How to Improve Your Ring Dips

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What exactly are ring dips and why should we do them? If you have struggled through a WOD like “Elizabeth” that involves lots of ring dips, you have probably asked yourself this very question (though in somewhat saltier language!). Learn how to improve your ring dips and gain a new appreciation for what gymnasts do every day, too.

What are ring dips?

Performing a ring dip with a full range of motion directly transfers to your ability to do muscle-ups.
Let’s start from the beginning. The ring dip exercise is the standard dip, performed on gymnastics rings, and has long been a staple compound exercise in many gymnasts’ routines. As with all dips, the shoulder must dip below the top of the elbow at the bottom of the dip (elbows should be at least at a 90 degree angle); elbows must be fully extended at the top of each dip with the rings pulled in close to the body.

Ring dips are quite a bit more challenging than bar dips because rings are extremely unstable, thus demanding the utilization of numerous stabilizer muscles in your core and shoulders. Not surprisingly,  this goes a long way in building core strength and preventing injury. They are ideal for working the triceps, chest and shoulder muscles in one maneuver rather than working any one muscle group in isolation.

Keep in mind — especially when trying to rep out large sets of ring dips — that ring dips are not ab crunches: proper range of motion in a ring dip means the shoulders have moved below the elbows, and the height of the hips has changed dramatically. If your hips do not drop with each rep, you might be doing a “crunch”—and your “ring dips” will not help much when you are doing (or developing) muscle-ups, as this CrossFit Journal video highlights:

Why should I bother doing ring dips?

The determination and strength it takes to overcome the instability of the rings takes the exercise to another level beyond standard bar dips, which alone require solid foundational gymnastic strength. It feels like every upper body muscle is called into play to help stabilize and control the movement; using the rings to perform dips really targets any weaknesses in the lats and chest.

What tips & techniques can I use to get better at ring dips?

When in doubt, go back to your gymnastics fundamentals. Check out Carl Paoli’s video on GymnasticsWOD, where he lays out the following key facets of a proper ring dip: 

If you are not yet strong enough for ring dips, apply all of these gymnastics principles to your bar dips, or use a band for assistance on either apparatus.
  • Start in the support position with the elbows locked and hands turned out
  • Emphasize a long neck and hollow body position
  • Initiate the dip by sending the shoulder forward
  • Reach the bottom of the dip with your shoulder below the elbow (just like proper squat position with the hip below knee)
  • Press back up and finish in the same strong support position in which you started

Also directly from the world of gymnastics, has some good tips on performing proper ring dips. To perform the ring dip you should set the rings to a height where your feet will not touch the ground between repetitions. In the support position, you suspend your body above the rings with your arms straight.

Now lower your body down by bending at the elbows and by keeping your shoulders close to your sides. Keep the movement steady and controlled — you should try to achieve a full range of motion by taking your shoulders down until they almost touch your hands. Once at the bottom of the move simply push your body back up to the starting position.

Additionally, check out this video from CrossFit Rockwall for excellent tips and advice on ring dips:

  • Work on your ring support every chance you get to build strength
  • Keep the rings close to your body throughout the movement
  • Push your chest forward and your elbows back as you lower into the dip
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