How to do iron cross calisthenics | form & progressions

In this article, you will learn what the iron cross is, its proper form, and its progressions

What is iron cross calisthenics?

The iron cross is the most iconic skill on the gymnastics rings. That consists of holding a static position in which the body is suspended in an upright position and the arms are extended to the sides, forming the shape of the Christian cross.


The iron cross is one of the more demanding calisthenics skills. Before you get down to it make sure you’re strong enough so won’t injure yourself. The prerequisites for the iron cross that I recommend are:

Rings turned out hold

In order to do anything on rings, the most important thing is that we’re comfortable with them. Being able to do 3 sets of 45-60 seconds of rings turned out hold is a good foundation to work on.

Bulgarian ring dips

Bulgarian ring dips are a combination of regular ring dips and RTO. 15 reps of these will ensure that you have the needed strength to start with the iron cross.

Muscles worked during the iron cross gymnastics

Iron cross works most of the muscles in our body.

The primary muscles worked in the iron cross are:

pectoralis minor
biceps brachii
triceps brachii

Additional secondary muscles worked include:

core muscles
serratus anterior

Iron cross calisthenics proper form

Proper form is the most important aspect while learning any calisthenics skill. By starting to learn with the correct form you will get better results. When the movement is performed correctly you will progress faster, it will be easier and that can help you prevent injury.

  • Straight arms – elbows fully locked
  • Scapula depression
  • Neutral scapula position

With a retracted scapula, the work is done by the back and that is the most difficult option. With a protracted scapula, the chest works the most. It’s recommended to have a neutral scapula position so that you engage back and chest muscles and the exercise is much easier. But all the positions are ok and it’s up to you which one you prefer.

Iron cross progressions

These 2 progressions will help you master the iron cross calisthenics

Maltese dumbbell presses

Maltese is another straight arms calisthenics skill and maltese dumbbell presses are a great exercise to strengthen the muscles involved in the iron cross

You can use a bench or something else to keep your body elevated during the exercise to gain some space and work with a greater range of motion.

Lie on the bench facing upwards, grab dumbells to your hands, raise your legs, hold a hollow body position and raise your straight arms inwards, so the dumbbells are above your chest

Start with small weights – 2 – 4kg for each dumbbell. Increase the weight once you can do 15 repetitions

Band assisted iron cross

Training with band assistance is great because the movement is identical to that of a full iron cross hold, but it requires significantly less strength.

Just attach the band to both rings and stretch the band with your feet


Few tips to make it easier for you to learn the iron cross

Record yourself

Record yourself and watch back to monitor your form. By watching the video you can see exactly from the side what your form looks like and what else needs to be improved

False grip

The false grip consists of wrapping your hands around the bar, which shortens the lever and ROM (Range Of Motion). That makes the exercise much easier and it will be essential if you’re just starting with the iron cross.

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