The Iron Cross is a notorious and iconic strength hold performed on gymnastics rings.
- Primary Muscle: Shoulders
- Secondary Muscle(s): Biceps, Forearms, Back, Chest
- Difficulty: Elite
- Also known as: Crucifix
- Equipment: Rings
View Iron Cross guide
How to do the Iron Cross
- Begin in the support position with the rings turned out and elbows tucked in close to your body.
- Roll your shoulders forward as you slowly lower your body to the cross position.
- Whilst lowering the body pull down on the rings, and in towards the body to produce great tension and control the descent.
- Stop the movement when you reach the position where arms are almost perpendicular to the body.
- Hold the position and return to the start of the exercise.
- Keep the body "tight" throughout the exercise and engage your glutes and abs.
- Keep the wrists and arms straight and maintain a neutral head position.
- Rolling your shoulders is an important technique as it restricts the shoulder range of motion and provides additional support during the exercise.
- If your lats are stronger than your shoulders, rather than rolling the shoulders forward in step two above you can try pulling the shoulders back whilst strongly contracting the lats during the movement to the cross position.
Iron cross guide
The iron cross is a static strength exercise and a superb display of bodily control and strength. It's an impressive exercise to witness and is one of the most recognisable gymnastics rings exercises.
The iron cross is also a very difficult exercise for the non-gymnast and takes dedicated training to acheive, but isn't beyond the means of the recreational athlete. To add some perspective to this, on the gymnastics skills scale (A - E, A being the easiest skills) the iron cross is measured as a B skill.
The exercise challenges almost the entire upper body at one time, requiring immense coordinated effort to maintain the hold and control the descent.
Learning the iron cross
The iron cross is a difficult exercise for the beginner creating immense stress on the elbow and shoulder joints in an extended, straight-arm position. It may seem almost unachievable when just starting out but with dedicated and focused training to develop the required strength it's highly possible and a very rewarding exercise.
The key to the iron cross is approaching the exercise in a patient, safe and progressive manner.
Band assisted iron cross
When first learning the skill the band assisted iron cross is an effective way of working up to the exercise unassisted. Try using resistance bands for support to help carry some of your body weight.
Simply attach the band to the rings using the choke technique (threading the band back through itself) and stepping a foot into each band as they hang down whilst in the support position. Simply lower your body down into a cross, hold briefly and move back to the starting position. The resistance of the bands will make the iron cross easier to hold but you must ensure that the amount of resistance applied keeps the exercise challenging yet achievable.
To control the amount of resistance you can use a larger / smaller resistance band, multiple bands at one time, or shorten the length of the band used.
Cross dips are a good starting point when training for the iron cross. The exercise will help build the required strength and allow you to practice your technique.
Assume the support position on a set of rings, (your feet can be rested on a platform / bench for additional support). Keep your arms straight and slowly push the rings out to the side, dipping the body down to an iron cross like position and then move back to the starting position. As you get stronger you will be able to lower yourself further down.
Safety and iron cross form
The iron cross is a straight-arm exercise that requires patience to develop so as not to place undue strain on the elbow or shoulder joint.
If you're feeling overly painful joints this is usually due to over training, or training with too much resistance, and/or improper form.
If developing strength for the iron cross through resistance training with weights or dumbells it's wise to invest in fractional plates to make micro-adjustments to the resistance as standard weight plates will most likely jump in too high increments.
Always consult your GP before undertaking any form of weight loss, fitness or exercise