One of the greatest full-body exercises is the muscle-up, yet many frequent gym-goers cannot perform even stages of this movement. Although very complex, we can break building strength for the muscle-up down into simple steps that will help us lead up to the full muscle-up!
Step 1: Strict Pull-up
The first part of the muscle-up begins with a basic pull-up to the bar. This is something you can work on even on non-back training days to help you build the lats, traps and rhomboids to enable you to make the pull-up easier. The goal before moving on to attempting a full muscle-up is to be able to do a set of 10 strict pull-ups from a dead hang and have the chin all the way up above the bar.
- Grab onto pull-up bar and have hands at a neutral grip; slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
- Engage the lats, traps and rhomboids and pull yourself up to the bar using only these muscles.
- Pause at the top of the movement and slowly let yourself back down to starting position.
Sets and Reps: 3 x 8-10
Top Tip: If you’re not able to do any pull-ups, find a pull-up assist machine and work on getting stronger on that first. Once you’re able to almost do your body weight, move over to regular pull-up bar and do jumping pull-ups and slowly lower yourself down or use a band for some more assistance. If you can do a full set of 10 without breaking grip, add a belt with some weight or hold a dumbbell between your legs for some added resistance to make you stronger for this move.
Step 2: Bodyweight Dips
After getting the first portion of the muscle-up down by mastering the pull-up, the second half of the movement is the dip. Performing both chest-specific and tricep-specific dips will help build the necessary muscles and allow the muscle memory to mesh to use both chest and triceps to help your body get up and over the bar once at the top of the movement. The goal of the dip is to be able to do both 10 triceps dips and 10 chest dips without breaking form.
- For chest dips, place hands on set of parallel bars and lean slightly forward.
- Slowly lower yourself down to bottom of movement, contracting the shoulder blades on the way down.
- Press yourself all the way up to the top of the movement where elbows are almost locked.
- To vary this movement and target the triceps, lean backwards as much as possible and vary the hand placement to a narrower grip.
Sets and Reps: 3 x 10 on both triceps dips and chest dips
Top Tip: This movement you may find is easier than the pull-up – this is great! Go right into adding resistance by using weight belt around waist or throw some heavy chains on the back of your neck for some extra weight.
Step 3: Chest to Bar Pull-up with False Grip
This is the most advanced step for those that are able to do both the strict pull-up and the strict dip. With your new found strength in you back muscles; this movement may be easier than you think. The hard part about this step is getting used to your hand placement by using the false grip. This will allow you to have your hands in the correct position during the pull-up and improve the transition from the top of the pull-up position into the body weight dip over the bar.
- Start preferably on a set of rings with the false grip (simply cock the wrists forward to where the majority of the weight is place on lower part of your palm).
- Keeping your toes pointed down, lower your head back and raise lower body to a slight incline.
- Keeping your core tight, pull yourself up to the bar where chest is bar level and your head is above the bar.
- Contract and squeeze at the top of the movement and lower yourself back down to starting position.
Sets and Reps: 3 x 10 strict reps
Top Tip: As you get better with this, the movement itself will become more fluid enabling you to do many reps in a row without breaking form and using your body as a little assistance.
Step 4: Full Muscle-Up
With all three stages completed, you should now have the strength to perform a full muscle-up! You’ve worked hard and you’re stronger than ever before so let’s put it to the test and get some work done.
- Start in a hanging pull-up position on the gymnast rings, using the false grip like we learned previously.
- Use a little momentum by extending the toes forward then swinging back and pulling yourself up to where chest is level with the rings.
- From here, pop yourself back up to where the torso is upright and hands are now supporting the body weight.
- Press yourself up by performing a basic dip
- Once at the top, lower self back down in two stages; from the dip first and then from pull-up position second.
Sets and Reps: For a first timer, try to complete a set of three without breaking form but pausing at the bottom of each rep. For more advanced athletes, try performing sets of 10 without breaking form as well as not pausing at the bottom of movement.
Top Tip: Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it the first time. Just because you are unable to perform movement, doesn’t mean you’re not strong enough to. The muscle-up is primarily form; so nail this aspect and you’ll be on your way to doing sets of these.
Although this may sound like a lot and even sound impossible to some, this is something to strive for as a long-term goal. You will see your back get stronger, your posture will improve and overall your shoulder health will improve if you can perfect the form. Take your time and be patient because this won’t happen overnight.
After you get your first full muscle-up and are up on top of the bar or rings for the first time, it’ll all be worth it! Keep pushing yourself throughout this journey and you will see that the results will have you doing full muscle-ups in no time!