Scaling School: The Muscle Up

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been frustrated with the muscle up.

Every single one of you sitting at your computer eating kale chips reading this blog better have your hand in the air. The muscle up is one of the most difficult gymnastics skills; with a whole slew of components and queues that make it complex to master and perform.

But they’re also really awesome looking and everyone wants to be able to say they can do them.

As a coaching staff, we want you to accomplish the muscle up one step at a time. You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. So let’s get you on the road to running.

Progression 1: Assisted from the ground

This progression is ideal for super newbies to the muscle up game. This helps you understand the mechanics of the movement with the assistance of earth under your feet.

  • Set-up: Adjust the rings to mid-thigh height. Keep feet underneath you and drop knees to the ground. Hands in false grip (pictured below). Lean back and extend arms.
  • Execution: Pop your hips up and pull your hands towards the bottom of your sternum. Use your legs to push yourself up and toss your upper body between the ring straps. Your hands will rotate as your body comes through. The rings should land next to your armpits. Use your arms and legs to complete the ring dip by pushing yourself up and locking out your arms.

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Progression 2: Banded muscle ups

Now that you’ve graduated from the first progression, you could move on to using the band. Like pullups, the band assists with your explosiveness.

  • Set-up: Grab an appropriately colored band and loop it over one of the rings. Bring the band behind you and loop it on the other ring. Place your hands on top of the band in the false grip position and sit on the band like a swing.
  • Execution: Keeping your legs straight in front of you and leaning back, pull your hands to the bottom of your sternum and pull your chest through the straps like explained above, pointing your nose to your toes before you press up.

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Progression 3: Jumping ring muscle ups with assisted ring dip

You’re a champ with the band, time to get vertical and build strength and muscle memory in executing the movement.

  • Set-up: Adjust the rings to about shoulder height. Lay back with arms extended and rings angled slightly below your shoulders.
  • Execution: With your feet extended, pop the hips up, pull hands to the bottom of your sternum, jump up into the dip with the rings next to your armpits. Use your feet to jump off the ground to extend the arms to complete the dip.

Progression 4: Jumping ring muscle ups with strict dip

A lot of the same as the third progression, but introducing some strict movements in there.

  • Set-up: Same as Phase 3
  • Execution: This should be the same as the jumping ring dip, except when you get into the bottom of the dip, do not use your feet to push up to finish the dip. You should be able to complete the strict dip to finish the muscle up.

Phase 5: Strict Muscle Up

But wait, shouldn’t a kipping muscle up come before a strict muscle up? It actually is more difficult for someone to control their bodies on the rings while kipping. Ideally, you want to get a strict muscle up before you move to kipping and stringing multiple together.

  • Set-up: Hang on the rings in the false grip position
  • Execution: Pull rings to bottom of sternum, rotate hands outward as your upper body comes between the rings, push body up to complete the muscle up.

Phase 6: Kipping Muscle Up

Kipping on the rings proves to be more difficult than bar kipping because of the instability of the rings. It requires so much more core strength to control your body in a way that won’t allow the rings to swing out of control before you even attempt the actual muscle up. In order to control your body, it is important to keep your entire body tight and use your shoulders to initiate the movement.

  • Set-up: Hang on the rings in the false grip position
  • Execution for kipping: Press shoulders forward as your hands turn outwards and your body arches. Then pull the shoulders back and tighten your core so you bring your body into a hollow position. Your body should continue upwards until you are in a parallel position.
  • Execution for muscle up: When the body is parallel, pull your hands towards the bottom of the sternum, throw your upper body through the straps so the rings land next to your armpits, and complete the strict ring dip.

You might be thinking, “uh, ok, easier said than done, guys.” And you’re right. It is much easier to write words about doing a muscle up than to actually do a muscle up. Just like anything in life, you’re probably not going to succeed on the first try. Or the second, or third, or 198th time. It’s fine! Also, if you get to the 198th attempt, it might be time to go back a step and perfect that technique before trying again. That’s also fine!

CrossFit is hard, but accomplishing new goals is so satisfying. It is so important to have specific things you want to accomplish, but it is so much more important to know practical steps to reach those specific things. If you’ve always dreamed of achieving bar muscle ups, I hope that now you have a realistic place to start.

Work hard and work smart. Give yourself grace when you fail, and then get up and try again. Now let’s get to runnin’.

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