Master the muscle up: How to achieve your first muscle up
29/03/2021 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 16 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
The strict ring muscle-up, performed on gymnastics rings often ranks highly on most trainee’s wish list of movements they’d love to nail. And for good reason- it’s not just an impressive feat to behold, but one that tells a story of patience, perseverance and a commitment to bodyweight mastery.
Whether you’re a gymnastics skills beginner, or a regular on the rings who just hasn’t quite bagged up that first gravity defying muscle-up, the trick to mastery is starting where you are and journeying your way, diligently, through a series of battle tested regressions, earning your right to progress, one rep at a time.
If you’ve ticked off pull-ups and have dips for days, work your way through the following movements, aiming for complete ownership of each and you’ll rise above the rings in no time.
FALSE GRIP CONDITIONING WITH TENNIS BALLS
The false grip lifts your wrist, allowing you to elevate from below the rings to above, without having to move your hands, absolutely vital for a smooth transition.
If the strict muscle-up is a car, then the false grip is the key. Boring, unsexy- but absolutely vital
You could master every other entry on the list, but without the false grip, you’re not unlocking this move.
It will feel uncomfortable, alien and maybe even downright painful at first, but with some practice, it will become second nature to take this grip anytime you’re on the rings.
By holding a ball in each hand and performing chins, rows, or just hangs for time you mitigate any chance of ‘cheating’ and slipping into a more comfortable position, that ultimately won’t serve you in the long run towards muscle-up mastery.
Try performing your regular sets of pull-ups or inverted rows in this fashion, in order to condition your wrists, without adding any additional training time.
FEET ELEVATED FALSE GRIP PULLS
Feet elevated pull-ups are a great accessory movement, period. But on the road to mastering the rings they really come into their own.
Just like taking some weight off of the barbell, or grabbing slightly lighter dumbbells to drill technique on more complicated movements- by lifting your legs with a box or bench, you’re lowering the total weight you’ve got to shift, meaning you can focus on comfortably drilling the pattern and owning the movement.
FEET ELEVATED MUSCLE - UPS
With feet elevated pulls mastered, you can start looking at getting over those rings.
The setup and premise is the same- you’re literally taking a load off to focus on your technique.
This time however we’re going to blast straight through the pull, go over the top and finish with a strong dip.
Keep these cues in mind for successful lift off:
- False grip, keep it strong and locked in.
- False grip. It’s so important it’s going in twice.
- Come from full stretch at the bottom, the temptation is to shorten the range, but a longer pull means a longer run up and more power to put into getting through the rings.
- Keep your hands close to the midline of your body and ‘trace the line of your chest’ with your pinky fingers as you come through. The further the rings wander, the less leverage you have over them
- The above applies doubly on the way back down. Keep it tight, both ways.
- Use your head. Once you’re above the rings, throw your head through the straps like a cannonball, this bit of extra momentum and counterbalance will really help you to get through. Head-butt your way through the transition!
JUMPING ECCENTRIC MUSCLE - UPS
Now you’ve got your transitions patterned to perfection, it’s time to RX the load by using your full bodyweight, but only for half the movement.
The ‘eccentric’ or lower portion of any movement is where our strength lies, by jumping to the top of the rep, rather than attempting the full muscle-up, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to focus all of your efforts on that strength building negative, which in turn will get your body accustomed to going through the transition with the full weight of your body.
Take your time on the way back down, aiming to own every inch of the movement over 3-5 seconds.
BAND ASSISTED MUSCLE - UPS
With your bodyweight transitions nailed, we just need a final helping hand to get in some high quality reps and get us over the finish line.
Putting the band around your upper back and under you armpits, as opposed to the more traditional method of standing on the band, will let your lower body to move freely, allowing you to get a sense of how your legs, hips and core all tie together to make the muscle-up happen.
Once you can perform 5+ reps with any given band, consider giving yourself a promotion to a thinner band.
MUSCLE - UP
With no more bands to work your way through, you’re ready for the works.
Each of the steps above has given you something to take into the muscle-up proper, so remember each regression and all of the cues- they’re just as important once you can do a muscle-up as they were when you couldn’t.
If you notice any niggling weaknesses in your game, never be afraid to drop back a progression or two and give yourself room to iron out the kinks.