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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
- Bar-Barians – Ninja Masters of the Pull Up Bar! Rusty Moore’s post about the Bar-Barians: a team of bodyweight training specialists from New York. Great motivation and strength.
- Muscle-up tutorial Video. This video does a great job at explaining the swing forward and the timing – pull-up explosively at the top of the swing.
- Another Muscle Up Tutorial Video. This one is valuable because it shows another way to progress to the muscle-up.
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.