The Sequential Muscle-up: A Missing Link in Your Muscle-up Training?

The sequential muscle-up is an important stepping stone towards achieving a true muscle up. Most people training in gyms nowadays have difficulty doing pull-ups, let alone muscle ups. If you are reading this site however, this is soon going to change for you. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to start with the article on the sternum pull-up.

There are several reasons why I’m writing a tutorial for this exercise. The cool thing about the sequential muscle-up is that it builds confidence quickly – a thing that is needed when trying to achieve goals that seem “impossible,” such as the real muscle-up. The move also builds strength needed for the transition phase in the real exercise.

Here is a video we shot of the sequential muscle-up. You can clearly follow the three major phases: 1. pull-up, 2. shift of the weight and rotation of the free arm, another shift of the weight with rotation of the first arm.

Note: it is essential to train both sides in this movement – although the video doesn’t show this. As soon as you are able to do the move with the weaker arm (most people have a weaker arm), start practicing it this way.

Speaking of sequences, I chose this completely unrelated photo of a beautiful girl doing the moonwalk on a sandy hill at the beach. I’ve been into haiku lately and found this Basho haiku poem to fit quite nicely with the photo.

I recently finished the last level of my German language classes and was browsing in the German section of a bookstore when I stumbled on this book of haiku poetry translated in German. I was shocked that the translations were so good. Anyway – back to the sequential muscle-up.

So What Exactly is the Sequential Muscle-up

  • Muscle-up variation. Although not a true muscle-up, this exercise is as close as it gets.
  • No kipping. No leg action is used here. This develops more upper body strength.
  • No swing. Unless you are super strong, the real muscle-up is done with a swing in which you pull yourself up when your body is behind and not below the bar.
  • One arm at a time. Here you pull yourself up, and transition to the top of the bar one arm at a time. Hence the name sequential – which I made up by the way.

How to Do the Sequential Muscle-up

  • Pull-up. The first part of the move is your basic pull-up
  • Pull hard with one arm. Next you want to flex hard one of your arms while at the top of the pull-up. Shift your weight towards this arm so that the other one is free.
  • Rotate the other. Now you simply rotate the other arm on top of the bar and push hard.
  • Transfer weight. The next step is to shift your weight towards the arm that is already on top of the bar.
  • Rotate first arm. Finally bring this arm on top of the bar too.
  • Push up. Finish the move by pushing up as if finishing a parallel bar dip.

How to Train

  • Daily volume. Do single repetitions and strive to do more each time your train. Train often – at least 2-3x per week. More is better.
  • Switch sides. This is crucial. You will likely first master the move with one of your arms – the stronger one. As soon as possible start practicing with the weaker side. Always do equal number of repetitions and alternate the sides.
  • Focus on speed. You will soon find yourself getting better and better. Strive to increase the speed. At this point the sequential muscle-up will be almost like a real muscle-up, because you will be doing it so fast.

Note: The final article in this series will teach the real muscle-up.
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28 thoughts on “The Sequential Muscle-up: A Missing Link in Your Muscle-up Training?”

  1. Basho? thats very Zen of you!
    Excellent exercise it reminds me of warrior training as a very functional and strength workout.
    In the army you need to learn how to scale walls but on a horizontal bar is very difficult especially if you do a few in a row.
    Sun glasses! nice addition to the training outfit sort of a James Bond Workout
    Raymond

  2. Raymond,

    yeah. I just found a website with a ton of Basho haiku poems. they are all fantastic! As for the bond workout – lol!

  3. Crazy good stuff here. I’d smack my head on the ceiling if I tried to do a muscle up on the bar I keep in the doorway so I need to keep an eye out for something in the neighborhood like you have.

  4. Dave,

    thanks for your comment. Yes, people have the hardest time with the transition of the muscle up. Stay tuned for the final installment!

    Darrin,

    Yeah, best case scenario is to find a pull-up bar in your area. However, you can still do a lot of training with the sternum pull-up at home,.

    Alykhan,

    yeah I like my shades lol! Welcome back and thanks for the comment.

    Cheers guys,

    Yavor

  5. Hey Yavor, it looks like I would need a gymnast kind of set up to do this because my pull up bar by the door will not do. I would have to master the pull up first anyway but this is a great move if someone wants to advance their relative strength skills.

    Anna

  6. I accidentally did a muscle up the other day. I was working the weighted pull-ups, and then took the weight off completely for my last set. I exploded upward so hard because I was used to the extra weight that it was easy to just keep going up. Got 3, but I know I could do more if I hadn’t started out with the extra weight.

    The sternum pull-up from earlier really did help prepare me for the movement. Awesome awesome stuff, man.

    -Drew

  7. Anna,

    I think you are good enough just doing regular pull-ups. Honestly – you are a fit girl as you are. If you have it as a goal, you can reach 15 pull-ups and work on the muscle-up but it isn’t necessary.

    Drew,

    Congrats man! Weighted pull-ups give you explosiveness because they develop starting strength. Without it you can’t do heavy weights on the chin/pull-up. Btw- I too got 3 the first time I managed a real muscle-up. Haven’t trained with weighted pull-ups in awhile though – prefer outdoors, so I find creative ways to still train …

    Cheers guys!

    Yavor

  8. Hey Yavor!

    I asked your a while back about shoulder pain when doing the regular grip pull-up. Just wanted to tell you that the pain is gone. Your tip on doing a’lot of rows with different elbow positions helped, thank you. Also I found that by allowing my elbows to travel forward on the pull-up instead of keeping them out to the side was absolutley key. A minor shift that made a huge difference, funny is’nt it?
    Anyways,was just wondering if you have any thoughts on shoulder packing in overhead movements? Do you start from a dead hang or do you try to keep em’ down all the time.
    Thanks again!

  9. John, glad you are well! The elbow forward position is just the natural movement pattern for the body hence it being safer. So I don’t think this is a minor shift – the change is a huge one.

    As for shoulder packing – I start from a dead hang on pull-ups and chin-ups. Not sure if this is what you aked.

    If you check out the video on my post about chin ups you will see this – dead hang every rep.

  10. Your right, it kaes a bid difference. I think they explain why the elbows should move forward well in the Handstand chapter in Convict Conditioning. For the scapula to rotate upwards correctly do you have to allow the dead hang (for the shoulders to come up a bit) and not to try to keep it down all the time? This was my question as there are trainers that prescribe that you should keep it locked in the socked to not strain the ligaments in the hang position.

    By the way, the Biceps pull-up movement that you posted a while back is great.

  11. Yes – the chapter explains this – although they talk about a pushing movement – the biomechaniscs is the same wether we push or pull. I mentioned it in my post on handstand pushups.

    As far as your question – I personally do it from dead hang (So I’m not keeping it locked contrary to the recommendation of the trainers you mentioned). By the way – you will see the majority of videos and trainers doing the pullup with elbows to the side and short range of motion. I’m just saying – sometimes what is popular might not be optimal. That being said of course – if you experience discomfort in any move – rest!

    Cheers John!

    Yavor

  12. I really like that you mentioned the daily volume. That is something Pavel T. talks about a lot, especially when trying to boost the amount of reps one can do in pullups and chins.

    Doing a few sets throughout the day can make a huge difference. Cheers!

  13. Good stuff! Looking forward to the final series! For me, I can’t do a MU unless I have a violant kip. Also, what really helps me is when I look up. Do you why this would help me?

    Really enjoying your site!
    Jack

  14. Jack,

    I don’t know why looking up helps. I myself look at the bar currently. What I do is step away a foot from the bar, grab it (or jump if it is jhigh), and then let my body swing forward. At the top of the swing I do a vigorous sternum pullup. That’s it. As for the violent kip – well define “violent.” Kidding buddy 🙂 Sternum pullups + heavy weighted pullups are the way to go if you want cleaner pullups. In the end your max pullup strength will be the deciding factor – so the stronger you are, the cleaner muscle up you can do. I learned to them this summer for 2-3 reps…

    Cheers,

    Yavor

    p.s. the article is coming, I shot the vid on a soccer goal cause the pullup bar was flooded by a storm…

  15. Darren,

    Thanks for stopping by man. Your comment is appreciated as always 🙂

    Mike,

    Yo man, welcome back. I know what it’s like to be busy so noworries.

    David,

    you do realize that this is the music from Kickboxer, right 🙂

    Cheers guys,

    Yavor

  16. You rock !

    I have tried to get over the bar for +2 years without any luck. Yesterday I found this article and yesterday I succeeded.
    I have finished 5 Ironman triathlons which feels very gratifying, yesterday felt exactly like that. I was over the bar !….and the moon 🙂

    Thanks for the article & keep up the good work.

    Frank

  17. im training for muscle ups and i also do weighted chin ups and weighted dips, im able to do sequential muscle ups on both sides but it still seems to be very far away. very frustrating! can u please tell me how many seq. muscle ups should i able to do to do the real deal. how far im i? currently i can do 1 with right top first and 2 with my left top first! i just recently starting doing russian dips as a progression exercise for my muscle ups. how far? thanks 😉

  18. uzeyr hassan, I’d say 5-10 sequentials each side. they have to become very easy for you. Be patient!

    Also – you can just do weighted chins and get very strong there (2/3 of your bodyweight should be enough for a nice muscle up).

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  20. This type of muscle up is called a chicken wing and though it may help with familiarization it can be dangerous on the shoulders and doesn’t count as a muscle up.

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