Iron Cross Gymnastics Exercise Guide – Ultimate Rings Workout

Man smiling while doing iron cross

The iron cross is widely recognized as the creme de la creme of gymnastics moves. It is also the ultimate display of bodily control and strength.

For non-gymnasts and novice athletes, achieving the iron cross will require dedicated training. To get you started, this iron cross gymnastics exercise guide highlights how to do the exercise, how to train for it, and the benefits of it all.

So without further ado, here is everything you need to know about the iron cross—the perfect addition to any advanced calisthenics shoulder workout.

What is an Iron Cross

The iron cross is a static strength exercise commonly seen in gymnastics. It involves suspending oneself upright with the arms extended laterally between two gymnastic or calisthenics rings.

When successfully executed, the positioning of the body will resemble a cross or crucifix, hence the exercise’s name.

Set of gymnast rings

3 Iron Cross Exercise Benefits

Performing and training for the iron cross has several benefits. Some of the most notable are detailed below.

Works multiple muscle groups

Like many other advanced calisthenic exercises, the iron cross works multiple muscle groups. The primary and secondary muscles involved in performing the movement include:

  • Shoulders — the majority of the stress falls on the posterior and anterior deltoid.
  • Back — the iron cross works the latissimus dorsi and lower back muscles.
  • Arms —the biceps, forearms, and triceps work to keep your arms straight.
  • Core — your core muscles need to be engaged to keep your body stable.
  • Chest — both the pectoralis major and minor are worked during the movement.
  • Glutes — your glutes need to be engaged to keep your hips up.

By performing the gymnastics iron cross, you will be able to build and strengthen these muscle groups using minimal equipment. All you need for the movement are gymnastics rings, which can be used for other exercises, including dips and dead hangs.

Helps to improve stability

Performing the iron cross requires incredible stability and strength. Without this, you will find your body shaking or swinging as you try to suspend yourself from the rings.

By doing and training for the gymnastics iron cross, you will strengthen your stabilizer muscles. These are the muscles that support your entire body.

Generally, these muscles are not directly involved in a movement—instead, they work to keep your body stable so that your primary muscles can do the work.

Strengthening the stabilizer muscles has many benefits, with some of the most notable being the prevention of body pain and reduction of injury risk.

Man doing an iron cross gymnastics exercise

It’s a versatile exercise

Like most bodyweight exercises, the iron crucifix exercise can be performed with little setup. All you need are two gymnastics rings that are properly supported.

You will find this equipment in most commercial gyms; however, it’s also easy to set up outdoors or in your own home gym.

How To Do the Gymnastics Iron Cross

The iron cross is one of the most advanced gymnastics moves. It requires exceptional strength and bodily control. Before starting your iron cross gym journey, here is everything you need to know about how to perform this exercise.

1.   Begin in the support position

The first step to doing the iron cross exercise on rings is to assume the support position. This is the fundamental starting point for ring training.

It is a static hold achieved by hoisting yourself above the ground with the two rings, keeping your arms straight and tucked in on either side of your body.

Note: Holding the support position requires good core strength, so for those looking to learn the iron cross, this is a good starting point.

2.   Slowly lower yourself

Once you feel your body is steady in the support position, begin rolling your shoulders forward to lower your body. While lowering yourself, your hands should pull down on the rings and inwards towards the body to create tension. Do so until your arms are perpendicular to your torso.

Tip: For those with stronger lat muscles, consider pulling your shoulders back while lowering yourself into the cross position. Ensure that your lats are contracted throughout the movement.

3.   Maintain the iron cross pose

The final step to performing the iron cross is to maintain the iron cross position. Remember to keep your body tight, shoulders rolled, and your core and glutes engaged. Additionally, your wrists and arms should be straight and your head in a neutral position.

After holding the position for the desired length, return to the support position.

Gymnast on rings

Iron Cross Workout Tips

While there are very few steps to doing an iron cross, the exercise is incredibly difficult to do. Most people will have to train for the movement. Here are several tips to help you achieve your first iron cross.

Train your upper body

Attaining a base level of upper-body strength is essential for performing the iron cross. Key areas you should focus on are your shoulders, back, and arm muscles. It’s also worthwhile paying special attention to your core.

At a minimum, you should have the strength to maintain the support position and complete 10 pull-ups comfortably.

Try iron cross shoulder exercise variations

The gymnastics iron cross rings exercise has several variations and progressions. Doing these will work similar muscle groups and help you develop the strength needed to complete the movement. Here are some exercises to add to your calisthenics workout routines:

  • Band-assisted iron cross
  • Dumbbell iron cross
  • Cable iron cross
  • Cross dips
  • Iron cross stretch
Man using gym rings in gym

Eat a healthy diet

The iron cross involves mastering your own bodyweight. As such, it helps to have a good strength-to-mass ratio. Eating a healthy diet while doing consistent strength and gymnastics work will help you along your iron cross journey.

Start Your Iron Cross Calisthenics Training

Now that you know what’s an iron cross and everything that the exercise entails, it’s time to start practicing. Get a set of gymnastic rings and begin learning the movement, starting with the support position.

By actively training for the movement, you’ll achieve more than just the iron cross. You’re sure to notice developments in your upper body, as well as improvements in your strength.

For more advanced calisthenics exercises, check out this guide on the human flag.

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