Strength & Conditioning: Al Kavadlo, Week 4, Day 1
This four-week program is designed by calisthenics expert and author Al Kavadlo. Three workouts are posted each week and cover a total of twelve bodyweight exercise progressions and tutorials, including everything from pull ups, to pistols, to the infamous human flag. If you're joining late in the game, feel free to jump right in!
Week 4, Day 1: The Bar Muscle-up
The bar muscle-up has become a very popular exercise in recent years - and for good reason. It is truly the king of bodyweight exercises, bar none. No single bodyweight exercise works your entire upper body as thoroughly as the muscle-up. Though some people may see the muscle-up as just a pull-up followed by a dip, anyone who's done a muscle-up can tell you there is a lot more involved!
As the bar muscle-up is an advanced exercise, you'll need to be able to comfortably perform lots of pull-ups and dips as a prerequisite, but there is no set rule for how many reps are needed.
Some people who can only manage six or seven pull-ups can muster up a muscle-up, others who can bang out twenty dead hang pull-ups still continually fail at getting through the sticking point; the muscle-up is a unique challenge and must be treated as such. However, the more pull-ups and dips you can do on a straight bar, the better your chances will be of achieving the muscle-up. It also helps to practice doing pull-ups with an exaggerated range of motion. Instead of stopping when the bar is below your chin, pull that sucker all the way down past your chest. Get as far over the bar as you can!
Just like someone working on getting their first pull-up, it can be helpful to practice negatives and use manual assistance from a training partner while learning to do a muscle-up. If you are going to spot someone, I suggest giving a boost by holding him or her under one or both heels, as if you were helping someone over a fence.
It's also worthwhile to practice a modified muscle-up on a bar that is about chest height so you can use your legs for assistance. (If you can’t find a low bar, bring a step or a bench up to a high bar.) This will let you get a feel for the crucial transition from being under the bar to getting on top without having to overcome your full bodyweight. With practice, you’ll learn to rely on your legs less and do most of the work with your upper body.
One more noteworthy technique for performing a muscle-up is the "false grip." This entails bending the wrists up over the bar so that your palms are facing the ground as you begin the pulling phase. For some, the false grip can make the transition from pulling to pushing simpler as you don't need to worry about rolling your hands over the bar.
When you are learning to do a muscle-up, you'll likely need to use your hips and legs to generate additional power to get your chest beyond the bar. Do whatever it takes to get yourself up and over – nobody’s first muscle-up looks perfectly clean.
As you get stronger and more comfortable with the movement pattern, you can begin to work towards a controlled, straight-legged muscle-up, as well as other types of advanced muscle-ups.
Just don't get cocky and expect to be looking for ways to make muscle-ups harder right away. Getting just one good, clean rep may be a challenge for many.
Most importantly, be patient. It may take a while until you get your first one. The longer you work at it, the more fulfilling it will be when it finally happens!
For more information about muscle-ups, pick up a copy of my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide To Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.