Muscle ups had their time as a trend, and have somewhat fallen out of the public eye as of late. But in crossfit gyms and outdoor workout areas across the country, people are still doing muscle-ups and seeing serious benefits. They’re fun, challenging, and a great workout that hits large portions of the body.
But how do you do a muscle up? How do you work your way up from a pull up, or perhaps from not being able to do any pull ups at all? In this article, we’ll talk about how to get your muscle up game going from scratch, as well as how you can improve and get the most out of your muscle ups.
The Essence of a Muscle Up
The muscle up is something most likely cooked up in a lab full of ripped, sadistic mad scientists. Doing one is enough to put the inexperienced in a coma, and most people can’t even squeeze that one muscle up out.
If you’re in this camp, you may be feeling pretty hopeless. At times, it can seem like you either can or can’t do a muscle up- almost as if it were a genetic thing. But, we’re happy to inform you that it most certainly is not. You just have to gradually work up to it.
The mistake most people make when they try to do muscle ups is to power straight into it, flailing their bodies and, embarrassingly, eventually having to the ground in defeat. Muscle ups aren’t a power-it-out workout, though. They do require a lot of power, but there’s also an element of grace and control.
Follow these simple steps to work your way up to a muscle up. If you can already do pull ups, skip to step four. If you’re starting from the ground up, looking to eventually be a muscle up hero, just start with step one.
Table of Contents
- 1- Simple Hangs
- 2- Pull Up Shrugs
- 3- Pull Ups
- 4- Swing Control
- 5- Chest Ups
- 6- Get the Switch Down
- 7- Push Into a Muscle Up
Day 1 – Start With a Simple Hang
If you’re not doing hangs, you should be. Hangs are a great way to passively build muscle and grip strength, and they can serve as the first step on your path to being able to do a muscle up.
Doing a hang is as simple as simple gets. Just go right up to your pull up bar, grab on, and lift your legs. It’s exactly what it sounds like- you just hang there.
Sounds too good to be true, right? How could just hanging from a pull up bar do you any good, when there are people out there doing thirty, maybe fifty pull ups? Really, it seems insane!
Try to hang onto a pull up bar for a hundred seconds, though, and you might start to see why it’s such a great workout.
To keep yourself in place and prevent yourself from swinging, you’ll have to engage muscles all over your body. Your hands, arms, back, core and legs all work together to keep you in place. The feel of a long hang session sort of reminds us of doing a long plank, but a whole lot more intense.
The muscles you work out as you hang will be essential in doing pull ups and eventually muscle ups. Plus, it’s a great way to stretch your arms and back, and many people even claim it can help take care of shoulder pain.
Getting some good hang sessions in should be your first step.
Day 2- Do Pull Up Shrugs
Once you’re confident with your ability to hang for long periods of time, you can move on to shrugs. Likely, you’ll find these a bit easy- that’s good. It means your muscles are developing and you’re getting some good strength going. That will be essential.
To do simple shrugs, just hang on your pull up bar and shrug. Really, it couldn’t get any easier. As you do these, you’ll probably be feeling a little awkward. As you go along, your muscle control will increase and this will start to fade away.
Every day you do these, you should be doing one or two more reps, or increasing the height you shrug up to. If you want to, you can even work some elbow bending in there as you go, until eventually, you may find yourself doing pull ups like magic.
Which brings us to our next step.
Day 3- Pull Ups
At this point, you’ll likely be ready to do some plain old pull ups. Now, this step can be a little intimidating, but remember that you don’t have to go crazy on the first day.
Doing a pull up can also be gradual. Many people see others doing pull ups, and they wonder why they can’t go as low or ascend as high. If you don’t feel comfortable taking yourself all the way up to the chin, just do a little bit, and work your way up day by day.
Once you can do ten reps of pull ups in a row, you’ll have made some serious progress. Your strength will have grown enormously, but you likely won’t be able to do a muscle up just yet. For that, we have to make a few more stops and do a little more practice.
Day 4- Swing Control
This is not a workout proper. Swing control is more about getting the first stage of a muscle up down so you can work your way up to the big finale. Many people may see swing practice as irrelevant- just start doing muscle ups and you’ll get it done. But getting better swing control can be a great way to work your way up if you like to take things gradually and get them right.
To practice your swing control, simply get on your pull up bar and swing back and forth lightly. The first stage of a muscle up involves putting your legs forward and swinging them backwards to get a bit of momentum going. If you don’t want to swing out of control you’re going to want to get a good grasp on this step.
Day 5- Chest Ups
Chest ups are like a pull up’s big cousin. The idea behind a chin up is just like the idea behind a chin up, except instead of lifting your chin above the pull up bar, you lift your chest up. To do this, you might have to change a few things about your grip.
Many people put their hands on the pull up bar so that their palms are facing toward their faces. While this is great for pull ups, it becomes a problem when you’re doing chest ups and can entirely prevent you from being able to do a muscle up.
Instead of placing your hands on the bar so that you can see your fingers, place them down so that you can only see the backs of your hands. Your fingers should be facing away from you. This will help you with the switch motion when we get there.
As you work through your pull ups, you’re gradually going to want to start pulling yourself higher and higher, until you can get yourself to the point where you can pull the bottom of your chest up to the bar. This is where the magic really starts to happen, and the higher you can get, the better. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time building up strength with your chest ups.
Day 6- Get the Switch Down
This is the hardest part of a muscle up. It requires a lot of dexterity and control, and the burst of energy and exertion you go through while completing this simple step is what gives the muscle up its infamous reputation. It’s also part of why it’s such a good workout, but we don’t need to get too much into the specifics.
The important thing here is that we learn how to take our elbows from a downward position- below the bar- to an upward position- above the bar. To do this, you’re going to want to do a controlled swing backwards, and quickly exert your arms to use that momentum and get your elbows up above the bar.
Once your switch is done, your arms should take the shape of a bent staple. Make sure not to hold your arms too far out to your side, as this could end up in a muscle strain or worse. Tuck your arms into your sides, and get into the upward position with a quick, energetic motion.
Day 7- Push Into a Muscle Up
This is the final step. Once you can do this, you’ll be in muscle up heaven. Muscle ups are a great way to take your whole-body workout game up not just a notch, but perhaps two or three notches. They require strength, energy, and will build up some serious muscle.
The process here is simple. Just go from your switched position and push yourself up so that your pull up bar meets just below your abs and above your crotch. At this point, you’re golden.
And yeah, we know. Easier said than done. For many, this step may seem less like a cakewalk and more like an impossibility. Still, there are ways to work your way up, and you don’t have to remain content with just being able to do a chest up and switch.
One great way to work your way up to the push section of a muscle up is to do dips. This is a great workout even for those who don’t want to do muscle ups, and aside from having a different grip when you’re doing dips, the process is pretty much the same as pushing into a muscle up.
The dip machine is the one with the two bars sticking out and nothing in the middle. You also might find dip machines with platforms and counterweights.
If you want to get right into finishing your muscle up, you can just go ahead and hit the dip pegs. After a little while, you’ll be doing strong, confident dips and you’ll feel good and ready to put the finishing touch on your muscle ups.
If you can’t do dips, however, machines with counterweights are a good way to go. Counterbalance your weight to the point where you can do maybe six or seven reps of dips, and gradually work your way down the weight scale. As you decrease weight, it will get harder and harder to pull yourself up. With practice, you’ll eventually find yourself being able to do dips without any counterweights at all.
Frequently Asked Questions About Muscle Ups
Here are a couple of frequently asked questions to help you get you muscle ups done right.
Are There Different Types of Muscle Up?
There are actually three different types of muscle ups- kipping, explosive and strict. Strict muscle ups are slower and more controlled, while explosives are more like what we’ve talked about. If you’re just getting into muscle ups, you might be best to go for the explosives.
Which Muscle Up Should You Use?
Most of the time, it’s really just up to what you’re comfortable with. With kipping muscle ups, you’ll experience a lot of strain on your joints. You might want to switch if this is too much for you.
Why Are Muscle Ups So Good?
Muscle ups are such a great workout because they engage multiple kinds of muscles all at once. You push and pull muscles- important divisions to hit- will be worked out simultaneously by this one challenging whole body exercise.
A Final Word From Energetic Lifestyle
Now that you’ve got that upper body strength, you can finally achieve it- the holy grail of calisthenics. Get up on that bar, do your swing and switch, and push yourself up. At this point, you’ll probably be feeling very proud. Let yourself down slowly and revel in the achievement.