Traveling Rings: An example of strength work that has become skill work

antranik on the traveling rings 580px

Photo of me on the traveling rings taken by my friend Angela.


In the bodyweight fitness world we often hear of strength moves and skill work.  In the beginning most things begin as strength moves.  If it’s an isometric hold (like an L-sit), it becomes less about strength after you’re able to hold it for 60 seconds.  If it’s an exercise that involves reps (concentric/eccentric contraction… like pull ups!), then it’s less about strength after you’re able to do several sets of many reps with ease.

Once you become proficient in the moves, they become classified as skill work because you’re not struggling with the strength aspect of it anymore.  Then it’s all about practicing to improve and refine upon it further.  The handstand is one of these often quoted moves.  In the beginning the HS is extremely challenging.  One may not even be able to hold themselves upside down with their feet against a wall because their wrists and shoulders can’t handle their entire bodyweight on them.  But through months (or years) of practice, one may eventually be able to hold a freestanding handstand.  Once they’re able to hold a handstand for several seconds, it becomes moreso about daily practice to refine the move and get better at it.  It becomes more about that kinesthetic body awareness, figuring out all the tricks needed to balance up there for a little bit longer.  Also, in regards to routine-programming, it’s best to dedicate 10-15 minutes toward skill work immediately after your warm up and before you focus on all the power-moves.

For me personally, the traveling rings are a very unique example of something that eventually becomes skill work.  Unique because there’s only a few of these rigs available around the world for us to play on.  It took me about 6 months of constant, deliberate practice for me to build up the strength needed to really let loose on them.  The first time I tried the rings, I was only able to go down 3 rings.  I didn’t have the grip strength to hold on.  I didn’t have the upper body strength to pull myself up.  I didn’t have the core strength to bring my lower body up and get more air.  I was even too intimidated to go on the large-rig so I practiced on the junior rings for weeks on end before transitioning.

Here’s a recent video of me taken on the traveling rings.  I have about 16 months of experience on them at this point. It’s not my best performance or anything special whatsoever but I’m showing it because it’s a unique example of something that took a long time to become skill work.

Nowadays the strength is not the issue.  I can get on the rings and just casually swing on them.  I can focus solely on observing others, learning from them and trying new techniques.  It’s a beautiful thing when one reaches this point.  I can purposely go into orbits/circles.  I can spin between the rings.  I can pretend I’m walking in the air in a circle.  I could swing in tandem with other people and play a game we call clockwork.  I also have the calluses built up enough that allow me to swing bare-handed without the look of death on my face.  Every single one of these little things took weeks to months to figure out.  Progress is a wonderful thing!

So anyways. Practice! That’s the key to everything.

PS: If you live in LA or NYC, there’s a traveling ring set near you!  The one in LA is at Old Muscle Beach in Santa Monica. The one in NYC is at the Riverside Park in Manhattan.  And you could learn how to swing on them using my guide here.