Upper Body Training for vertical jump Part 2: The Ultimate Upper Body Workout

In my previous article on upper body training I outlined why often it is not always beneficial for athletes looking to improve their vertical jump to do too much direct upper body work.

In that article I discussed how little input the upper body actually contributes to your jump height, and if your program includes exercises such as kettlebell swings, Olympic lifts and their modified versions, and of course deadlifts, then you would have your upper body training requirements pretty much covered.

However, that first article was written from a point of view of just trying to jump high with little consideration for other athletic needs. In that context direct upper body training is of minimal benefit due to the extra pressure it places on your ability to fully recover.

Whilst no actual direct upper body training may be ok purely for developing your vertical jump, the reality is that most sports do in fact require some degree of upper body development

With this in mind I thought I would share with you a workout that I believe provides a nice balance between improving strength and stability of the muscles and joints, but also won't tax your recovery so much that it will negatively impact your speed and jump training. 

With that in mind let me introduce you to ring training.

Benefits of Ring Training

For many of you I am probably not actually introducing ring training at all.  No doubt many of you will already be very familiar with it. However for those of you that are wondering what the hell I am on about, ring training is simply training using gymnastic rings.

Gymnastic RingsGymnastic Rings. Your new best friend.

There are a number of very significant benefits to training on gymnastic rings.

  • Ring training can provide significant gains in upper body strength.
  • The unstable nature of the training constantly forces you to work hard to stabilize your joints and body.
  • Virtually everything you do on the rings requires you to use your abdominals and core. It is without doubt one of the best ways to build strength in this area.
  • The flexible nature of the movement of the rings not only helps improve joint stability, but also allows them to movemore freely and comfortably through more natural movement patterns.
  • There is a huge variety of exercises you can do on the rings.
  • It is lots of fun. Seriously, most of my time I spend on them I don't even view it as training. They are more like adult monkey bars with health and performance benefits.

Another nice benefit is that you don't need to find a special gymnastics center to take advantage of this type of training as there are many places on the internet where you can buy a set of excellent quality and highly portable rings.

The Great Ring Training Myth

gymnastic ring trainingElite gymnasts like this aren't built overnight.

Before I continue I should address and correct one benefit of ring training that is often cited by those selling them which is that you can get a gymnasts body. This is of course ridiculous. Just as doing a few interval sprints twice a week won't have you looking like Asafa Powell, doing you upper body training on gymnastic rings once or twice a week definitely won't have you looking like an elite level gymnast either.

There are a number of very obvious reasons for this. Firstly, elite level gymnasts have been training 5-6 days per week for years using not just rings, but all the other forms of training that they do. Secondly, these athletes maintain one of the strictest diets in all of sports to maintain those amazingly low levels of body fat. Having the body of an elite athlete such as an Olympic gymnast comes from training and eating like one for an extended period of time.

what to expect from ring training

Although you most likely won't end up looking like a gymnast you can if you so desire actually still build some decent muscle by training on the rings. Muscle is basically built through a combination of time under tension (more time and more tension = more gro with stimulus), and eating enough food. 

If you do want to add some size then ring training certainly provides enough tension. As you get better at and can perform more reps you also will find you are under that tension for a decent amount of time. With those two things in place you just need to make sure you eat enough calories and you will build muscle.

Aside from potentially building muscle, you can and will develop excellent upper body strength using this workout, particularly once you get past the initial stages and start adding extra resistance via a weight vest. To top that off you will also develop serious core strength (and some popping abs provided your diet is okay and you are sufficiently lean).

As already mentioned ring training heavily recruits the midsection for not only every exercise you perform on them, but also for the entire time you are doing it. A strong core is quite simply unavoidable.

healthy foodA healthy diet and ring training are a great combination.

the workout

The workout itself is ridiculously simple. It consists of 3-4 sets of 4 different exercises (12 sets in total). The four exercises are chin ups/pull ups, dips, supine rows, and push ups.

You perform the 3-4 sets of chins resting 60-90 seconds between sets, then you moveon to 3-4 sets of dips, 3-4 sets of supine rows, and finish with 3-4 sets of push ups. You do as many reps as you can and you total them up per exercise.

For the supine rows and push ups you will probably need a chair, or equivalent to support your feet and allow you to get into a horizontal position on the rings.


For some people when they initially start doing their upper body training on the rings they won't be able to perform very many reps, but like anything, the more you do it, the better you will get. Once you get reasonably proficient at the 4 exercises you can start wearing a weight vest to make things more difficult.

A simple rule of thumb is that once you can get above10 reps for all 3 sets, or a net total of 30+, it is time to add resistance. For a greater strength focus you can always start using a weight vest earlier but I still think it is still a good idea to build up a base first.

weight vestAdding a weight vest is an easy and effective way to keep yourself challenged.

my own experience

I normally wouldn't be so self indulgent but in this case I thought my results were an excellent way to illustrate just how beneficial ring training can be for developing upper body strength without adding too much unnecessary muscle mass.

Up until several years ago when I started working on my vertical jump I had been training using bodybuilding techniques to build mass. At the time I weighed 87kg (about 190 pounds) and my maximum bench press was a fairly average 100kg.

When I started jump training I realized one of the first things I would need to do is to get rid of much of my muscle mass so I stopped all upper body work entirely and reduced my calorie intake. Over the course of the next 9-12 months I gradually slimmed down to a much leaner and lighter 74kg (about 165 pounds) which I maintained for the next 12-18 months.

During this time I continued to do zero upper body work as my jump training already involved plenty of deadlifting, cleans and heavy kettlebell swings. About 12 months ago I stopped training exclusively for vertical improvements and started focusing on just being strong and healthy (still with a strong emphasis on explosiveness and vertical jump of course!).

Instead of going back to bodybuilding type training for my upper body I decided on just using the rings. Since then I have been performing the abovering program twice a week. On one of those days I use no resistance except my bodyweight going for maximum speed and maximum reps, and on the other day I wear my weight vest, gradually trying to add more weight and keeping the reps in the 5-8 rep range.

My results? Well out of curiosity I recently re-tested my max bench press. At a current bodyweight of 77kg, or 169 pounds, my new 1 rep max was 105kg. To put this into perspective, after a reduction in bodyweight of 10kg (22 pounds), 2+ years of no direct upper body work, and nearly 3 years of no bench pressing, I have actually GAINED 5kg on my 1 rep max for this exercise.

Now obviously I can't attribute all my bench press related strength gains to the ring training I have been doing. After all during the last 3 years I did perform quite a lot of other heavy lifting, particularly of the deadlift and squat variety. However, to ignore that benefits that ring training has provided me in the last 12 months would be a big mistake.

ripped freakNo bench, no bicep curls, no problems!



I have said it before and I will say it again, if you just want to jump high and your program already has some cleans, deadlifts, or kettlebell swings, then you probably don't need a whole lot of upper body work.

However, most people are also training to improve at a particular sport and most sports do require some degree of upper body strength. In this case you really can't go wrong with ring training and the simple workout I have outlined here. It works all the muscle groups in the upper body, it develops great core strength, and to top it all off, it is great fun. What more could you ask for.

related articles

Upper Body Training - Given nearly all your jumping power comes from your legs how much upper body work should you be doing to maximize your vertical jump?

Westside Training Part 1 - How to use a Westside Style conjugate training system to improve your vertical Jump.

Weight Vest Training For Vertical Jump - Weight vest training would have to be one of the most effective means of improving your vertical jump. Find out why we lovethese simple training aids so much.

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