What is a Muscle Up

A muscle-up is an awesome power move that can be done either on a bar or gymnastics rings. It is a compound movement which means many muscle groups are being worked at the same time to achieve a single movement. This skill will require a pulling and pushing motion to get yourself from a dead hang position to on the top of the bar.

According to research, the pull-up phase is a closed kinetic chain exercise that is designed to develop muscular strength and endurance of both the upper body and torso. When performing a muscle-up, you are targeting both the biceps and triceps during the pull and push phase, which creates a balance between the development of both muscles. The outcome will be symmetrical muscle growth.

What Muscles are Worked by Muscle Ups

There are three phases you will have to go through for a muscle up: the pull, the transition, and the dip. Several muscles in your upper body are required to work together in coordination. The primary muscles worked are the latissimus dorsi, biceps, triceps, trapezius, teres major, anterior deltoids, and pectorals. The secondary muscles worked are the abdominals.

What Level are Muscle Ups

The muscle-up is an advanced level exercise because you will require strong fundamentals, such as being comfortable with doing pull-ups, dips, push-ups, and hanging knee raises. But, don't worry about this too much as the muscle is easy to learn, it's more of a technique, rather than a strength-based skill.

Muscle Up Requirements

To do a muscle-up, you will need to pass these requirements. This is to ensure you will have enough strength to perform this awesome skill. The requirements are:

  • 8 Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups
  • 8 Straight Bar Dips 
  • 10 Hanging Knee Raises

If you can complete all of these this means that you have enough strength required to start learning the muscle-up. This is very important because many people try to do a muscle-up, and they could be comfortable with doing pull-ups but are weaker in other areas of their bodies such as dips. Once you have all these strengths checked off, then it will all fall to the technique.

Muscle Up Progressions

Along with checking off the muscle-up requirements, you can also practice these 3 muscle-up progressions to fast track your progress and develop the strength, endurance, and technique required.

Fundamentals

The fundamentals are foundation exercises that every calisthenics athlete should practice. Having strong fundamentals will enable you to achieve any calisthenics skill at a faster rate. These include pull-ups, straight bar dips, push-ups, and hanging knee raises. To do a muscle-up, you will need to pull and push to get yourself on top of the bar. This will also require core strength, along with some momentum to assist you in propelling your body upwards. 

It is highly recommended that you superset these fundamental exercises together to condition your muscles for the muscle-up. A superset is a training method where you perform an exercise, one straight after the other with no rest. For example, in a single set, you will:

3 pull-ups, followed by 5 straight bar or parallel bar dips, followed by 8 push-ups, followed by 8 hanging knee raises, with no rest in between them. Once you have completed all of these, you would rest between 90-120 seconds before doing the following set. Do this for 4-5 sets. 

You should pick a number for each fundamental that you will be comfortable with and make sure that it challenges you!

If you are a beginner and are not yet comfortable with doing these fundamentals, you can regress to easier exercise variations to develop strength and endurance. You can check out our Pull-Ups, and Australian Pull-Ups article to develop your pulling strength. Also, you can check out our Push-Ups to develop your pushing strength, and Leg Raises to increase your core strength!

The fundamental principle in calisthenics is the enjoy the process whilst you develop your mind and body connect. Don’t rush to achieve your goals, but rather enjoy the little things you have achieved from your workouts!



Negative Muscle Ups

Negative muscle-ups are an effective way to develop strength, endurance, and condition your body the movement path of the muscle-up. This exercise utilizes the negative, also called the eccentric phase. To perform this you will:

  1. Get on top of the bar to be in a straight bar dip position. You can place an elevated platform underneath your feet for assistance to get on top. Your arms are approximately shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.
  2. Slowly lower yourself down from the top position into a dead hang. Engage your core and keep your elbows close to your body as you do this. The movement should be slowed and controlled with a 3-5 seconds count from top to bottom. Lock your arms out fully before doing the next rep.
  3. Repeat this movement between 2-4 reps for 4 sets.

Banded Muscle Ups

The banded muscle-up is another great exercise to condition your muscles, and get you used to the technique, and transition for the unassisted muscle-up. You should start with thicker bands, and progress down to thinner ones as you get stronger. To perform this, you will:

  1. Begin in a dead hang position with arms shoulder-width apart. Your hands are in a false grip (holding the bar or rings high on the wrist). Place one leg in between the band. This is your starting position
  2. Create a slow pendulum swing whilst maintaining a false grip.
  3. At the furthest point of the pendulum swing, kip your legs by tucking your knees in towards your chest, followed by pulling at to same time. This will transition your body up and around the bar. Perform a dip once your chest gets past the bar.
  4. Repeat this movement between 1-4 reps for 4 sets.

How to Muscle Up

  1. Begin In A Dead Hang

Begin in a dead position with your arms shoulder-width apart, and hands in a false grip position (very important). Your feet are together, and above ground. Engage your core. This is your starting position.

2. Pendulum Swing

Create a slow pendulum swing by lightly throwing your legs forward and back. Maintain a false grip and keep your core tight.

3. Kip And Pull

At the furthest point of the pendulum swing, kip your knees by tucking them in towards your chest, and subsequently perform a chest-to-bar pull-up. Kipping your knees will give you the momentum to propel your body up and around the bar to get to the top. Exhale as you pull.

4. Repeat

Inhale as you return canto the starting position, and repeat this movement between 1-3 reps for 4 sets.

What are the Benefits of Muscle Ups?

Increase Upper-Body Strength

The muscle-up is a compound movement that targets many muscle groups in your upper body, especially your lats, biceps, triceps, and pecs. The pulling motion will improve your pulling strength and size in the biceps, upper back, and middle back. The pushing motion will improve strength and size in the triceps, chest, and anterior deltoid muscles. All of this will aid in your strength development.

Improve Muscle Tone

You may ask, “can you build muscle using just your bodyweight?”, the simple and short answer is “yes you can!”.

Developing muscle and strength is a by-product of consistent training. You can create conditions in your training regiment to achieve hypertrophy. For example, higher reps and sets performed, and lower rest time. By altering these variables, you can increase the level of tension on your muscles which will assist in the development of muscle definition, therefore giving you a sculpted body.

Stimulate Your Callisthenics Journey

The muscle-up is one of the first calisthenics power moves that you should learn. Once you have achieved this, it will open a pathway for your calisthenics journey. It will make you feel like you’re on top of the world, which could open up your curiosity and motivation in going for other calisthenics skills such as the handstand, front lever, and back lever. 

Muscle Ups Variations

Strict Muscle Ups

Once you are able to do a muscle-up, your next goal could be a strict muscle-up which is a harder, and more presentable way to perform a muscle-up. The movement involves you keeping your legs together, without bending the knees, or swinging your legs forward to generate force. To achieve this you will:

  • Practice fundamental supersets, with muscle-ups included in the set. For example, 1 muscle up, followed by 5 straight bar dips, followed by 5 pull-ups, followed by 8 push-ups, followed by 10 hanging knee raises. For 5 sets with 90-120 seconds rest in between sets. You can choose a rep number that will be challenging for you.
  • Negative muscle-ups. Focus on the transition part from the negative dip to the negative pull-up. Aim to count to 7 as you lower from the top to the bottom position, and lock your arms out fully. Practice this between 1-3 reps for 4 sets.

 

Ring Muscle Up

The ring muscle-up displays incredible upper-body strength and technique. It requires the coordinated effort of most of your upper body muscles, focusing on the lats, biceps, pecs, front shoulders, and triceps. To achieve this, you will:

  • Practice fundamental supersets using gymnastics rings, with a focus on the false grip. A workout set example would be: 3 rings pull-ups, 5 rings dips, 8 push-ups, and 10 hanging knee raises. Pick any rep number that would be challenging for you, and do this for 5 sets with 90-120 seconds rest time. 
  • Negative ring muscle-ups. Begin in a top position of the rings with arms fully locked out. Lower yourself down into a dead hang, with a goal count of 7 seconds. Engage your core and keep the rings close to your torso. Practice this between 1-3 reps for 4 sets.

To do a ring muscle-up, you will:

  1. Hanging from the rings using a false grip, holding your weight on the heels of your hands. A false grip will allow you a smoother transition from the pull into the dip. This is your starting position.
  2. Inhale as you pull strongly and smoothly to get your shoulders above your hands. Keep the rings close to your lower-outer chest. 
  3. Exhale as you transition from the top of your pull, shift your body forward into the bottom position of a dip. Rotate your wrists into a neutral grip position, and push yourself up to the top position of the dip. 
  4. Repeat this between 1-3 reps for 4 sets.

Crossfit Bar Muscle Ups

This variation heavily relies on the swinging of your legs and hips to create momentum and speed and propel your body upward. You will require to have strong fundamentals before attempting this. To perform this, you will:

  1. Hang from the bar with normal grip at shoulder-width apart. The false grip is no longer required because you will rely on the momentum generated by the swing to get on top of the bar. 
  2. Create a pendulum swing and arch your back with your feet behind you. Keep your core, legs, and glutes tight. Inhale as you do this.
  3. Exhale as you explosively bring your legs through the bar, popping your hips back. Bring your knees as close to the stomach as possible and instantly pull to get the upward momentum. 
  4. Push (the dip part), as your weight is over the bar. Lean forward to assist in the transition and bring your elbows behind you. Push until your arms are straight. 
  5. Repeat this movement between 1-3 reps for 4 sets.

About the Author

My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.