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Muscle-up Training Tutorial: The Missing Workout Manual for Your First Bar Muscle-up

A muscle up training tutorial has always been something that I couldn’t find online. At least not something that would finally teach me how to do a proper bar muscle up. So finally this summer I got serious about training the muscle-up, among a few other exercises. This article is the result of my experience.

So the question is: why should you bother with the muscle up? Well, it is a complete upper body in itself – the only thing you need is a bar. Getting good at the muscle up will give you an awesome physique. I am convinced that the men with the best upper bodies are the ones that are freaky strong at bar or gymnastic type training.

Besides, mastering this bad boy is plain old fun. Fact is, very few people who workout will come close to doing the muscle up. It’s a shame really.

So What Exactly is the Muscle-Up


Well this is a complex move where you pull yourself up from a hanging position. But instead of pulling to your chin, throat or upper chest, you actually pull as low as possible and flick your arms at the top of the move as you end up in the low position of dip. Then you pushup.

Easier said than done. Most people will attempt a pull-up and then try to transition on top of the move. That’s NOT how it’s done.


The secret of muscle-up is that there is also a horizontal movement in addition to the vertical movement. Even the strongest guys use at least some kind of horizontal movement.So the muscle-up really consists of three parts.

  1. Basic pull-up strength . First you need a basic pull-up strength level from either doing weighted pull-ups or bodyweight ones. Either way you need roughly 15 pullups to start aiming for a muscle up.
  2. Master the swing. This is the tricky part. With the muscle up you hang from a bar and let your body swing freely forward. At the top of the swing when your body is as far away from the bar as possible, you vigorously pull up to your chest.
  3. Explode to the sternum. This is the key to the move. In fact you could master the muscle up just by either getting freaky strong at weighted pull-ups or getting real good – meaning doing 10+ reps, on the sternum pull-up.

Muscle Up-Transition

Most people quote the muscle-up transition as their biggest difficulty in doing muscle ups. But the muscle-up transition is actually a misnomer. You cannot do a pull-up and somehow transition to a dip at the top. When you reach the top of a pull-up, it is already too late to do a muscle-up. It is a fundamentally different, more complex move:


  • Swing. So the basis of the muscle up is the swinging of the body from behind to in front of the bar. This is what makes the muscle up so elusive as it is a complex, 3D move, similar to the Olympic weightlifting moves, but in reverse.
  • Pull-up. Thus you grab the bar from behind it or jump up. You then let your body swing freely and when it is at the farthest/highest point you pull-up as explosively as you can to your chest.
  • Kip. From the explosiveness of the pull-up, your body will naturally integrate your lower body. This is called a kip from some coaches. So the idea is that your body will bend at the hips. Instead of hanging straight down your legs will swing up forward. The stronger you are, the less you will swing your legs up. Note however that even super strong athletes move at least somewhat the legs. To explain why lifting the legs up helps you, try visualize running up stairs. When you swing your arms up while climbing, the momentum helps you up. Same thing here, except with the legs.
  • Transition. So the better you are at pull-ups, the less of an actual transition there will be. Master the sternum pull-up to pull as low on your chest as possible. But for starters, after the vigorous pull, you flick your arms and end up on top of the bar.
  • Dip. Basic dipping strength, from training the dip on the parallel bars, will be sufficient to pushup in the final phase. Note that a single dip on top of a bar is way harder than one on the dip station.
  • Lose the excess weight. I thing this one is obvious, but it bears repeating. Find a way to eat less so you don’t have excess fat on you. Even 2lbs extra make it significantly harder to do your first muscle up. For me personally Eat Stop Eat is the easiest diet plan that allows me to control my weight.

Muscle-up Training Video

Here is a video we shot recently showing the muscle up and some tips. I had to do it on a soccer goal cause the pull-up bar was drowned by a recent rain storm. This made it more challenging, but the cool thing is that you get to see the exaggerated swing forward and the timing.

Your First Muscle-Up Workout

  • Pull-up strength foundation. However you choose to form your workout, you need to train the pull-up hard and get to 15+ pull-ups. Again, the easiest way is with weighted pull-ups.
  • Sternum pull-ups. So once you master the pull-up, focus on getting really good at the sternum pull-up. This means exploding to your chest, not just your chin. The way to do it is to pull your elbows back when doing pull-ups.
  • Sequential pull-ups. This pull-up variation will help with the transition/flicking of the arms.
  • Swinging and timing. The trick here is to master the timing – when to pull-up: at the top of the swing.
  • Volume is king. As with all the other complex moves – the more you practice, the better. Stay away from injuries by resting at least one day per week and maybe completely resting for a week every few weeks.
  • Don’t train to failure! Failure training fries your CNS, the central nervous system. As a result you are forced to prematurely end your workout. Instead, avoid forced reps and do more total reps per session

Other Muscle-up Training Resources

Finally, here’s another video I find online. This one is really comprehensive and also does a great job of explaining the role of the kick with your legs.


Tags:
muscle up,MUSCLE UPS,how to do a muscle up,muscle up tutorial,bar muscle up,muscle up exercise,muscle up technique,how to muscle up,muscle up workout,muscle up training program

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37 Comments - Share Are Your Thoughts

  1. Hey
    Another cool training manoeuvre that’s seems obvious but not a lot of people do.
    I haven’t tried it but looks hard.
    It actually might help me I have a slight strain in my right forearm which makes slow static pull ups hurt ie. starting from a dead hang.
    SInce there is some movement in the frontal swing it might help me do the exercise and be able to complete a few reps. Which I can’t now
    Raymond

  2. Yavor

    Raymond, where does it hurt? Is the injury near the elbow? Yuo might have a strength imbalance. If this is the case what will help is getting the wrist EXTENSORS stronger.

    Yavor

  3. Wow, I never though of how muscle ups are basically bodyweight O-lifts, but reversed. Definitely makes this movement a Holy Grail, something everyone should learn to do to efficiently build strength.

  4. Yavor,

    Nice video! You look like a street soccer pro doing that workout on the soccer goal!

    Alykhan

  5. Yavor

    Darrin,

    yeah the muscle-up is like a hang power clean and press in reverse. The sternum pull-up is like a hang high pull in reverse, etc.. Fascinating stuff!

    Alykhan,

    haha! You being a soccer player, it is the goal that caught you attention. Soccer is fantastic for conditioning, isn’t it?

    Thanks for stopping by guys,

    Yavor

  6. Yavor,

    Nice videos. I am working on the muscle up but it might take a little time to get. Have you tried these on rings? Those are tough too!

    David

  7. Yavor

    David,

    if you’ve got the strength base (around 15 pulups) it will come faster than you think once you learn the technique. As for rings – I personally don’t own a set but recentl;y tried suspension training with a rope looped around the bar. I tried pushups, rows, flies, etc. It kicked my butt!

    Yavor

  8. Hey Yavor,

    Bar work is a great way to train. Gymnastic type training is one of the most enjoyable ways to train the upper body.

    Nice Muscle-Up video.

    Best – Mike

  9. Yavor,
    Great job explaining how to perform a muscle up. How do you generally incorporate these in your training? They’re very difficult so I assume you can only do 3-5 at a time. Do you just perform a lot of sets or continue to practice the other moves you mentioned so that you can increase volume?
    Dave

  10. Yavor

    Mike,

    You are right, it really is fun to train outdoors with gymnastic or bodyweight movements. You’ve got a great site by the way and you are in amazing shape yourself. Guys like you and Raymond from Zen My Fitness are fantastic role models for being in shape in your 40’s and beyond. Keep it up man!

    Dave,

    Here’s what I do. First, muscle-ups are very sensitive to your bodyweight. So I try to not over eat before a workout. I also do them first thing in the workout. So I do a few sets of 1-3 reps and then do sternum pull-ups. Lately I also started doing the maximum strength training towards a one-arm pullup with the Uneven Pull-ups (here you grab the bar with one hand and then grab your wrist with the other hand.) from Combat Conditioning – I mentioned the progression at the end of the post on pull-ups. So I basically do a pull day, then a push day (dips, pushups, handstand pushups, etc), then rest…

    Cheers guys

    Yavor

  11. Jack

    Excellent job! Well done! Quick question what is the name of the of the site for you last tutorial video?

    thank
    J

  12. Jack

    I just read through all 3 series. Again, what a very impressive job you did on the bar MU. Hope you do more tutorials on other movements that are problematic like the kip up, butterfly kipping pull up and ring muscle ups.

    Congrats to you and your fine work!

    Jackson

  13. Yavor

    Jackson, I will look into these movements. Though I don’t have access to rings right now. But I don’t understand this question:

    “what is the name of the of the site for you last tutorial video?”

  14. Jack

    I just wanted to find the name of the site for the last video you posted. I found it thanks!

  15. Very good and thorough step by step, Yavor. Your recommendation to avoid training to failure isn’t something that I have heard a lot about. I am going to have to look into this. …Sounds interesting.

  16. Yavor

    Jack,

    I found the video on YouTube – it is from a very cool guy that does parkour. He did a really great job with it.

    Bryan,

    The idea is to avoid failure on complex moves. The more complex the move is, the more you should stay away from failure and do only nice clean reps. Here’s why: When you train to failure only one of the muscles involved ion the move gives out. They don’t all fail at the same time. So if you are doing pull-ups to failure, your grip or arms may fail first. But by “frying” your grip, you make it impossible to do more sets this day.

    On the other hand, when you avoid failure, you will be able to do more total sets for all of the muscles involved in the move in the workout. Hope it makes sense…

    Another reason is that when one of the muscle groups on complex moves fails, and you continue the move – you risk injury as the stabilizers of the move(for example rotator cuff on dips and benches) shut off…

    Cheers guys,

    Yavor

  17. Yavor,

    What a great guide. I kinda understand now why my previous attempts were so lacking in getting the end result. I was like “how can I do pull-ups for 10 reps with and extra 18.5kg and yet not even get close to doing a muscle up”. Even more frustratingly I did muscle ups with ease on the side of the pool while swimming. Try swimming a length, 5 muscle ups and swimming back, I bet you wont be afloat for long! I wasn’t :P

    Steve

  18. Yavor,
    Another great post! I like your video. After you do the muscle up, you just jump down and walk away, with a look like “whatever”! That was cool! I also have done some suspension training with a rope recently, it kicked my butt, too. I really liked doing some of the rope stuff and plan on doing some more now that I finished Visual Impact. -Kelly

  19. Great Work!

    Love the video and how you show the movements. Gives me a better understanding of the movements and how our body works together.

  20. Thanks again for the help with my Military Press numbers! I can’t wait to tackle the muscle up, and should have no problem once I practice the technique in your videos.

    Cheers,
    Jordan

  21. Great Vid! I tried doing these about a week ago and was disappointed that I couldnt even get myself all the way up once. however on the second day I got up and 2 days ago I got up 2 times.. Like a turtle I’ll make it but I guess I have more muscles to build to get me there…

  22. Yavor

    Steve,

    Actually you are strong enough for the muscle-up. Just make sure to use the tips here (i.e. move forwards-backwards and pull to the chest). That swimming workout sounds bad ass!

    Kelly,

    yeah man, rope training is HARD. Here in my neighborhood the boys created a DIY suspension system with a climbers rope. I can do only a few dips with it. Very tough on the stabilizers!

    Bryan,

    Glad the vids help. I am fascinated by the way our bodies work!

    Jordan,

    hey no problem! Just get stronger on pull-ups and you will master the muscle-up in no time. Much easier than what you already did (i.e. losing a huge amount of weight!)

    Alejandro,

    Congrats man. My PR is 3 but with some training we should be hitting the teens soon! The great thing is that you are lean, without excess weight, so you only need to gain some more strength and practice your timing.

    Thanks for stopping by guys,

    Yavor

  23. Paolo Fosterini

    Yavor

    Your explanation is very useful. I have managed 20+ pulls and dips are easy but I just could not get my head round the muscle up technique, every time I tried i would fail or hurt myself.

    I read your article, went to the gym, tried the sequential version which surprisingly i found quite easy on both sides.

    With this technique in my head i then went for the full muscle up with swing and managed it without too much trouble first time!

    I tried several more times and nailed it every time.

    Thanks for the help, my next goal is to be able to do proper sets of 5-6. Do you have any tips on how to lower yourself back down/control the swing and transition into the next rep?

  24. Yavor

    Paolo, seems like you are stronger than me so you will soon be doing very clean muscle ups for reps. Re: your question – lower yourself, but not too much under control. Just let your body get down naturally. It will swing forward from the momentum. So all you gotta do is do the next rep:

    -do the first muscle up.
    -on top of the bar descend to the low dip position
    -slide down and let your legs go naturally forward
    -at the top of the swing forward pull hard to the chest
    -when the upper arms are parallel to the ground (arm angle is 90 degrees) kick up with your knees, if necessary.
    - you will find yourself on top of the bar, having completed a 2nd muscle-up

    Cheers man,

    Yavor

  25. Paolo Fosterini

    Got 3 reps today, before reading this, so hopefully i will be able to get a couple more bearing this in mind.

    Keep up the good work, thanks again!

  26. McSalty

    Hi Yavor,

    I just wanted to share that I executed my first muscle-up on Friday. It was really sloppy and I needed a lot of swing, but I managed to pull it off. Now that I’ve done the move once, I’m able to knock out a couple reps at the beginning of each training session, and they’re getting cleaner and easier to do the more I try. Your guides were really helpful in understanding the technique, so thanks a lot.

    Here’s what I did to train for it:
    1) Pullups and bar dips, obviously. Most of them were done in the really slow Convict-Conditioning style, but I’d usually include a set of explosive reps at the end when my muscles were starting to get tired.
    2) “Jumping muscle-ups.” There’s a bar near my apartment that is around 6 feet high. I was able to hold the bar, bend my legs, and jump into a muscle-up. Then I would do the negative portion of each rep as slowly as possible. I really feel like this helped train the muscles you need to pull off the transition from pullup to dip.
    3) Sequential muscle-ups. Another essential for muscle-up training, which I got from your website.

    I train almost every day, never to failure, sometimes several times per day (usually I knock out a set of pullups and dips every time I walk past a pullup bar, if I have time — similar to Pavel’s “greasing the groove”). To people who are training for this, this is seriously an awesome move that feels really good when you pull it off. I think between muscle-ups and handstand-pushups, every single muscle in your upper body gets worked.

    Cheers for the website!
    - McSalty

  27. I remember the first time I saw somebody doing these in a gym and was blown away. But, I soon came to realize that they’re actually not that difficult if you’ve got the technique down. Thanks for the videos

  28. Hi!

    Like your blog, found it through another blog (fitnessblackbook).
    Ive added a link back to this page on my website http://www.quakefitness.com. Check it out!

    Quake Fitness – Connecting Health and Fitness Blogs

  29. Awesome article. I’ve been trying to work up to a muscle up on rings.

    I didn’t think my pullup bar had enough clearance above, but your video has me wondering if I might be able to fit. I need to write a post about how I installed two bars in the garage: one for pullups and another to hang the rings. Love the setup; now if I could just nail the muscle up.

    You’ve inspired me to keep working at it.

  30. Yavor

    McSalty,

    Congrats man. The muscle up brings a lot of joy when you nail it.

    Srdjan,

    No problem man.

    Cai,

    That’s a great resource you are putting together. Keep it up!

    Troy,

    yeah if you look at the vid of my first muscle up – you can see the ceiling is low. Soyou might be able to pull this off.

    Cheers guys,

    Yavor

  31. david

    can’t wait to try this. I saw the move in a fitness mag but didn’t know where to start. Thanks mate.

  32. Hi yavor, I’ve been struggling with the muscle up for some time now. I do crossfit training and I practice on the gym rings. I’m very close to completing one. But haven’t yet. I came across your website and I’m so thankful for all your information. Today I did weighted pullups. I used a 20lb dumbbell but could only do 2 reps at a time. I did ten sets then did 5 sets of 5 sternum pullups with no weight. Do you think it’s better to use heavier weight w less reps, like 2 reps? Or go lighter and try to aim for 5 reps or more? Also when I did the sternum pullups I couldn’t help Kipping every time. I guess I’m so use to the Kipping from crossfit training. Is this cheating? Should I try to do more of a strict sternum pullup? Great website! Thanks for your help.

  33. Yavor

    Michelle, heavy low 2-3 rep sets work great. Aim for a total of 25-36 heavy reps per workout. Build up to this over time.

    Kipping is fine with sternums but also try to do them with no kipping some of the time – raise your knees and keep them there and try the sternum pullup.

  34. Justin Kerns

    Hey man I had a question. I can do muscleups and actually am suprised how easy they are on rings. I can’t get one on a bar yet but will soon but I tried the muscleup once and got easily first time on rings but I think I got it so easy because I’m a big believer in heavy weighted pullups. My question is if I do weighted pullups in a false grip will that build my wrist strength in a cupped position. I ask because I want to compete in armwrestling and is this exercise a good wrist strength builder. please answer thank you

  35. Yavor

    Justin, I don’t think you will gain enough strength for arm wrestling this way. Better to do specific arm exercises – barbell/dumbbell curls, wrist curls, hammer wrist curls etc.

  36. Yavor, I don’t know if you remember me. But I sent you a message a couple of months ago asking about weighted pullups. You responded quickly and helped me out a lot. I thank you for that!
    I’ve finally worked up to 10 sets of 3 weighted pullups with 30 pounds. I’ve been doing this 3 days a week. Today I finally was able to do my first muscle up at crossfit, not on a bar , but with gym rings which I believe Is much harder. I did 4 muscle ups! I was so excited! I thank you because if it weren’t for your weighted pull up tips I would never be able to accomplish this. I have a video of me doing my last muscle up, which is a little sloppy. But I’ll work on that. I can email to you, if you like to see it?

    Thanks again,
    Michelle

  37. Yavor

    Yeah Michelle, congrats! Send me an email if you like.


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