Getting Your First Muscle-up

February 16, 2011 // Al Kavadlo

Muscle-up Training
No single bodyweight exercise works your entire upper body as thoroughly as a muscle-up. It is truly the king of bodyweight exercises, bar none.

I’ve blogged about muscle-ups before, but it’s a topic that people continually ask about. With that in mind, I’ve created this guide towards getting your first muscle-up on a straight bar. (If you are using rings, check out my muscle-up on rings tutorial.)

Beyond Pull-ups
In order to achieve a muscle-up on a straight bar, you must be able to comfortably perform pull-ups and dips on one, but there is no set rule for how many reps are needed as a prerequisite. Some people who can only manage six or seven pull-ups can muster up a muscle-up, others who can bang out twenty dead hang pull-ups still continually fail at getting through the sticking point; the muscle-up is a unique challenge and must be treated as such.

Get High
Before you’re ready to do a muscle-up, practice doing pull-ups with an exaggerated range of motion. Instead of stopping when the bar is below your chin, pull that sucker all the way down past your chest. Get as far over the bar as you can!

Jump Right In
It can be helpful to practice a modified muscle-up on a bar that is about chest height so you can use your legs to help jump into it. (If you can’t find a low bar, bring a step or a bench up to a high bar.) This will let you get a feel for the transition from being under the bar to getting on top without having to overcome your full bodyweight. With practice, you’ll learn to rely on your legs less and do most of the work with your upper body. Once you’ve gotten the hang of jumping into a muscle-up, you’re ready to attempt the real deal.

Kipping is Appreciated
When you are learning to do a muscle-up, it’s helpful to use your hips and legs to generate additional power to get your chest beyond the bar. Do whatever it takes to get yourself up and over – nobody’s first muscle-up looks perfectly clean. As you get stronger and more comfortable with the movement pattern, you can begin to work cleaning up your muscle-up technique, as well as working on other types of advanced muscle-ups.

More Muscle-up Tips
Like all bodyweight exercises, trunk strength plays a big part in performing a muscle-up. Always practice your planks and L-sits to keep your abs strong.

Beginners might find it helpful to use a false grip when performing a muscle-up on a bar. This entails bending your wrists over the bar so that your palms are facing toward the ground.

Just like when you are working on getting your first pull-up, it can be helpful to practice negatives and use manual assistance while learning to do a muscle-up. If you are going to spot someone on a muscle-up, I suggest giving them a boost by holding them under one or both heels, as if you were helping them over a fence.