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The Ring Row


The Ring Row is a surprisingly potent bodyweight movement that works the upper back, biceps, rear shoulders, and core.  Most people know it as a sub for pull-ups.  However, it can help even the most seasoned athlete who has been doing pull-ups for years.

First, let’s make sure we are on the same page.  As seen in the image above, the ring row is performed, obviously, on a set of gymnastics rings.  These are relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment that can be purchased online.  Just make sure you can attached them to something overhead.  You can attach them to a wall or doorframe, but overhead is the best for variable levels of difficulty.

Once the rings are hung, measure them so that the middle of the ring is roughly the same height as your armpit.  Next, place your feet together directly below the rings.  Holding on tight, fall backward keeping your core tight and your back flat until your arms are straight.  Finally, using your back muscles, pull your chest to the rings while maintaining a flat body position with your sternum squeezing down toward your bellybutton.  Repeat until you need to take a break.

A Pull-up Substitute

As mentioned above, most people know about the ring row as a substitute for the pull-up.  The pull-up uses the upper back muscles, rear shoulder muscles, and biceps to pull your chin over a bar.  The ring row works similar muscle groups.  Therefore, anyone who is unable to do a pull-up can certainly use a ring row to receive a similar workout.

Pull-up Endurance

Even those who can do pull-ups can still use the ring row to gain endurance.  When you first gain the strength to do a pull-up, chances are, you don’t have enough endurance in the muscle to do more than one or two at a time.  We understand that in order to increase the number of pull-ups you can do without resting, you have to increase your time under tension:  the amount of time you are actually doing pull-ups.  However, if you can only do one pull-up at a time, how do you build this endurance?  In comes the ring row.

The ring row is a great movement for building overall muscular endurance in pulling motions.

Rehab or Shoulder Protection

A little known use of the ring row is as a shoulder rehabilitation and protection tool.  When people workout, they often do a lot of “pushing” movements like shoulder press, pushup ups, dips, bench press, and more.  However, “pulling” movements are far less frequent.  This can cause an imbalance in the shoulder that can lead to some bicep, shoulder, and upper back issues.  Even the pull-up alone doesn’t always hit enough of these muscles to counteract all of the pushing we do.

Therefore, we can turn once again to the ring row.  It is considered a horizontal pulling motion.  The rear part of our shoulders love horizontal pulling.  Do you have some shoulder or bicep pain?  Spend a few weeks on slow and controlled ring rows and see if that pain doesn’t go away.

Never assume the ring row, like other beginner progression movements, loses its benefit as you increase your fitness.  There are always numerous benefits to going back to the basics.  These are just a few of the ring row.