In this guide, I will be walking you through each step on how to iron cross from
the absolute beginning to finally become a master of the iron cross exercise.
To build up the iron cross the fastest and safest way possible, whether you want to do it in the gym, outside or in the gymnastic hall.
The cross is a popular and highly advanced movement often seen by gymnasts. It looks damn cool and you have got to be extremely strong to master this movement.
If you want to learn how to iron cross you first have to prepare your joints for the massive stress they are going to endure. Preparation is the most important facet in mastering the iron cross exercise. I’ve endured many injuries, especially the bicep tendon which is very annoying when you want to master something but an inflamed tendon keeps you from doing so.
Understand that with the iron cross your bicep must lengthen itself to almost it’s full length. You also pronate your underarm a bit which lengthens the biceps even more. Then, you put maximal force on the muscle which makes it extremely sensitive to injuries. This is something you have to understand in order to safely progress in this movement.
So you don’t jump up and just try. It’s a lot about developing the muscle strength and tendon resistance by doing specific exercises.
Now don’t worry. I’ve got a method for you to jump into the iron cross quite quickly. Getting the central nervous system used to the pattern of the iron cross is essential. In fact, this is backed up by science. So in order to learn how to iron cross, I’ve developed a step by step tutorial for you, both beginner and the more advanced.
This is something you can do in the gym, outside or in the gymnastic hall. That’s what makes it beautiful. I love the gym and also love gymnastics so that is the reason I combined it. Though this made it hard for me to exercise in the gym. I had to develop a method for myself to make it as easy as possible to do so. So here it is. Made as simple as possible for you. If you only have access to the gym and you want to master this movement. No excuse, you can do it in the gym. And it looks damn cool too if you are into the validation stuff. You will get a lot of compliments and heads turning at you so be prepared for that.
How To Prepare Yourself
First, you have to understand the body position of the iron cross.
- The arms are fully stretched out, no flexion in the elbows. Very important. Do not progress through the movements if you can’t do the exercise without proper form. Form, is extremely important considering the cross. The devil’s in the details.
- Shoulders are open, elbows are pointing down. This is because this way you gain more strength just by the positioning of your joints. You lock out your arms with gives you a little bit more passive strength.
- Wrists straight. It often happens, even with experienced gymnasts, they over-grip the rings by flexing the wrists. Officially this would cost you points in gymnastics. Now this is something you can decide your own.
This is the basic position of the iron cross.
What can you do to get the joints used to this and have the flexibility to achieve this?
- Stretch the shoulders.
Sit on the floor, put your arms behind you as close to each other as possible and then move your butt to the front so you stretch your shoulders. Do this 3 sets 12-15 seconds.
- Find a bar or something you can put your arm on and take on the position of the iron cross. Get used to the movement without any resistance on it. By doing this over and over again, your central nervous system will pick up this pattern and get used to this. Only by this, you already increase your strength. This is the main component of how strength training works. Very important one.
Do these 2 things first to prepare yourself ideally 3-4 times a week.
The Principle For Progression – Strength Training
A lot of training out there focusses on an insanely amount of repetition. If you watch a video on YouTube they will often tell you that you need to do 20 – 50 or even 100 repetitions in something to progress to the next one. Why? You tell me. You only train endurance and coordination this way. This has nothing to do with strength.
The iron cross is next to preparation and stability, pure strength. Now stability and the right positioning of your body is something you will master quite quickly. So the strength is the factor that is the most important if you want to master the iron cross.
Let’s take a look on how we build strength. According to science, you need to do low amounts of repetitions in order to establish pure strength. If you look at powerlifters in the weight training room they mainly focus on low repetitions and short and efficient workouts. Compare these with bodybuilders. They are longer in the gym and put the focus on higher reps to ‘pump up’ muscles.
This is not something you want if you want to master the iron cross. Sure you can do some volume work after the ‘main training’ to gain some size and maximize muscle growth. But the focus should be on the iron cross first and this is pure strength training.
The main reason though that people struggle to gain muscle is that they are focussed on pumping up the muscle. Look at the way gymnasts look. Huge biceps, shoulders and chiselled abs. They are insanely strong with low amounts of body fat and the right muscle proportion. This is what gives them the buff look.
Note that gymnasts barely train with weights. All body weight movements. It’s because they have to gain the strength in order to exercise those movements like the planche, iron cross, Maltese etc. With strength comes muscle. To maximize this muscle again: you can do some volume work after this.
So the main takeaway here is: focus on strength and you will gain muscle faster than ever before with bodyweight training.
The key to progress in your workouts:
Regarding the iron cross training you only perform 3 -5 sets and that’s it. You will be able to maintain maximum intensity with barely any performance drop-off. You need to rest at least 2-3 minutes between sets otherwise, your fatigue will be drained like crazy. The rest is a vital part for an efficient workout.
The Strength Principle:
So you want to gain strength. How do you do it?
With each exercise you do you will focus on repetition just like the weights. Let’s take weight training as an example. To progress in the shoulder press, you would optimally train in the 4-6 rep range. You would need to do 3 sets of the same weight (let’s take 30kg) between 4 – 6 repetitions. In the first training, you would do 5,5,4 reps. That’s great. The next training you would pick the same weight and max it out, now you reach 6,6,6.
Now you’ve reached the 6 for 3 repetitions with the same weight it’s time to move up the weight to 32kg. Repeat the process until you can stack the weight again to 34kg and so on.
This method works like crazy and you can see progress literally every workout.
This is the same principle we put to use here in the iron cross training. With every progression you do, see it as if you are adding weight to the bar and staying between the 4-6 rep range. This way you will see progression every workout and you do it in a safe way.
Now enough of the talk, let’s move to the progressions.
A perfect and safe way to start out if you are in a gym is to use the cable machines. Fully take on the form of the iron cross and progress from there. Ideally, you would start out this way but of course, it’s not essential if you don’t have access to one.
The way to do it is to hang the pulleys all the way up the top. Set the weight (not too heavy obviously) and start to feel how it feels. Progress this exercise and keep your arms straight all the time during the exercise. The form is essential. I will be hammering on this a few times throughout this guide because it is so important.
Beginner level 1:
Now if you are a complete beginner and you have no experience what so ever with the rings, start here. If you are more advanced already you can skip this phase and proceed to the next movements.
In order to perform an iron cross, you need to be in control of the rings first, period. There’s no way around this.
Practice this by hanging the rings about waist height and try to carefully lean on them first. Lift your feet off the ground and try to hold yourself as still as possible for about 5 – 10 seconds. Focus on straight arms. In the beginning, this will be quite hard. The more often you do this, the better it will be. Master this as soon as possible. Elbows fully locked out.
You will notice, the more often you do this, the better you will become at it. This will go quite fast.
After you can hold yourself up there for about 20-30 seconds and you feel you are stable (not going anywhere with your hands) you can try to swing your upper body for a bit. Move your upper body back and forwards slowly while maintaining stability on the rings. I do want to emphasize on the following point: hold your arms straight at all time. Elbows locked.
Beginner level 2:
Once you’ve mastered the stability on the rings you can try some dips on the rings. If you can’t do any dips at all yet, do them on regular bars first. You should be pumping out 12-15 with ease on the bar.
If you can do about 6-8 dips on the rings you can move to the next progression. If you want you can do Russian dips. With your elbows out. This puts some more stress on your chest and prepares you for the next stages.
Beginner level 3:
Now like I said, in the beginning, we are going to focus on gaining the actual strength quickly by doing the movement as fast as possible but yet as safe as possible. So here we will be going into the position of the cross already but with support obviously.
Put your arms through the TRX cables or the rings so you have support around your elbows. You can put them as high as you like, though, make sure it’s not too uncomfortable. Now elevate your feet onto a support block. This can be a bench or a table or whatever. As long as your feet are off the ground so you can move downwards with your upper body.
Now you do this exercise until you master 3 sets of 6 reps. You can increase the load of this exercise by putting the support a bit towards your wrists so more strength is required.
Note: You only progress with the right form. Even a slight bend in the elbow is incorrect and you should retrain. Make sure to stick with the correct form to save yourself a lot of trouble (injuries and retraining).
Intermediate level 1:
Once you have mastered this exercise you want to do the above with only the rings or TRX cables but yet keep support on the bench with your feet. Try moving your feet all the way on the bench so the exercise becomes lighter. Because now you are going to do the exercise with the rings in your hands, you stress the tendons more. For this reason, caution is required. So start off with your feet supported a lot. Ideally under your hamstrings/knee pits. This way you have a lot of support and the exercise is easy to do.
Now you go down until you are in the position of the cross. Push yourself back up and stick with the 4 – 6 range.
Progress this exercise until you are leaning only on your toes on the bench. If you go a little bit further every time (increasing the load, just like the weight training example), you become stronger in this movement.
Do this until you’ve masters 3 x 6 again and progress to the next.
Intermediate level 2:
Now once you can do this effectively with support of your feet on the bench, try to let go of 1 foot and do the same. Proceed until you can effectively do 3 x 6 reps.
Intermediate level 3:
Now, it’s time to get up on those rings! Hang them up so you can go into the cross. Put your arms through the cables so you support your elbows and do the movement in the rep ranges like stated above. If this is still too hard for you, you can grab elastics. I love elastics. This is the perfect method to train properly and is the same as weight training as you can slowly increase the load but still safely perform the exercise.
Note: If any exercise is too hard you can always make use of the elastics to build it up. I recommend using different colours (different resistance strength) in order to progress your way up. This is a perfect way to systematically move your way up the chain. You can see progression much better this way. It’s not just guesswork, you actually know what you are doing.
Advanced level 1:
Awesome if you made it this far already. Let me tell you that if you came here, you are very close to mastering the iron cross. This time, you are going to use the elastics and use the regular grip for the cross. Make sure to grab the right resistance that allows you to do 4 – 6 reps. Move your way up by lowering the resistance. For example, you start out with black, blue and green. Once you are able to do 3 x 6 repetitions, you move up by removing the green one and work it again.
This way you slowly start to build your strength for the iron cross in a safe way. Ultimately you will be able to only use 1 elastic.
Advanced level 2:
Once you are at the 1 elastic level and you built up your way, it’s time to go into a different style of training.
This time, you will hold for 5 seconds and let yourself drop down. Get the lightest resistance you can get and repeat it for 3 times
Now you should be able to safely perform the iron cross. Time to say goodbye to the elastics and fully perform the cross. If you still struggle with this one try to add the elastics again and move your way up progressively with this training philosophy in mind.
Hope this article helped you out in achieving your goal. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to leave one below and I’ll reply back to you soon.
Talk to you soon,
Founder of Masters Of Bodyweight