The muscle up is one of the most sought-after exercises in the bodyweight fitness realm, the strict ring muscle up, in particular. The muscle up can be broken down into four main components: the pull, the push, the grip, and the transition. I will elaborate on each of these in more detail, but remember, I don’t like shortcuts. Learning to do a strict ring muscle up will take time and dedication. Follow my foundation series to learn how to develop the pull up and ring dip properly to prepare you for muscle ups or try Gymnastic Strength a progressive workout program designed for anyone at any level of fitness looking to build bodyweight strength, mobility and flexibility.
The Pull Up
For a muscle up, you obviously need to be able to pull up (and pull up high enough) to eventually transition into a dip. The proper progressions toward your pull up is where many struggle. You must first have a foundation of rowing exercises before pulling from overhead. This builds the strength needed to pull your elbows behind your body during the transition phase of a muscle up.
- My prerequisite for muscle ups is five strict chest-to-bar pull ups.
Next is the dip. Again, you’ll need to be able to press yourself up out of the bent arm support position after the transition. It’s important to also ensure you are training your dips with a full range of motion. You shouldn’t have a distance “standard” to your dips. What I mean by that is, you should go as low as you can in your dip. This is because when you perform a muscle up, you will transition into the lowest dip that your mobility will allow, and you will need to be prepared for this.
- My prerequisite for muscle ups is five ring dips with a pause at the bottom position.
You must develop the proper grip necessary to transition from pulling to pushing. Setting the proper hand position to facilitate this transition can make-or-break a muscle up. The false grip is what you need to strive for. In this grip, you will have your wrists set on top of the rings supporting yourself with your forearms and the inside bends of your wrists. This position prevents you from being blocked by the range of motion in your wrists.
- My prerequisite for muscle ups is five false grip chest-to-ring pull ups.
This is where many have a disconnect in the muscle up. It is not just a pull or a push, it is a combination of both. You must understand how to maintain downward pressure on the rings during the entire movement. If there is a break between the two, then you lose all momentum and won’t be able to execute the transition properly, or at all.
When you get to the point of working transitions you will understand why we shoot for such a large range of motion in the pull ups and dips, along with the necessity for the false grip. For transition work, start at the bottom of a dip with your feet in front of your body either on the ground or on a box (to make it more challenging). From this position slowly lower yourself backwards into the top of a ring row position without letting the rings separate from your chest. Then pull yourself back into the bottom of the dip.
- My prerequisite for muscle ups is five feet-elevated transitions.
Putting It Together
You have developed the pull, push, grip, and transition—now it’s time to string them together. Start by performing the muscle up backwards. Can you begin from a support position (top of the dip) and slowly lower yourself through the dip, transition, and false grip down into a hanging position? If you can do this consistently for five reps, lowering yourself for 10 seconds on each rep, then you have met all of my requirements to attempt a muscle up. Now, go get it.
This will take time, but I promise you that if you take the time to develop each area of the skill, you will get a muscle up and will maintain it for as long as you train it. The great thing about building a skill like the muscle up and other more complex strength exercises, is that your proficiency will trickle down to less complex exercises. You won’t have to dedicate a bunch of time to dips and pull ups if you can do a muscle up. You have now cut your work in half. The more complex you get, the less time you have to commit to strength training, giving yourself more time to learn new skills.