Let’s face it: the muscle up is one hell of a cool skill.
And beyond the cool factor you can use it to develop a powerful base of upper-body strength. But too many people rush headlong in pursuit of the coolness and set themselves up for acute and chronic injury: wrists sprains, elbow tendonitis, and shoulder impingement. Luckily, it’s all preventable if you approach your training with some intelligence. Let’s take a peek at how to do that, safeguarding your body as you train toward the muscle up.
The Weak Links of the Upper Body
When it comes to upper-body strength and skill development, there are two major weak links: the shoulder girdle and the hands. Far too many people both lack the requisite mobility to train safely and effectively, and this leads to major compensations (think banana handstands). We see this pop up in a common “shoulder mobility” drill: the dislocate. In theory this is a great exercise, but too often it’s performed poorly, doing nothing more than reinforcing crappy shoulder mobility and spinal compensation (not a good combo if you plan on loading the shoulders and spine).
Keep in mind, everything in the body is connected. You’re a big old web of connective tissue and bone, beautifully linked from head to toe. So if one piece of the puzzle isn’t working the way it should, somebody has to pick up the slack. The big culprits for the muscle up are wrist flexion and shoulder flexion/extension.
Wrist flexion plays a crucial role in the muscle up. And it’s often the most difficult part of the whole damn venture. It’s called the false grip, and acclimation to this unfamiliar position is a gradual process (as in: not one to rush). Let’s break it down into two stages: position and performance.
The performance part of the equation is a bit easier. You need to spend time loading this joint position to create tissue adaptation. Build up to a 30-second false grip hang before worrying about your muscle up. Your arms will thank you later.
Your shoulders may be your most dysfunctional joints because you rarely use them to their fullest capacity. So that capacity shrinks and shrinks. You likely lack both the requisite flexion (needed for the bottom of the hang) and extension (needed for the transition) to make the muscle up attainable. Flexion will improve as you spend more time hanging (passive, and active). Extension may require a bit more active intervention.
Build Your Foundation First
Once you have you joints able to handle the positions of the muscle up, your training will skyrocket. Too often we run into injury when training for the muscle up because we don’t do enough to ensure that our joints can handle the stress we’re putting them under. You need to find the positions first, then load them gradually if you want to remain injury-free.
Now that you know how to prepare your joints, it’s time to address your pulling strength: