The best and most fun workout I’ve had in years

Do you need to be entertained while you work out? I do. I can’t do the same thing too often or I get bored and just stop doing it. And I’m lazy, too; I like working out by myself, but I have only recently started pushing myself into the “barely sore the next day” category.

I thought I was getting into pretty good shape lately. I’ve been doing the whole Tough Mudder workout 3x a week… ok, maybe 2… or 1, sometimes… Point is, I can feel and see myself getting stronger. But I’m still sore from half an hour on Tuesday of playing around at a dinner party.

Now granted, I am not not now, nor have I ever desired to be “super ripped.” I am not a gym rat in any sense of the word. While I really love being strong and spending time with and looking at strong people, I don’t like the bulked up look or take on life. The strength that I like is functional strength; the power to run, climb, jump, swim, carry things, and basically get myself into and out of most situations. So my approach to fitness is NOT to train a small set of muscles to lift really heavy iron. It’s much more bodyweight oriented; how can I move my body and how can I do so powerfully?

Enter the gymnast rings. Seriously, these things are amazing. I went over to a friend’s house for a fancy dinner spy-themed party, and he had two sets of rings set up on his porch, one at his overhead reach height, the other about six inches of the ground. I bet you can guess what happened when you combined a bunch of adults in formal wear, a couple of glasses of wine, and a toy like that.

Playtime broke out immediately.

I’m not advocating liquoring up and throwing yourself around, for the record. That’s how I very nearly managed to smash my face in, because I got too excited by my ability to do a flip and tried to use my momentum to hang by just my feet, only it turned out to be more like just my shins. (Which, probably not coincidentally, is how I fell out of a tree in the second grade and knocked myself out.) This time I caught myself on my forearms just before my nose hit the ground, but I absolutely do not recommend this approach.

That being said, I want a pair. Immediately. I was instantly transported back to the playground. Look what I can do, guys! And the next day, I felt sore in the best way, like I’d catapulted to a new level of fitness and wasn’t quite up to the task yet. Probably because I couldn’t resist flipping myself upside down and trying to do pullups from that position. Oh, and splits. Ring-assisted splits are (probably) really dangerous. But I can do the splits anyway, and it’s really fun (but afterwards agonizing) to be swaying around on rings while in a split position. (In case you were wondering, my dress had a long slit in it, Mr. and Mrs. Smith style.)

I would love to have a set bolted to the ceiling in my office. Or upstairs, for that matter, for other people to play on. They don’t take up much space, they’re easy to adjust, and they’re amazing fun. Did I mention they’re fun? I am a huge advocate of fitness through play.

If you’re still not convinced, or you are looking for a less enthused and breathless squee-filled workout routine, Art of Manliness has a great set of exercises. They’re more conventional, and less gymastic-y, but definitely more structured and possibly more useful if you’re the type of person that really likes data on how you’ve improved. However you use them, you can get a full body workout that is crazy intense in a really short amount of time. The idea is that while you’re performing normal strength moves like a pushup, the rings will be swinging around. Stabilizing them takes a lot of muscle, and you instantly get a super-intense pushup. You can use them in your normal workout, or you can do what I do, which is whenever I get bored I’ll think of an exercise and do it; I’m very much about incorporating more activity into my normal routine. And what better way than those rings?

Want a pair? My friend actually made his own. And while I will be going over to his house at every opportunity now and forever, I can’t actually get my own. I have no place to attach them; I rent, and I doubt my landlord would be amused by drilling huge bolts into the ceiling. We also don’t have a balcony to loop the straps around the way my friend does. Therefore, I don’t feel comfortable recommending a specific company. Sorry about that, I know that makes this post a little less helpful than it could be.

But seriously, if you enjoyed playing on playground equipment as a kid, consider these. Go to a local park if you have to. You won’t get the full experience on those monkey bars (heck, do they even have monkey bars anymore?), but you might recapture a bit of the feeling. And you might be surprised at how sore you get.

Have you ever used a set of rings to work out? Did you like it?

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