Muscle ups, whether done on rings or a bar, are a challenging body weight exercise that few people are able to do. You may have seen Crossfit athletes on TV or YouTube doing muscle ups and thought it would be a cool thing to try, only to find it impossible to haul your butt up over the bar – that was certainly the case for me! After months of effort and perusing YouTube I finally succeeded and am currently up to 10 reps. Here are my five tips to make the road easier for you. If you’re short on time, just jump to my 2 minute video below.
Tip 1: First work up to doing 15 regular pull ups. Muscle ups require a good bit of upper body strength regardless of how efficient your technique is. Save yourself some frustration and build up a solid base of pulling strength first.
Tip 2: Work the top half of your pull ups harder. Do some extra sets of pull ups where you only come half way down and then pull yourself back up, driving your chin over the bar. This will strengthen your upper back muscles through the range of motion that is most crucial to doing a muscle up. For years I did heavy weighted pull ups which works primarily the bottom half (arms extended) range of motion. I got strong at those, but it didn’t translate to the ability to do a muscle up. Work the top half more.
Tip 3: Do chest to bar pull ups. Explosively pull yourself up until your lower chest or upper abs touch the bar. Here we’re working on explosive power and strengthening the upper back muscles through their full range of motion. Once you’re able to do 5-10 reps of these, achieving a muscle up is just a matter of working on transition strength and general technique.
Tip 4: Do the full muscle up movement on a pull down machine. This exercise consists of a normal lat pull down followed by a tricep push down, all in one continuous motion. Use approximately a shoulder width grip. It’s best to use a lever pull down machine (like Hammer brand) rather than a cable pull down because the cable will be in your face and get in the way as you transition to the push down. Doing this exercise will help you work the transition between the pull up and dip portions of a muscle up. The transition involves strong internal rotation of the shoulder which is the motion used when arm wrestling. Unless you are an arm wrestler, you are probably weak there. Warm up gradually and work up to as much weight as you can handle for 6-10 reps.
Tip 5: Technique! I’ve heard and read many different explanations of muscle up technique, most of which were not helpful at all. Here I’m specifically addressing muscle ups done on a bar. The way I view it, the motion a cross between a pull up and a stiff arm pullover. Keep some space between the bar and your chest at all times, and explosively pull your body up and around the bar in a semi-circular motion. If you pull yourself up in a straight line, you will end up behind the bar and will fall back down. For some extra help, as you begin the movement, raise your knees and then drop them when you are about half way up and pulling your hardest – this will give you extra momentum to get past the sticking point. If you are strong enough to do muscle ups without any leg movement, I give you major props! Once your chest is over the bar, it’s just a matter of pressing out in a dip motion to finish.
Putting it all together… the Routine:
- Muscle up movement on pull down machine – 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps
- Explosive chest to bar pull ups – 3 sets of 3-5 reps
- Muscle up attempts – give it a shot using my technique tips
- Regular pull ups – 3 sets of as many as possible. On 1-2 of them, focus on the top half.
- To finish off your upper back, do 3-5 sets of a rowing exercise (bar, cable, or machine)
Same 5 tips in video format: