Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Ring Training for MMA Athletes

Gymnasts have used gymnastic rings for hundreds of years to develop tremendous upper body and core strength. In this article I’d like to discuss whether they can be utilised in an MMA strength and conditioning routine – and if so, do they offer any particular advantages for the MMA athlete?

What are the Gymnastic Rings?

The gymnastic rings used by male gymnasts in competition for a variety of ‘artistic’ movements. They come in pairs and are connected, via straps, to a frame of some sort. Modern rings have been adapted to be suitable for strength and conditioning purposes and most can be fixed to any solid structure – including beams and even tree branches.

The Flexible Training Aid

The gymnastic ring is to bodyweight training what the sandbag is to free weights. It effectively adds high levels of instability to a variety of bodyweight exercises. This concept of instability, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, is very important in MMA. Competition and training in MMA involves, at least to some degree, exposure to an unstable force/object i.e. your opponent. Therefore, a sensible strength and conditioning programme should always address this.

Other than this inherent element of instability, the gymnastic ring is an extremely flexible training aid to work with. As the rings are effectively ‘free moving’ they offer a variety of options not typically present in bodyweight or fixed bar training. The mastery of your own bodyweight is of utmost importance but typical bodyweight work involves you moving yourself against a fixed surface. Think of some of the most common bodyweight exercises – chin ups, press ups, dips. You move but the bar or floor stays stable.

But, when facing an opponent, you need to be prepared for the surface (in this example, your opponent) to move. This is a very simplistic way of looking at the concept of instability but I hope you can see that training for both instances is important.

Range of Motion

The idea that the ring is ‘free moving’ also leads us to consider the range of motion (ROM) in certain joints involved in exercises and during basic human movement. The shoulder joint falls into the category of ball and socket joints and it allows the arm to move through 360 degrees. During MMA training and competition you will no doubt have experienced this – think arm bar escape.

If we know that the arm can move through 360 degrees and that the gymnastic ring allows movement through the same range, then it makes it a great choice for those wishing to improve and maintain a healthy ROM through the shoulder joint. Exercises where the shoulder joint is allowed to move through a full ROM while under tension have few parallels in traditional weight training. The ability to effectively train in this way is great for injury-proofing joints.

Furthermore, it is not necessary that joints always go through a full ROM to get the most from using the rings. The fact that you are able to resist against instability is as useful as moving through it.

The Bodyweight ‘Multi-Gym’

The traditional ‘multi-gym’ – a pin select machine designed to give the user plenty of options with minimal fuss – in my opinion, deserves to gather dust in the corner of the garage (where 95% of these machines naturally end up). But if you were looking for a piece of equipment to give the user plenty of options in their bodyweight training then the rings come very close.

This can work on a few levels. The rings can be used to progress beyond your current level of bodyweight mastery – adding both instability and intensity. You will be amazed at how much strength is required to perform exercises on the rings. We would normally class this as an exercise progression.

Press Ups →Ring Press Ups
Dips→Ring Dips
Chin Ups→Ring Chin Ups
Handstand Press Ups→Ring Handstand Press Ups

Conversely, the rings can also allow easier versions of certain exercises. We would normally class these as regressions.

Inverted Ring Rows←Chin Ups

The rings also open up a whole new class of exercises that simply cannot be done, at least in the same way, without them.

Muscle Ups
Dislocations/Skin the Cat

Integrating Gymnastic Ring Training

The easiest way to add ring training into your strength and conditioning is to begin substituting some of your existing bodyweight training for their ring variations. This will typically go into your met-con or fight specific conditioning sessions.

Press Ups →Ring Press Ups
Dips→Ring Dips
Chin Ups→Ring Chin Ups
Handstand Press Ups→Ring Handstand Press Ups

You will also want to spend some time working towards mastering some of the ring specific skills such as the Muscle Up. The muscle up, although not the hardest of ring skills, will develop great upper body strength and agility. It is effectively a Chin Up followed by a Dip, all performed on a set of very unstable rings. Muscle Up practice would fit well into a strength session.

You may also want to include some of the mobility drills on the rings as part of your injury prevention programme/warm up. The dislocation/skin the cat or backwards roll on the rings is a great drill to encourage shoulder flexibility.

My Favourite 5 Gymnastic Ring Exercises

Chin Ups/Inverted Row: Develop great strength in your ‘pulling’ muscles. The angle and position of the rings can also aid in rehabbing stiff and injured shoulders. They can also be performed with uneven rings for fight specific drills.

Press Ups: Develop great ‘pressing’ strength. Again, you can adjust the ring angle and position to aid problem joints. Builds agility and control, ideal for improving striking in the mount/top position.

Muscle Up: Builds unrivalled strength and agility using only your bodyweight.

Shoulder Dislocation/Skin the Cat: Develops great core strength and shoulder flexibility. High transfer into fight specific skills such as arm bar escapes.

Leg raises/Knees-to-Elbows: Great core strengthening exercise with the added challenge of controlling the rings.

Purchasing Gymnastic Rings

Elite Rings are the original and best gymnastic rings on the market. They have been specifically designed to be used for strength and conditioning rather than gymnastics (this is an important distinction).

They are shipped from within the UK and come with a 2 year warranty. Plus, every set comes with its own training guide to allow you to get the most from your gymnastic ring training.

To learn more and order your own set, please click on the link below:
If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

Originally published on BritMMA

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