So You Want To Learn The Iron Cross

The iron cross is an advanced calisthenics skill performed on gymnastics rings that requires tremendous upper-body strength, particularly in the shoulders. Learning how to perform the iron cross requires patience, consistent training, and proper form. It often takes many months to several years for athletes to unlock the iron cross. This skill is often the long-term goal of any intermediate calisthenics athletes.

The iron cross places heavy strain on the chest, shoulders, biceps, and forearms.

Iron Cross Progression Prerequisites

While not mandatory we recommend first building up your fitness and strength levels to be able to perform the following exercises before attempting these iron cross progressions.

  • 20 Wide Pull Ups
  • 10 Skin The Cat
  • 10 Elbow Dips
  • 1 Minute Ring Support Hold

You can find all these exercises in our beginner calisthenics training guides.

Level 1: Ring Support Hold

The ring support hold is the top part of a ring dip. Your arms will be straight to your side and will be pushing yourself up so your head is high above your shoulders. Aim to hold this position for a minute.

Typical Routine: 3 sets of 1 minute

Level 2: Extra Wide Pull Ups

Extra wide pull ups can help you build the strength in your shoulders to hold yourself up. Pausing at the top of an extra wide pull up will help develop the pulling strength needed to keep your arms level with your shoulders so they do not flair upward above your head. The range of motion for these pull ups is drastically less than a regular pull up but places a might higher strain on your shoulders and upper back.

Typical Routine: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Level 3: Bulgarian Ring Dips

Bulgarian ring dips are the next step to learning the iron cross. This dip variation has your arms outward away from your body and elbows pointed up toward the sky. Keeping your hands far away from your hips proceed to do dips keeping your elbows pointed upward. This engages the muscles in your shoulders and chest while decreasing the strain in your triceps.

Typical Routine: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Level 4: Assisted Iron Cross

Lower your gymnastics rings closer to the ground so your feet can touch the ground and help push yourself up lightening the load of your body weight on your shoulders. The closer you place the rings to the ground the easier this will be. As you progress and gain the strength needed for the iron cross you can raise your gymnastics rings and use less assistance from your legs on the ground.

Level 5: Strap Assisted Iron Cross

The strap-assisted iron cross uses the straps of your rings as assistance when learning the iron cross. This makes it so your forearms are supported by the rings themself giving you more surface area reducing the stress on your wrists and shoulders. Holding the iron cross with the assistance of the straps on your rings will build the strength needed overtime to learn the full iron cross.

Typical Routine: 3 sets of 30 seconds

Level 6: Full Iron Cross

Congratulations on learning the iron cross. The pinnacle of shoulder exercises and an extreme rarity to see in the calisthenics world. Let’s go over this exercise 1 more time to ensure you have proper form. Pull yourself up into the ring support hold and slowly raise your arms until they are level with your shoulders. When done right you will make a T pose with your body suspended in the air. As for your grip on the rings, you should be holding them with a deep false grip and your feet should be pointed straight at the ground.

After learning the iron cross you’ve become a true master of your own body weight. Why not put together your own freestyle calisthenics routine with your amazing strength.