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How to unlock shoulder mobility using the Gymnastic Rings

The dead-hang can be used supported or unsupported as a great option for developing greater mobility

Typically, the gymnastic rings are seen as a tool for developing strength and upper body power, but a lesser-known application of the rings can be to improve general and specific mobility and give your shoulders a new lease on life by helping to improve their longevity and overall health. So how can the rings help us get amazing, healthy shoulders that move freely and fluidly but with coordinated control and dynamic expression?

Let us first have a look at the anatomy of the shoulders and what they require from an inputs perspective and then we can address the rings and what they can provide from an inputs perspective. The anatomy of the shoulder includes the head of the upper arm bone known as the humerus. The humerus fits not-so-snugly into a very shallow cavity on the lateral portion of the shoulder blade (scapula). This shallow cavity is known as the glenoid cavity / glenoid fossa, and together, the glenoid fossa and the humerus create the glenohumeral joint. This is the basic “ball-and-socket” portion of the shoulder. The humerus is afforded quite a significant amount of motion within and around the glenoid fossa as it moves in relationship to the scapula. The scapula is a floating bone that glides along the posterior portion of the rib cage. This unique anatomy means the shoulders have some pretty unique functions and capabilities and it’s this unique anatomical design that allows the shoulders to be the most mobile joints in the body with the greatest potential for an expressible range of motion within all planes of movement. The humerus is connected to the glenoid fossa and held wrapped within a ligament-like dense connective tissue known as the capsule. The ball and socket shape and structure of the bones and connections indicate that these joints are designed to rotate and roll and if we want to create very purposeful and direct movement inputs to encourage mobility and health of these joints, we should probably use some direct rotational, axial and circumnavigational, inputs so we can speak directly to the anatomy of the glenohumeral joint. 

This is just one aspect of the anatomy of the shoulder and there are several expressible ranges of motion available in the glenohumeral joint, namely, flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal rotation and external rotation. 

The second set of anatomical arrangements that influence the motion of the shoulders are the scapulae (shoulder blades) against the thoracic cage. The shoulder blades have the ability to glide upwards (elevation) downwards (depression) push forward and apart (protraction) squeeze back and together (retraction).

Consider the degree of potential motion when coupling these motions together. For example, you can express shoulder flexion with scapular retraction and depression or conversely with scapular elevation and protraction. The same goes for internal rotation, abduction, external rotation and adduction AND then still there is every range in between. This is an incredible amount of variable potential and shows us that the shoulders require dynamic and incredibly diverse inputs to maintain optimal health, function and longevity. So how do gymnastic rings help us to achieve and access the mobility and functional capacity that we wish to unlock within our shoulders?

The Gymnastic rings are an almost entirely free-moving apparatus that allow for unbelievable variability and being able to appropriately guide and direct these variable forces can help us get the most out of our training and achieve some truly incredible results. Gymnastic rings are only fixed at the point of anchorage but the rest of the apparatus is free-moving and therefore responsive kinetically to whatever directional inputs are applied. This means that, so long as you use them appropriately, you can use them in a way that allows you to express your range of motion without being forced into unnatural ranges.

One of the best ways to do this is to set them at a height that allows you to keep your feet on the floor or, better yet, get down to your knees on the floor. By bringing your centre of mass closer to the earth, you diminish the gravitational demands on your skeleton and therefore, decrease the amount of load being experienced at any given moment. By decreasing the load, you can shift your attention towards nuanced details and specific angles and will be able to spend extended amounts of time in the same shape without overloading the muscles. Furthermore, due to the free-motion nature of the rings, you will be able to appropriately alter minute details of each position to find the most appropriate angles, and load, for you.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series where we will show you some ideas and deeper insights into using the rings to improve your overall shoulder mobility, health and functional capacity.

Keep moving,


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