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I (sort of) trained like an Olympic gymnast, and this is what it was like


Ring Thing, Body & Pole
Photo: Body & Pole

Just because only dudes compete on rings during the Olympic games doesn’t mean you (strong, beautiful woman) can’t learn to dip, tuck, and muscle-up for fun.

And national champion gymnast David Durante (who was also an alternate on the US team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics) has just what you need to do it: the Ring Thing.

Developed by Durante with his partner in Power Monkey Fitness, Shane Geraghty, the device holds 50 percent of your weight for you, so you can execute moves you’d never be able to do on your own until you’re strong enough to go solo.

And it’s super necessary, because ring exercises require a level of upper-body and core strength, stability, and flexibility that can be incredibly daunting when you’re starting out. Durante says even the pros often need help when they’re training, and in his earlier days, he and his teammates would fashion their own systems for assistance. “Normally we’d go to the hardware store, put a bunch of stuff together, and just jerry-rig it up, [but for the Ring Thing] we wanted to make one that was well-made and we could use for multiple purposes,” he explains.

Especially since interest in gymnastics has increased like crazy over the past several years thanks to the popularity of CrossFit, where muscle-ups are a kind of holy grail. In addition to selling the Ring Thing to CrossFit boxes to help people practice, a Ring Thing group class is now offered at New York City’s Body & Pole, where Durante’s wife, Sadie Durante, heads up the programming for the class and teaches it.  Eventually, they hope to certify other teachers to expand the class to other locations.

olympics gymnastics rings

What it’s like

Here’s how it works: The Ring Thing is essentially a belt you clip around your waist that’s attached to a pulley system. If you want to make sure it’s super secure, there are also straps you can clip around your upper thigh, similar to how you fasten a climbing harness. Once you’re in the air, the pulleys move with you, taking some of the weight off.

Durante took me through pull-ups, dips, muscle-ups and then a few inversions, like tucked front and back levers. You feel how much assistance you’re getting when you jump up, but the moves—especially the inversions—are still surprisingly difficult (and I’m not ripped, but I’m not super weak, either).

I loved the feeling of being able to get into the positions. You feel safe, strong, and empowered, and there’s just something really fun about flipping around on a pair of rings.

If you take Body & Pole’s class, you’ll be paired with a partner and can expect to also do conditioning workout moves on the floor while your partner practices the gymnastics techniques, so there will be plenty of sweat (as well as sore arms, later).

As you progress, you could add body weight via a weighted vest, until one day you just reach for those rings and are pulling yourself through a whole sequence like a pro. Just check out Durante’s moves. I mean, he’s a national champ, but the Olympics are all about dreaming big, right?

Working on ring pull-ups? Try these 7 surprising tips to help you master the move. And though she competed on the women’s side of the event, Mary Lou Retton has some seriously inspiring insight into what will power you through a workout.