Question: Jay, I’m doing one of your programs and I wanted to ask about replacing some of the exercises. I don’t have rings or a Jungle Gym XT so I was thinking about replacing the ring flyes with cable flyes, the ring dips with bench dips, the inverted face pull with a cable face pull, the ring pushups with flat dumbbell presses and I will do all of the chin up and pull up variations as well as front lever holds on a straight bar. Is this okay?
Answer: As I have repeatedly said since 1996, bodyweight exercises are an essential part of any training program and are a great compliment to squats, deadlifts and loaded carries or drags. This is due to increased muscle recruitment and neuromuscular activation that comes from moving your body through space. But while some of those basic bodyweight exercises are a nice addition, maximal tension bodyweight exercises like a handstand hold, front lever, L-sit or ring fly are irreplaceable. Anything that produces maximal tension will also produce outstanding gains in functional strength. That’s why these movements are right up there with heavy squats and deadlifts.
I write programs a certain way for a certain purpose. If you start swapping out the essential exercises the program is no longer quite as effective. Doing a lying leg curl or Butt Blaster machine is never going to produce the same training effect as a trap bar deadlift.
There is a reason why I use rings or the Jungle Gym XT in place of other options. A cable fly can never reproduce the full body tension of a ring fly. A flat dumbbell press is a fine exercise but again, it can’t reproduce the maximal tension from head to toe that you will experience when doing a suspended pushup with the proper body position and load. Not only that but the type of contraction is different and the muscles of the rotator cuff get far more stimulation with the suspended pushup.
I have no problem with you using a cable face pull. Doing this movement with your own bodyweight is more effective since more muscle groups will be activated, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Increased activation and tension are not the only reasons I prescribe these exercises. There is also the safety factor. You already have to assume some risk during your squats, deadlifts and presses. That’s fine for most people. But there is no reason that your entire program has to be made up of riskier exercises; especially if you are someone who is more genetically prone to injury. Once you get your big lifts out of the way, advanced bodyweight exercises should make up the majority of the rest of your program.
But an exercise is not safe just because it’s done with bodyweight. You need to consider some other factors. Loaded bench dips are pretty risky and will eventually wreck your shoulders when you pile on enough weight and do them enough, but ring dips are a lot safer since they allow freedom of movement and a more natural range of motion. You can also manipulate your body position to make them harder instead of always having to add external load.
I don’t recommend chin ups and pull ups on a straight bar. They’re too stressful to the wrists, elbows and shoulders. The only fixed grip I would use is an angled or neutral attachment. Rings are far superior because of the natural movement they allow and most people notice the huge difference almost immediately.
I know that several people will argue, claiming to do 200 reps of straight bar chins per week without an issue. And that’s fine. If it works for you and you love doing it keep on keeping on. Maybe your elbows will be shot one day, maybe they wont.
I say, why risk it if there are better options? One of the keys to effective training is to be able to do more work, more often while remaining in a fresher state. This may mean three workouts per week for some or six workouts per week for others. The point is to minimize the tiny little tears and injuries (which you may not even notice) you accrue on a regular basis so that you will always be at the top of your game.
So, no, rings or the Jungle Gym XT are not replaceable. If you want to do my programs, or just get the most out of your training I consider it an essential investment.
You can get rings HERE.
If you want wooden ones go HERE.
If you want to do lower body and abdominal exercises then you might want to invest in the Jungle Gym XT by clicking HERE. You can’t go wrong with either option.