The Muscle up is the pinnacle movement of crossfit. It is an incredibly difficult skill that many crossfitters will struggle for months or even years to obtain. Achieving a muscle up will require many hours of dedicated skill work and strength training to obtain the strength and coordination needed to perform a muscle up. Today, What Should Wodders Call Me is breaking down the muscle up and hopefully helping you to get your first one.
First things first. Let’s break down exactly what a muscle up is. There are two different types of basic muscle ups. The first is a bar muscle up and the second is a ring muscle up. While both are difficult feats to achieve, the ring muscle up is typically regarded as being more difficult. Unlike the bar, the rings have a tendency to move around as you swing and pull yourself on top of them. Today we will be discussing the ring muscle up (we will do another feature on bar muscle ups sometime in the future). The purpose of a muscle up is to take yourself from a hanging position on the rings, and bring yourself on top of the rings. This can be done both with a kip and without a kip (strict). A kipping muscle up will consist of a kip followed by a violent pull towards the rings. Once hips are at ring level, the athlete will essentially perform a sit-up into what is known as the catch. Once the athlete has hit the catch, all they need to do is execute a ring dip until their arms are locked out on top of the rings. However, before we even begin to talk about various techniques, we will need to build the strength base necessary to attempt and successfully achieve a muscle up.
Building the Strength Base
This is the part of the muscle up that I see most often skipped when people are working towards a muscle up. It’s understandable, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to work on your technique. After all a muscle up is 80% technique. However, without the strength base it is unlikely that you will get a muscle up and you also risk injuring yourself if you do get a muscle up before properly developing your strength. The first aspect of the strength base, is your pulling strength. This is the strength that you will need to pull your body close to the rings so that you can sit up into the catch.
There are several drills you can perform to improve strength in this area. The first is a ring row. A ring row that is being used to improve strength for muscle ups will need to tax your pulling strength. In order to do this, you will want to be as parallel as possible with the ground. The best way to achieve this position, will be to put your feet up on a box until they are in line with the height of the rings or higher. For an added challenge, consider doing these with a weighted vest. Another important aspect of your pulling strength will be your ability to do strict pullups. The more strict pullups you can do, especially chest to bar strict pullups, the better.
The second part of the strength base required for a muscle up, will be your core strength. The strength you need not only to control your kip, but also to sit up into the catch comes almost entirely from your core strength. While traditional core exercises will certainly help to improve abdominal strength (planks, crunches, etc.), there are several movements that will contribute specifically to the movements that tax your core in a muscle up. The first, is a GHD situp. After your hips become parallel with the rings, the transition into the catch of the muscle up is essentially a very large GHD situp. The more GHD stiups you perform, the stronger and more explosive your core and hips will become and the easier it will be to make that transition into a muscle up. A good drill on the GHD machine is to perform sets with a few very explosive and strong situps. Lean back slowly until your fingertips touch the ground and then sit up as explosively and quickly as you can. Another exercise that will improve your core strength by ten fold are hollow rocks. Many people conveniently forget about the existence of hollow rocks (they are fairly painful and difficult). However, properly executed hollow rocks can do wonders for your core strength. Make sure that you keep your entire body, squeezing your abs, quads, and glutes as you rock back and forth. The more hollow rocks you can do unbroken, the better.
Hollow rocks are a great way to build the core strength required for a muscle up.
The third and final facet to the strength base required for a muscle up, is dipping strength. I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely essential it is that you have the ability to perform strict ring dips. Why? Because the entire second half of the muscle up is a push up out of your deepest, darkest ring dip. I see so many people attempting muscle ups without a proper ring dip base. This will not only lead to failure, but can also be incredibly dangerous. If you do manage to make the transition and hit the catch and lack the strength to balance on the rings in the dip position, you could fall out of the rings and possibly seriously injure your shoulder or arm. Many coaches recommend that you be able to perform at least five strict ring dips with full range of motion before even attempting a muscle up. If you are currently unable to perform a ring dip, I suggest you begin with bar dips. Bar dips are essentially the same thing as ring dips, but substitute parallette bars, which are more stable, for rings. Try to avoid using bands as a scale for your ring dips, as these don’t allow you to build the strength required to press out of the bottom of the dip. Instead, practice negative dips. Slowly lower yourself to the bottom of the rings or parallettes. You can also practice ring dips with your feet up supported on a box in an L-position in order to build strength in the dipping position. Once you have achieved sufficient dipping strength, make sure to maintain it. A great drill for strict ring dips, is tempo ring dips. Start by holding yourself on top of the rings for a two count, lowering yourself for a two count, holding the bottom of the dip for a three count and then exploding out of the bottom of the dip. Once again, I cannot emphasize enough how important your ring dips are. The more dips you can do, the better.
Now that you’ve built your strength base for your muscle up, it’s finally time to move onto the technique aspect of a muscle up. For some people, the coordination required to perform a muscle up comes fairly easily. However, for others it can take hours of practice and muscle memory building. Either way, technique is absolutely essential when it comes to a muscle up, especially a kipping muscle up.
Part 1: The Grip
Before we even begin to kip, we will need to decide on how we will approach holding the rings. There are several techniques for this, and each present their own benefits and drawbacks. The first grip style is fairly common in the crossfit world and is used by most people to achieve their first kipping and strict muscle up. This grip is known as the false grip. To use a false grip on the rings, you will need to turn your hands in to face you as your grab the rings. Your wrists will be touching the rings. The false grip can be useful, because makes the lever of your arms significantly shorter. Not only that, but it can also help to facilitate the transition into the catch. However, it can be difficult to kip properly in a false grip position. It is also difficult for many people to obtain the wrist and forearm flexibility to properly false grip the rings. However, the false grip can really help to facilitate the muscle up and is almost essential for achieving a strict muscle up. The next grip is a non-false grip. this grip is what most people use when they first jump up onto the rings. This grip makes kipping easier, especially when it comes to stringing muscle ups. The third and final grip, is a neutral false grip. This grip is a little less extreme than a full false grip and can help to facilitate the transition to the catch while not restricting kipping as much as a full false grip. While all three grips are useful, I would recommend a full or neutral false grip when attempting your first muscle up, as both will help to make the transition to the catch significantly easier.
Part 2: The Kip
Now that you’ve got your grip all figured out, it’s time to take a look at the kip. While not incredibly complex, the kip does require coordination, flexibility and core strength. If you have a kipping pullup, you can apply the same kipping technique to your kipping muscle up. While the kip will obviously be slightly larger than the kip you use for your pullup, it should not be so big that it takes away from the actual muscle up. Your kip should be explosive and powerful, but at the same time controlled. You should not for any reason break at the hips or knees on the back swing of your kip. When you allow your feet to swing up and behind your head as a result of breaking at your hips and knees, your legs essentially become dead weight rather than assisting in the swing. You also want to keep your kipping to a maximum of one swing back and one swing forward before pulling your hips up to the rings. Too many kips can cause the rings to start to swing and can make your kip awkward. Be sure to keep your entire body tight and controlled while kipping. After the backswing on your kip, swing your legs up until they are parallel with the ground and pull your hips to the rings.
Be sure to keep your body tight and not break at your knees on the backswing of your kip.
Part 3: The Transition Into The Catch
As your hips get closer to the rings, you will want to sit up into the catch. Throw your head forward and your feet back. As you sit up, the rings will fall beneath your arms and you will end up in the bottom of the ring dip. From here, all there is left to do is to push up and into the lockout position of the muscle up. While many people choose to do a strict dip at the end of their muscle up, others will elect to kip out of the bottom of the ring dip. Whatever it is you chose to do, make sure you can do it on the low rings before attempting it at the end of a muscle up where your muscles will be fatigued.
As your hips get closer to the rings, perform a violent situp as you swing your head forward and your legs back into the catch.
Muscle Up Skills and Drills
By now, you’ve probably figured out that unless you have previous strength or gymnastics training, it is unlikely that you will get a muscle up in your first try. But never fear! The muscle up is easily the most difficult and complex movement in crossfit. It has an incredible blend of technique and strength that make it so elusive to so many crossfitters. It is very likely that it will take several months of strength and technique development before you actually achieve it, but there are several drills that can help to speed that process along.
1. Band Supported Ring Transition
This drill is perhaps the closest you will get to having a “banded” banded muscle up. Unfortunately, unlike with bar movements, where technique can be practiced in bands to help decrease resistance, rings don’t provide athletes with the opportunity to utilize bands when learning the movement. However, an easy way to get the feel for the transition of the muscle up without actually getting on the high rings. To perform this drill, stretch a band across a set of low rings as though you were going to do a banded ring dip. Sit back into the band and grab the rings as though you were going to do a muscle up off the floor. With your feet off the ground, make your body parallel to the floor and pull the rings to your hips as you violently sit up and hit the catch of the muscle up. To complete the drill, you can either finish with a dip out of the bottom (if you already have strong dips, this is not necessary), or you can sit back into the band and perform a few reps. To make this drill harder or easier, loosen the tension on the band beneath your but. An easier version of this drill will be to position yourself as though you were going to do a ring row with your feet on the ground and pull yourself up into the catch position.
2. GHD Muscle Up
Position the GHD Machine below a set of rings in such a way that when you are at the top of your GHD situp, you can enter the catch position on the rings. Lower yourself back until your arms are straight and pull yourself up as you perform a violent GHD situp.
3. Hips To Rings
This drill is performed on the high rings and will help you to better get your hips to the rings when you attempt an actual muscle up. Take one kipping swing and perform the first half of a muscle up until your hips make contact with the rings. The goal would be to get it so that when your hips make contact with the rings, your entire body is parallel with the ground. Your legs are not broken at the knees and your back is not arched. Your body should maintain a straight line throughout this entire process.
Good luck and be sure to make sure you develop your strength and technique bases before attempting your first muscle up to avoid injury. While some coaches recommend that you try to achieve a strict muscle up before attempting a kipping, if you have a proper strength base and your technique is strong, you should not have an issue achieving your first muscle up. Crossfit on.