For those who have never heard of a Muscle Up before or aren’t familiar with the exercise, it is a common strength exercise. It is performed by lifting your entire bodyweight above the pull up bar itself. Since the muscle up requires a large amount of upper body strength in order to lift your body weight up so high, and in such a fashion, it is not an exercise for beginners to the gym to practice immediately. Although, if you do have the strength to perform a muscle up correctly, the benefits it may have for your body are tremendous.
Muscles Worked in the Muscle Up
✓ Latissimus dorsi
✓ Teres minor
It is important that you have these muscles already well developed in strength before attempting a muscle up. If you lack the muscle development needed for such an exercise, you increase the likelihood of injury by causing damage to your rotator cuff and/or back muscles while attempting a muscle up.
Progressing to the Muscle Up
Practice first by performing normal pull ups with either your body weight or adding a weight belt. Perform both using a supinated grip (normal pull up) and with a pronated grip (underhand/chin up) as well. I recommend doing both exercises with or without weights to help increase muscle endurance and to strengthen your rotator cuff and back muscles.
By adding a few pounds, such as 5-10lbs in the form of a weight belt to your pull ups, you will want to be able to pull your body up as high as possible, with the goal in mind of wanting to touch your chest to the pull up bar. Perform bar-to-chest form weighted pull ups for around 5-10 reps. Once you can achieve 10 reps easily, increase the weight on the weight belt by 5lbs and keep repeating this process.
The next step is to master the Kipping Pull Up. You may not know what this is, but you have probably seen this exercise performed at some point in your gym career. How do you perform a kipping pull up then?
✓ You must hang from the bar (or rings) with your arms fully extended above you
✓ You then must arch your back and push your chest out in front of you and your legs behind you until your body is forming an arched ‘C’ shape
✓ Move your body using your body momentum during the swing of your chest being pushed outwards to push yourself backwards while using this same momentum to lift your bodyweight upwards until your chest touches the bar
✓ After your chest has touched the bar, without trying to hold this position, lower yourself and your body will swing back into the start position, from which you can immediately follow the swing back up into another pull up
Focus on controlling the movement and not just performing a crazy amount of reps. The kipping pull up is important because you will perform a partial kipping pull up in order to make your body/chest reach the bar which is when you will pull yourself over the bar. It’s this transitioning process that many people struggle to control.
After you have mastered the kipping pull up, the next step is to fully build the strength and master the Chest to Bar pull up. It is exactly what it sounds like too. Perform as many pull ups as possible by lifting your body upwards until your chest is touching the bar. You want to be able to lift your body as high as possible while trying to bring the lower chest, not the upper, to the bar. The reason for the lower chest is because during a muscle up you will be swinging the body outwards making it easier for the lower chest to hit the bar, but by aiming for the extra few inches in added height range to touch the bar, you will build greater strength.
If your gym has ring pull ups I recommend trying to do a muscle up on the rings instead of the bar. The reason for this is because the bar cannot move, which makes it much more difficult to get the momentum for the swing motion.
Rings do move and this allows you to swing and build the required momentum to lift your bodyweight up, elevate your chest and then rotate into a position so you can push your bodyweight onto your arms. You can then lift yourself up with your arms until your body is fully extended and you are pressing down onto the rings. The rings should be around waist level.
The rings are also beneficial as they can be moved out of your way during the exercise, making the motion a lot easier to perform. You don’t have to swing your body backwards so far in order to clear the bar. It is important to be careful while lifting your body onto the bar to make sure that you do not strain your wrists by applying too much weight or pressure on them at any time during the exercise in which you are swinging over the bar to elevate the body to its stretched position. If at any time you feel your wrist bend or collapse during the exercise, I recommend you stop trying to perform reps and possibly ice your hand after your workout as it is extremely easy to damage the carpals while performing a muscle up if it is performed incorrectly.
Take Home Message
Maybe you can do a muscle up already, but if you can’t or you’re struggling than hopefully this article has helped to give you some ideas of how you can achieve a muscle up in the future. It is important to consider increasing your strength through other exercises, and then using this increased strength to improve your ability to perform a muscle up. Now give it a go. Good luck!