Originally written for Bodyweight Training Arena
Push-ups are one of the best upper body strength exercises known to man.
The problem, however, is that people don’t know how to make them progressively more challenging over time.
A smart training program will get you relatively proficient at basic push-ups on the floor quite quickly, and once someone is capable of performing 30+ reps in a row, they tend to start favoring other movements like the bench press as their primary upper body horizontal pushing exercise for lower rep strength work.
Then again, some trainees set their sights on hitting a round number like 50 or 100 push-ups as a short-term goal but even then, the focus is on improving muscular endurance via higher reps as opposed to working and making gains in the traditional strength and hypertrophy rep ranges (5-12 reps or so per set).
Thus, push-ups are often labeled a “beginner exercise”, and drastically overlooked as a strength building exercise by many gym-goers.
So how does one go about making push-ups challenging for even the more advanced trainee?
Gymnastic rings are one of the cheapest and most versatile training tools money can buy, and an excellent addition in your workouts for enhancing upper body strength and size once regular push-ups on the floor become a walk in the park.
Due to the added instability factor, the rings require significantly more stabilizer strength than when hands are kept firmly on the ground. Consequently, you’ll feel push-ups on rings much more in your abs and experience some amazing chest pumps.
A few key pointers for all of the following ring push-up variations:
– squeeze your glutes and brace the abs
– try to maintain full body tension
– don’t allow sagging of the hips
– own the eccentric part of the movement by lowering under control
This is your standard ring push-up with added resistance. Wear a weight vest or add weight plates on your back.
You’ll notice that as long as you have a capable spotter helping out once the poundages start climbing into heavy territory, you’ll be able to externally load ring push-ups for quite some time.
I would consider two 20 kg (45 lbs) plates a decent feat for a male in this exercise – provided that full range of motion is being used and the lower back stays flat throughout the movement. Three or four plates (60-80 kg) of added weight would already be “strong” in my eyes.
As you’re descending into the wide push-up, turn your palms so that they’re facing your feet and spread the rings out to your sides.
While technically not a push-up, the ring flye nevertheless provides for an excellent variation as you inch towards more and more demanding ring push-up progressions.
As with the wide push-up, keep pushing the rings out and away from you but this time keep the palms facing each other. The straighter the arms, the more difficult this movement becomes.
Here you’ll straighten one arm as you’re descending while keeping the other arm firmly tucked in close by your side, resembling an archer aiming and ready to fire an arrow at his target in the bottom position.
As you’re coming back up, think of simultaneously pushing with the arm closer to you and pulling with the straight arm to return back to the starting position.
Notice that as I’m going down, I shift my body away from the arm I’m straightening, which is an easier variation of the ring archer push-up. You can make this movement even harder by keeping your body completely still from the chest down throughout the exercise.
As you’re lowering into the push-up, start turning your hands so that your palms end up facing your face slightly before hitting rock bottom, then maintain hand position until you’ve gone all the way down.
Reverse the motion when coming back up into starting position.
These are A LOT HARDER than they look.
It takes a great deal of strength to prevent the rings from turning back in in this position and you’ll be shaking like Robert Downey Jr. during heroin withdrawal while trying to maintain control of them in the middle of a rep when first giving these bad boys a go.
As you can see in the video, my right arm struggles slightly to keep the right ring from turning back in (rep #2 looked pretty good though).
Most people will not be able to do RTO push-ups in a smooth manner with their palms fully facing away from them at first. Start with the rings at 45 degrees and work your way forward from there, opening them further out as the weeks pass by and you begin getting the hang of these.
Give these 6 ring push-up variations a try and experience a marked increase in your upper body pushing strength.
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Yunus Barisik, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for an elite junior hockey organization based in Espoo, Finland. He has trained hundreds of hockey players at the junior, college and pro levels, including NHL Draft picks and World Champions. An accomplished author, Yunus has had articles published on top fitness and performance sites, including STACK and Muscle & Strength. He also wrote Next Level Hockey Training, a comprehensive resource for ice hockey players on building athletic strength, size and power, while staying injury-free.