Many Muscle Ups: A 4-Week Progression

A CrossFitter’s first muscle up is a major milestone achieved by hard work and technique. Thirty muscle ups in a row requires real programming and great technique.

A big moment for anyone who does CrossFit is achieving your first muscle up. But what happens then? How do you increase your efficiency and work capacity when it comes to muscle ups?

I have seen so many people try countless times to swing themselves up on the rings without first training a solid gymnastic foundation program. This can lead to injury or just bad practice, and therefore slower progression.

With the CrossFit Open approaching quickly, being able to do multiple muscle ups is an essential skill needed by anyone who wants to perform well.

If you’re still working on your first muscle up, we have resources for you, too:

Muscle Ups Take Serious Strength

The aim of this four-week program is to develop a base of strength for an athlete to be able to improve his or her muscle up ability. The program is targeted at athletes who can perform five to ten linked kipping muscle ups and two to five linked strict muscle ups.

It is suggested that athletes do the three programmed sessions over a seven-day period with a rest day in between each session. It is also essential that athletes following the program, pay extra attention to their body, and ensure they are resting well and performing adequate mobility and flexibility to complement the increased gymnastic volume.

Progressive Overload Is Key

It is a common thing in any gym to see people following a strength program to improve their weightlifting or powerlifting. These programs are usually progressive, based around percentages, and include a variety of different accessory movements in addition to the major lifts.

So why not apply the same principles to gymnastics? You can see in this program that there are a few constant themes across the four weeks. Each session is split up in to three parts:

  1. Strength: Muscle ups (rings or bar) or a gymnastic complex
  2. Strength Assistance: Ring dips, pull ups, chin ups, skin the cats, ring push ups, ring flys
  3. Positional Assistance: Ring support holds, L-sit holds, false grip holds, hollow and arch holds/rocks.

All the content of the program follows a basic linear progression across the four weeks. Some movements progress in reps and others in weight. Because of the varied nature of CrossFit, it is important to train both for muscular strength as well as endurance.

Each week starts with a volume session where athletes will perform a set number of reps per minute, increasing in difficulty as the program progresses. This is one of the more effective ways I have found to improve my own gymnastics, sometimes accumulating over 100 muscle up reps in one workout.

This format is also beneficial when it comes to interval-style workouts where a certain number of reps is required per round. One key thing with gymnastics is learning how much rest you need in between sets without pushing your body to a failure point. So by training in the EMOM (every minute on the minute) format, you can learn quickly where your thresholds lie.

In addition to the volume work, there is also a complex session each week to help improve endurance on the rings and bar. These complexes are mostly performed as strict reps. Strict work is incredibly important as it helps build both muscular and tendon strength so the body is strong enough to handle the demands of kipping reps.

The same rules apply to the strength assistance work. The variations of pull ups and ring dips are programmed to help develop the athlete’s push and pull strength, obviously important in gymnastics. These reps progress in weight each week. If the athlete is able to push and pull his or her own bodyweight, then weight can be added to create an additional stimulus – just as you would with a barbell to improve for a weightlifting movement.

The positional work in this program is important to increase strength in a static hold, and again increase muscular and tendon strength. Ring support and false grip holds can be progressed by adding load and increasing time under tension. It is essential to increase your strength in these positions as an athlete can often be holding onto the rings for thirty to forty seconds and beyond when performing multiple linked reps.

The hollow and arch hold work is arguably the most important part of the program. Although this work may seem repetitive and sometimes tedious, it is incredibly important to make sure the athlete can maintain the right body position throughout the more complex gymnastic movements.

One of the key things you spot as a coach is how an athlete’s form will break down as he or she fatigues during the muscle up. As soon as the athlete begins to break at the hip and knee, he or she is instantly losing power and efficiency in the movement. The best athletes will maintain a tight hollow and arch position throughout the movement and are most likely to achieve multiple smooth and efficient reps.

Train to Win

If you decide to take on this challenge and improve your muscle up performance, you can track your progress with the testing protocol in week four.

Week four, session one is a two-part test:

A- 1 set of max unbroken reps of muscle ups
B- continue with 2 reps every 30 seconds until 40 total reps are complete (so your score is the finishing time after 40 reps)

This test can be repeated over time to measure growth in performance. If you cannot perform the required amount of reps with good position and form, do not hesitate to scale back the reps or weights slightly until you can.

Week One Programming

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