When it comes to Olympic sports, the average person hasn’t actually tried the majority of these activities. Maybe they’ve gone for a jog, but that’s nothing compared to the 4×400 relay. Perhaps they jumped off their backyard diving board during the summer, but put them on a 10 meter platform and they will freak out.
One of the lovely perks of CrossFit is that we dabble in various different sports. We have a vague understanding of what rowing in the water might be like after spending so much time on an indoor rower. We’ve all worked on Olympic lifts, so we know the basics of a snatch and clean and jerk. Of course, we’re nowhere near the level of these athletes and never will be, but we have some reference after trying it ourselves. Mostly, we know that this stuff is really hard, which gives us more respect for those who do it at an elite level.
All of this is particularly true when it comes to gymnastics, specifically men’s rings. Everyone can learn a snatch (even if it’s a bad snatch). Not everyone can learn a muscle up. Fewer can master high repetition muscle ups, and even fewer CrossFit athletes can even attempt skills more advanced than a muscle up. And yet, in competitive gymnastics, muscle ups are considered so easy that they’re not even a rated skill.
But, since we’ve all at least gotten a chance to try swinging around on the rings, we can truly appreciate the strength required complete an Olympic rings routine. The best part is that with the Rio Olympics happening right now, we can see how Olympic movements are built from the sort of exercises we do in a CrossFit gym everyday.
Take the false grip, for example. We’re taught to use it for strict muscle ups, and switch to regular grip for kipping muscle ups, but Olympic gymnasts keep their false grip for the majority of the routine. You’ll see their coaches hoist them up in the beginning while they get their grip, and then they keep it throughout the entire routine.
You can clearly see the false grip in action during static holds like the Iron Cross or Maltese Cross. The wrists are actually taking the brunt of the weight, not the hands. This becomes even more apparent when you watch the American men on rings. They’ve recently adopted a stylistic tic where they open their hands during holds, which shows how little work their fingers are actually doing thanks to that false grip. In the video below, watch how Sam Mikulak opens his hands during his Iron Cross to see exactly what I’m referring to.
Another thing you’ll notice is how still the athletes are able to keep the rings. The event is called Still Rings, after all. Not only do they get deducted if they’re the rings are moving excessively, but keeping the rings still gives the athletes more control and keeps them safe. (This is also why competitive gymnasts stick with false grip on the rings, but CrossFit athletes do kipping muscle ups with regular grip. Gymnasts need false grip for stability throughout the entire routine, whereas CrossFitters are only doing one movement and can drop whenever they need.)
Remember how much easier single muscle ups are compared to stringed sets? It’s because you start from a dead hang, with still rings, and you have all the control. Once you start stringing together reps and flailing the rings around, physics gets involved and control becomes much more difficult.
Also take note of the straight body handstands that appear in all Olympic ring routines. This is the body shape that Dave Castro and Greg Glassman likely had in mind when they programed ring handstand pushups at the 2016 CrossFit Games. All that talk about requiring the feet to “move up and down” for a good rep really just meant that the element should be completed with a straight, unbroken body position. The feet would naturally move up and down if the athlete wasn’t arching like crazy.
Of course, I’m talking about people who have spent their entire lives dedicated to this one particular sport. A few of the athletes in Rio are even rings specialists, like Dutch athlete Yuri Van Gelder. If you spent your entire life solely working on the rings, what could you accomplish?
UPDATE: As of Monday evening, August 8, Van Gelder was sent home after leaving the Olympic village to go out drinking, and will therefore not participate in the still rings event finals.
Featured Image: Yuri Van Gelder (@yurivangelder)