Iron cross gymastics exercise progression


Full guide from beginner to gymnast

In this guide, I will be walking you through each step on how to iron cross from the absolute beginning, to finally mastering the iron cross exercise.

I will show you how to build up the Iron cross gymastics exercise 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 cool and you’ve got to be 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. Personally, I’ve endured many injuries, especially the bicep tendon, which is very annoying if you want to progress in the cross. 

Understand that with the iron cross, your bicep must stretch 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 it’s recommended to not jump up and just try the exercise for fun. It’s a lot about developing the muscle- and tendon strength/resistance by doing specific exercises.

Getting the central nervous system used to the pattern of the iron cross is essential. So in order to learn how to perform the iron cross, I’ve developed a step by step tutorial for you for the beginner and those of you that are more advanced.

This is something you can do in the gym, outside or in the gymnastic hall. That’s what makes it fun. 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 and I want to share it with you.

  • First, you have to understand the body position of the iron cross
  • Note that:

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. 

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.
  • How to progress – STRENGTH TRAINING principles

A lot of training out there focusses on an insane amount of repetitions. 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.  This is good for getting used to the iron cross position but it doesn’t build the specific strength.

The iron cross involves a lot of specific strength. The stability and the right positioning of your body is something can do quite quickly. So the specific strength and pressure on your tendons/joints is the factor that you have to build out and focus on the most.


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 in the gym for a longer period of time and put the main focus on higher reps to train for hypertrophy (bigger muscles).

This is not necessarily something you want if you want to master the iron cross. 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 does involve a lot of strength training.

The main reason though that people struggle to gain muscle is that they are focussed on pumping up the muscles. Look at the way gymnasts look. Bigger biceps, shoulders and defined abs. They are very strong with low amounts of body fat and the right muscle proportion. 

Note that gymnasts do not necessarily train a lot with weights, but mostly 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 muscle gain: you can do some volume work after this.

So the main takeaway here is: focus on strength and you will gain muscle faster than you probably did 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 drop in performance. You need to rest at least 2-3 minutes between sets, otherwise you will be fatigued quite soon. The resting between sets is a vital part for an efficient workout.

  • How to gain strength?
  • 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, a way to do it would would be to 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 great and if all the other elements are in place (food, rest, etc.) you can see progress literally every workout.

This is the same principle I use 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 let’s move to the progressions.
  • Iron cross progression

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 at first) 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 to get right in the beginning. 

Step 1

If you are a complete beginner and you have no experiencewith 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. 

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​. Elbows should be fully locked out.

You will notice, the more often you do this, the better you will become at it. 

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. 

Step 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 exercise bike bars first. You should be pumping out 12-15 with ease on the bar.

If you can do about 8-10 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 stage.

Step 3:

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.

Do this exercise until you can do 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 focus on correcting it to full extension. This will save you a lot of trouble.

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 done 3 x 6 again and progress to the next.

Step 4:

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.

Step 5:

Time to get up on those rings. Hang them up, 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. Elastics are great for this exercise. 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. 

If you’re looking to get these elastics, try these. They’re the ones I use and get you to the iron cross eventually. These are great cause they offer a variety from strong resistance to barely any resistance, which is great for progression.

Step 7:

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

Final step:

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.