Clean Up Your Muscle-up!

Since releasing my book Raising The Bar (and the companion DVD), dozens of people have written to tell me how my training advice helped them achieve their first muscle-up. Oftentimes they will send video footage along with it. I love getting these types of messages!

As we’ve discussed before, however, many peoples’ first muscle-up ain’t always so pretty. Though I am happy to grant some leeway on form when someone’s learning a challenging new exercise, I don’t want people all over the world doing ugly muscle-ups (“ugly-ups” as I like to call ’em) and crediting me with having taught them that way.

Clean and Clear
While getting your first muscle-up is a wonderful fitness objective to work toward, simply getting your torso over the bar shouldn’t be the end goal. Once you’ve achieved your first muscle-up, it’s time to work on improving your form.

But before we get to cleaning up your technique, let’s go over the two most common issues people new to the muscle-up kingdom may encounter:

Uneven Arms
While allowing one arm to come up before the other can sometimes be a helpful gateway to cleaner muscle-ups, it is generally not a good long-term strategy. Though it may be the only way you’re going to get a feel for the crucial transition from below the bar to being on top, it’s best to try to shake this habit as soon as possible.

Excessive Kipping
Almost everyone needs to kip a bit to do their first muscle-up, but once you can perform a few reps you should aim to steadily reduce your kip. Though a little kipping is certainly acceptable if you’re doing reps on the bar, do your best to keep it to a minimum. If your knees are bending more than an inch or two or your legs are casting out too far in front of the bar, you need to clean it up.

Fixing Your Form
Even if you’re pretty good at muscle-ups, chances are you can benefit from the following training tactics. I recommend these three techniques for getting rid of the common form flaws and establishing yourself as a muscle-up master.

Just like in your early pull-up practice, negatives are a great way to establish a movement pattern in your nervous system. Start at the top of a muscle-up and lower yourself slowly to the bottom of the dip position with your chest leaning over the bar. Brace yourself and transition as carefully as possible from having your chest above the bar to the top of a pull-up position. Squeeze your abs tight and reach your legs away from the bar to counterbalance. At first you may not be able to control it much, but with time you will eventually get the hang of going slowly through the transition. Once this happens, controlled muscle-ups will soon follow.

Gradual Kip Reduction
Don’t expect to suddenly go from your first sloppy muscle-up to replicating the opening of Andreas Aguilar’s 1991 World Pro gymnastics routine. The only way to significantly minimize your kip is to do it slowly and gradually. If you find yourself bending your knees during your muscle-ups, focus on keeping your legs straight(er). If you’re bucking your hips too much, imagine there is a wall a foot or two in front of the bar that you don’t want to crash into.

When the objective is to improve your form, focus on performing fewer reps at a time. Sets of just one or two reps will allow you to focus on the subtle details of the movement pattern without getting fatigued. Like the old saying goes, “quality over quantity.”

False Grip
It’s great to practice explosive muscle-ups but slowing the movement down can add a whole new challenge, allowing you to build more strength in the transition from below to above the bar, which is the most crucial part of the exercise.

In order to do this, it’s helpful to use a false grip, which entails bending your wrists over the bar so your hand won’t need to roll around it during the transition. When you get to the top of the pull-up phase, your hands will already be in the right position. Some people even find an exaggerated false grip with closed fists resting on the bar to be ideal.

If you have access to them, learning the muscle-up on gymnastic rings can be a useful tool to help perfect your bar muscle-up. While the two skills are each unique in their own ways, there is a lot of carry-over from one to the other. If you don’t have rings, practicing a false grip muscle-up between two parallel bars can give you a similar feeling.

Watch the video below for more:

For more information about muscle-ups, pick up a copy of my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.

Related posts:
Getting Your First Muscle-up
Kartik’s First Muscle-up

27 thoughts on “Clean Up Your Muscle-up!

  • By Marcelo -


    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Marcelo!

  • By timshel01 -

    So Cool !

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Tim!

  • By Geoffrey Levens -

    Great post. Thank you! Good info and tips. Went to link to watch Andreas Aguilar’s muscle up and was hypnotized. He just nails it and then the iron cross where he just sort of casually hangs out for awhile…. Interesting “dismount” at the end HAH!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Geoffrey! And yeah – AguiIar is the man! I think that rep is considered by many to be the among the best recorded muscle-ups of all time.

  • By Mark Savage -

    Thanks for the post – I’m a firm believer in proper form. I’ve wanted to try properly for a muscle-up for ages, but my pull-up training hasn’t been consistent enough. I’m going to change that!

    You’ve a really inspirational site. Since coming across it a couple of weeks ago I’ve been on it almost everyday since(!) and have a new energy about my own training – so thanks for putting yourself and your experience out there.

    Btw how many times a week do you workout? At the moment I’m doing a full body (bodyweight) workout 6 times a week… don’t want to overtrain – but am quite enthusiastic ๐Ÿ™‚

  • By Mourner -

    Today I read this post about improving muscle-up form, and hours later ironically did my first ever muscle-up. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve been struggling with it for half a year, and finally did it โ€” not the best, with a great kip, but did it! What an awesome feeling. Your advices and videos were invaluable โ€” thank you very much, Al, you’re the best!

    In addition I’d like to share a tip I came up with that helped me nail my first rep and that I didn’t see in any other muscle-up articles/videos. I got to the top pull-up position and started swinging back and forth until I had enough momentum to push my torso over the bar and perform muscle-up โ€” it’s tons easier than the full kipping muscle-up in one motion (never got that kipping part correctly), and it helps you feel the mechanics of the transition part much better than jumping muscle-ups. Once I got that feeling, it was much easier to perform a full kipping muscle-up in one motion.

    P.S. today’s proof video

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Congrats on your first muscle-up! I’m glad my tips helped. I bet your advice and video will help someone else!

  • By Emi -

    Dead Al, I have read your books, and watch your videos. I have been trainning really hard for three months but still can’t get a muscle up…I’m stuck in the part when I have to roll myself over the bar…can you help me my friend? Any advice?
    Thanks for everything!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Emi – Be patient with the muscle-up; it’s an advanced move! It might be best to get your reps up on pull-ups and dips for a few more months before returning to the muscle-up. Also, I am alive and well – thanks!

      • By Emi -

        hahahaha!! It was Dear hahahahahah sorry man, hahaha… I will focus in pull ups dips and chin ups for some time as you say. Then I will let you know bro! Thanks for replying!

        • By Liam Trott -

          Hello Memi, I managed to do some muscle ups with low reps in pull ups and dips but have stopped doing them for now because it was obvious that without the basics set in place properly I just wasn’t going to be able to clean up my form. So I’ve gone back to raising my reps on pull ups and dips with the thought of getting back to muscle ups in the New Year.

          You really can’t rush calisthenics, and nothing replaces time on the bar. Al and the others say that quite often but it takes some time to realise that in your own body.

          Have fun working out and don’t rush! There is no end to the road after all.

  • By Matt -

    When I have performed muscle ups in the past, I notice the next day my sternum is sore from hitting it on the bar on the way up. Is this normal? If not, how can I avoid this? Thanks.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Matt – I wouldn’t say it’s normal, but it’s not particularly unusual for a beginner either. This may be stating the obvious, but the best way to avoid hitting your sternum into the bar is to improve your technique using the methods explained in the article above.

  • By morayma segura -

    Hi, i ยดve trainning a lot ….i can made pull ups, push ups, dips, but how come is so difficult to make this kind of exercise? any advice?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Morayma – this article you are commenting on is already full of advice! I’ve also linked to two additional articles above that I’ve written about muscle-ups. Read everything and watch the videos, then post again if you have specific questions. Keep training hard and be patient – We’re Working Out!

    • By RobbyTaylor -

      Morayma, there is no trick or shortcut to the muscle up; any form of muscle up is very difficult! A kipping muscle up will be easier from a strength aspect but require more refined technique, while a slow false grip muscle up is less technical but takes more strength. Each has its importance depending on your training goals.

  • By sushmit sarmah -

    Hi Al,

    I can do muscle ups on rings atleast 3-4 at one go and a total of 10-12 in one training session. But when I try to do the same thing on a bar I am simply unable to do it. Any advice on what I should do?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      As you’ve already discovered, the m-up on rings and the m-up on the bar are two different skills. You need to specifically practice the technique on the bar in order to achieve it. Follow the advice contained in this article and check out my other m-up tutorial’s linked above. We’re Working Out!

      • By sushmit sarmah -

        Thanks a lot. Is the bar muscle up generally tougher than the ring muscle up? Which is better?

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          Those are both subjective questions with no universal answer. In time, your own training will be your best teacher.

        • By RobbyTaylor -

          Typically it goes like this: kipping bar muscle up is the easiest, then kipping ring muscle up, then false grip ring muscle up, then false grip bar muscle up being the hardest. False grip bar muscle up definitely requires the most strength, except for a super strict L sit ring muscle up.

  • By Beth Andrews Rkc -

    Great article, love this! Still working on it. It gets frustrating at times. I can do them fairly easy on rings…I haven’t made friends with the Bar…yet!:) Bar negatives are my friend right now. I’ll have to try the parallel bars.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Beth! Keep at it!

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