gymnastics rings press with added resistance and with feet suspended
Video on May 1, 2014
Resistance: 100 lbs. (45.5 kg) suspended from waist (in addition to bodyweight with feet suspended)
Bodyweight: 178 lbs. (80.9 kg)
When performing pressing movements, there is a progression of increasing difficulty due to load stabilization with the following continuum: machine presses, barbell presses on a bench, dumbbell presses on a bench (i.e. symmetric loading), dumbbell presses on a Swiss ball (i.e. symmetric loading), one-arm dumbbell press on a Swiss ball (i.e. asymmetric loading), rings press with feet on ground or bench/box, rings press with feet suspended, and rings press with no leg support (i.e. planche press (“push up”) in rings). Instability in terms of yaw, roll, and pitch has already been addressed for Swiss ball pressing movements in supine and incline positions in prior posts.
movement dynamics: body control and yaw, roll, and pitch
If performing rings presses with feet fully supported, then yaw, roll, and pitch are not problematic for body control due to the feet being solidly planted in dorsiflexion. However, the issue with rings is control of roll (“wobble”) because the rings are free to rotate with respect to the two axes of rings suspension as well as yaw in each hand independently (the vertical axes along your forearms, not with respect to the long axis of your spine). There is injury risk to the wrist from uncontrollable yaw (excessive wrist extension or flexion). Yaw increases with fatigue: it is not the wrist (i.e. forearm flexors/extensors) that will likely cause yaw, it is fatigue of the major pressing muscles (triceps, deltoids and pectorals) that exert motor control of the ring. Body pitch (“rocking”) is noticeable when the feet are suspended with no additional weight suspended from the waist. Body pitch becomes less problematic as additional weight is added due to damping but maintaining trunk stabilization becomes a major difficulty as the load is increased. The load vector is vertical right at the pelvis so a large effort for steady-state isometric contraction of the abdominal wall and the spinal erectors looms large with significant loads (greater than 50% of bodyweight) and/or increased duration under load.
There is a large motor control difference between external load (barbell/dumbbell) and internal load (bodyweight with or without additional load) pressing movements. Both are needed for full-spectrum pressing function. Rarely considered is the freedom of action of scapular protraction and retraction: in most external load movements the load you are lifting is compressing scapular mobility whereas in internal load movements you are reversed into a prone position and thus unencombered. Beginners should begin with both external and internal movements with pushups being the starting point for internal movements. Pushups can then progress to parallettes and then, finally, to rings. Depending on competent instruction, vertical movements graduating to handstand presses in parallettes and then rings would be outstanding, comprehensive development for any athlete. Yoga and gymnastics both offer beginner to intermediate internal-load progressions.
This is a very complex movement with multiple moving parts and contingencies. There is a lot going on! This is one of those movements where you must show up with your game face locked and loaded like front squats. Your mind in the background is locking down the trunk so that it is rigid and stable. This eventually is on autopilot. Feel your abs and lumbar spine regions as “locked down.” Breathing is constricted similar to squats because the inhaled breath must be used to expand the diaphragm to make the trunk rigid to protect the spine at the vulnerable bottom position but is relaxed near the top at elbow lock-out. Synchronize your awareness of breathing with your background awareness of your hip position to avoid lumbar hyperextension (see safety precautions below).
In the mental foreground, tune into a controlled raising and lowering of your body while focusing on control of the rings. Unlike using barbells and dumbbells where the mind is focused on lifting “weights”, with the rings press the mind is focused on control of the rings while you lift your body under precise control. The very foundation of the pressing movement are two very squirrelly rings!
As you gain experience in this very complex movement acquire a feel for the prime movers (triceps, deltoids and pectorals) as a function of the depth of the press in relation to your hip joint: changing the angle of the hip/femur angle with slight hip flexion changes the recruitment patterns of the prime mover muscles just like a slight change from an incline to a supine press does or a regular push-up to a push-up in pike position with feet on a box or Swiss ball. In fact, an advanced variant of the rings press in plank is engaging hip flexion to the point you are in a pike position by pulling your suspended feet toward your hands. This variant is helpful for increasing handstand shoulder strength (much greater recruitment of the rear deltoids and much more intense on the abdominal wall while reducing engagement of the pectorals). A weighted vest can be used in lieu of a weight belt for lighter loads.
Mentally train the neck and trapezius muscles to relax as much as possible while maintaining a neutral head position. Avoid straining these muscles: they are not doing the movement!
injury risk exposure and safety precautions
There are two risks to be aware of: wrist roll and lumbar hyperextension. Wrist roll is discussed above. Watch out for “going for 1 more rep.” With added resistance at the hip, lumbar hyperextension occurs if the pressing movement coming out of the bottom is not synchronized with a rise in the hips because of the added load resisting your ability to keep the trunk super stabilized and in unison with the entire body. There will be some lumbar extension at the bottom depending on the height of your feet in relation to the bottom of the rings. Some lumbar extension is not a problem as long as the trunk musculature is locked down; it is hyperextension like a yoga cobra pose but under load that would be the cause of injury. As you press your body from the bottom keep your butt up via hip extension which will neutralize the natural tendency to “sag” under load.
There is a third risk, although of minor status: the neck due to the unsupported prone position. In bench or incline presses and most Swiss ball movements, the neck is supported. In rings presses it is not. Strain can occur. Keep the head position neutral and try to relax the neck muscles and trapezius as much as you can. These muscles are not doing the lifting but the natural tendency is to fully contract them.
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