Thursday, February 14, 2008

Review: Elite Rings

Climbers can certainly learn a thing or two from gymnasts when it comes to training. After all, theirs is also a sport where a high strength-to-weight ratio is important. One of the best additions that any outdoor athlete can make for their home gym is a pair of gymnastic rings. These simple tools are remarkably effective for developing muscles of the upper body and core.

While gymnastic rings may conjure up images of uber-athletes in the Olympics doing super-human feats like the Iron Cross, they are also valuable for us mere mortals. Because they can move freely, rings are excellent for performing push-ups to work the chest and triceps as well as the small stabilizer muscles of the shoulder. Similarly, they work better for pull-ups than a fixed bar or hangboard; you can even stagger them in height for extra challenge. Instead of crunches and ab rollers, you can use rings to work the abdominals and obliques by doing curl-ups and planks.
The rings used by gymnasts, however, are expensive ($350 per pair) because of the high stresses they must endure. Fortunately, Elite Rings are an affordable alternative ($80 shipped) that are designed for fitness training. The rings are constructed of molded plastic, reinforced with ribs so they don't flex. They have just enough texture to offer a good grip without chewing your hands up. One-inch flat webbing easily adjusts in length with heavy-duty Ancra cam buckles. Unlike the knock-off Xtreme Rings (which already lose points for the name), the Elites have a slot that the webbing threads through to stabilize the rings; you don't have to use it but I found it helpful.
These rings are essentially perfect right out of the box--all you need is two sturdy anchor points in the ceiling about 18-inches apart. To hang them, I drilled two holes through a ceiling beam and installed eye bolts. Rather than threading the webbing through the bolts, I just use two carabiners so I can quickly take the rings down.
The Elite Rings come with printed training guide that shows the basic exercises. But you might consider getting the DVD ($20 extra), which shows a progression of exercises with proper technique and gives tips on how to change resistance. It also includes some extra footage of a professional gymnast making us all feel like weaklings. Good stuff.

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