If you’ve ever tried them you’ve probably asked, “Why Are Ring Pull Ups Harder?”
It’s not unheard-of to be able to crank out 10 easy pull ups on a fixed, straight bar.
However, the second you try to show off your pull up prowess on rings you can barely do one decent rep.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Allow me to explain.
Why Are Ring Pull Ups Harder?
The main reason that ring pull ups are harder is because of the instability. Rings will swing and move independently, which makes them more challenging than straight-bar pull ups. This immediately means that many of the stabilizing muscles, especially in the shoulders, have to work much harder. The exact same can be said for the core muscles, which are working to stop you from swinging out of position. With that being said, ring pull ups are actually easier on your joints. Plus, exercises where your body is above the rings are definitely harder than ring pull ups.
1. Rings Provide Less Stability
The most obvious reason that ring pull ups are harder is the lack of stability.
When performing “normal” pull ups, a straight bar is fixed in place.
So, in effect, you could swing your body around and use momentum, but your hands won’t shift.
However, if you were to do the same while holding onto rings, your hands won’t stay in a fixed position, and the rings will move around.
With that being said, in many cases kipping pull ups should actually be easier on rings.
But, this will depend on your specific strengths, weaknesses, and overall ability at performing kipping pull ups.
The simple fact that you have the ability to move the rings around should make kipping pull ups easier.
I say should because some of you may find that you can generate more power for a kipping pull up while using a bar.
However, one thing that everyone can agree on is that strict pull ups will definitely be harder on rings.
The degree of difficulty once again comes down to your body’s personal strengths and weaknesses.
You’ll be doing everything you can to remain as stable as possible, which means that you’ll be exerting more energy per rep with ring pull ups.
2. Your Stabilizing Muscles Work Harder on Rings
Both ring and standard bar pull ups work the same primary muscles.
So, you know your lats, biceps, and traps are going to get a great workout either way.
Additionally, your core works extremely hard during any pull up variation (more on this in a moment).
However, using a standard bar will limit how much work your stabilizing muscles have to do during a pull up.
The same cannot be said for ring pull ups.
In fact, your stabilizing muscles have to work extremely hard during ring pull ups.
You’re more prone to swinging on rings, so this forces your arms, back, and shoulders to work as one unit.
This provides far more stability throughout the body which will help to keep momentum to a minimum.
This is especially true of the shoulders, although ring push ups are actually better for your overall shoulder health.
Basically, rings will allow you to bring your body through a higher range of motion.
But, you also have the ability to change your shoulder width to make the movement more comfortable.
You’ll also find that your grip and forearms have to engage to a far greater degree than with standard pull ups.
This is due to the fact that the surface you’re holding onto (a ring) is mobile.
So, as you can see there’s a lot of “secondary” muscle action going on.
And this will make rings pull ups harder.
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3. Your Core Works Harder on Ring Ups
I alluded to this a moment ago.
It’s often said that pull ups are more of a core exercise than any other muscle.
In fact, there is even research which proves that your core goes through far more muscle activation than any other muscle in the body.
So, in effect, your core is actually working harder during pull ups than your lats, biceps, and traps.
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This means that due to the instability your core is actually working even harder than usual during ring pull ups.
You should generally always perform pull ups with all of your core muscles contracted, and this even includes the glutes.
Furthermore, your feet should actually be in front of you so that your body forms a hollow-hold position.
So, you will be stimulating far more core (and the surrounding) muscles during ring pull ups.
And this is bound to make them more difficult.
4. Above the Rings is More Difficult Than Below
Now, if you find ring pull ups particularly hard you’re going to be in for a shock when performing other ring-based exercises.
Basically, if your body is above the rings, as opposed to underneath them, the instability is even worse.
So, as an example, ring dips and ring push ups will be extremely difficult to perform.
Firstly, both exercises allow for a greater range of motion.
Therefore, you may end up working the chest, shoulders, and triceps to a greater degree than you usually do.
This also means that both exercises are better for your shoulder joint health.
In the case of ring dips you’ll need to recruit a vast array of stabilizing muscles just to ensure you don’t fall off.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to not even be able to hold yourself in the top of the dip position.
If this is the case, and even if you can perform regular dips, this shows that there is a specific weakness in the stabilizing muscles.
So, if you want to shore up your weakness while getting a full upper body workout, try performing pull ups, chin ups, dips, and push ups on rings.
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5. Ring Pull Ups Are Easier on Your Joints
It’s perfectly natural to find ring pull ups harder.
However, by performing them you will definitely be adding more muscle and strength to your upper body.
Plus, due to instability you’ll also be getting a fantastic core workout.
But, the benefits don’t end there.
For all their difficulty, ring pull ups are far easier on your joints than regular pull ups.
So, this is definitely something to consider if you suffer from discomfort in your wrists, elbows, or shoulders.
In fact, many people avoid performing pull ups for this exact reason.
With that being said, ring pull ups allow for more mobility in the joints, so they’re not stuck in a fixed position.
Plus, the joints are often in a very unnatural position when performing pull ups on a fixed bar.
So, regardless of their level of difficulty, you may find that ring pull ups not only build muscle and strength, but they can help you remain injury-free.
So, as you can see, the main reason ring pull ups are harder is due to a lack of stability.
The rings are prone to moving around, which initially makes it more challenging.
This also means that you’ll have to recruit a vast array of stabilizing muscles, which may not get activated during fixed bar pull ups.
Therefore, more muscle recruitment means you’ll be using more energy with every rep.
Furthermore, performing exercises with your body above the rings, e.g. dips and push ups, are typically even harder for many of the same reasons.
However, ring pull ups will definitely be easier on the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.