The contender had 60 seconds to negotiate a grid of gymnastics rings to get to a platform on the other side of the course, while trying to avoid a Gladiator who was swinging against them.
Two standing rules were in place: the Gladiator could not hit the contestant above the shoulders or use their uniform to pull them off, or they would be disqualified. The contender and the Gladiator also had to make an effort to go forward and could not stay in one place for longer than 10 seconds unless in contact with each other or stuck on one ring, or else they would be disqualified.
If a contender managed to swing all the way to the opposite platform, they earned 10 points (they must be on the platform without holding any rings, or it doesn't count). 5 points could be earned for a draw or a disqualification of the Gladiator (a delayed penalty; the referee would announce it after the game, or either a referee or game judge would raise his hand, ice hockey-style, to announce a delayed penalty, which Mike Adamle would announce during the game). A rule was added after the first few playings, where a few contenders were content not to swing out very far from their platform and avoid contact with the Gladiator. A blue set of rings was placed in the first several rows in front of the contenders' platform, and failure to advance past these rings was treated as a disqualification and awarded the contender no points. At the same time, a set of red rings were placed in front of the Gladiator's platform, and if a contender managed to advance to this area when time expired 7 points were awarded. This rule, however, was discarded following Hang Tough's first season. Furthermore, if a player would have made it to the opposite platform but was impeded by a cameraman (which happened in at least one situation), the official would award an automatic win on account of cameraman's interference.
The revival uses similar rules, but losers splash into the water instead of a crash pad. The first season of the revival featured a very short Hang Tough course, but the second season features a much longer course that is similar in length to the original run of the show.