CrossFit gyms. Rings were humbling to the good athletes, and impossible for beginners, so many coaches fell back on the “secondary” tools of dumbbells, kettlebells and skipping. But as ring training faded into the periphery, we all lost some amazing tools for balance, stability and core work. We also lost the ability to build foundational and supportive strength for the “tricks” we now see in competitive CrossFit programming, like high-rep ring muscle-ups and dips.

There’s a reason that ring gymnasts have amazing physiques. There’s also a reason they start with the basics and build up slowly. Try this beginner’s program for a month, and you’ll be reminded that ring training is some of the hardest training out there.

Read more from Ryan Hurst, founder of (and now GMB) here:

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