If you are a strength training enthusiast, I am sure you have heard a lot about the Muscle Up, the ability to combine pulling and pushing into one complex movement. Popularized in the Crossfit scenery, the Muscle Up has become the goal (and slowly the standard) of most trainees aspiring to develop a base of gymnastic upper body strength. If you are asking yourself why this is, consider the multidimensional benefits of the Muscle Up:
- Movement Complexity: being able to articulate your body in space from a hanging position into a support position in a controlled, slow manner.
- Functional Component: the above described complexity opens possibilities in the realm of different movement contexts, like Parkour, Gymnastics and Climbing. Just think how useful it is as a parkourer to be able to get your hands on the edge of a wall and pull from there into a support position, from which it is a lot easier to stand up and continue your way in the newly reached platform. For Gymnasts or ring routine enthusiasts, the Muscle Up opens the door between most pulling and pushing movements, providing a clean and aesthetic transition for practicing and combining other more advanced skills.
- Conditioning: mastering the Muscle Up in the right way does not only consolidate your base pulling and pushing strength by integrating them together, but it also conditions your shoulders, elbows and wrists by exposing them to harder demands in the transition between pulling and pushing. This just means that your joints and ligaments will get stronger and able to withstand more load and complexity.
Now that we know about the benefits, we can concentrate on how to achieve this noble skill.
First of all, we should understand that we need the right requirements before attempting a Muscle Up, for both our pulling and pushing strength should be developed enough to enable us to work on the transition component and our joints should be strong enough to be exposed to the new load.
For practical purposes, I would recommend you starting your journey to the Muscle Up using gymnastic rings. The rings give you the benefit of being shoulder friendlier than a bar because they can move freely and rotate. This is also an advantage in pushing exercises, like the Ring Dips, because you will be obligated to work your shoulder stabilization through the whole movement. Least but not less important, rings are ideal for False Grip training. The False Grip gives you an advantage while learning a muscle up because your wrists will not need to transition from under the ring to over the ring, but will stay always over the ring.
Exercise #1: Ring Chin Ups
Basic of pulling strength, many do not do the Chin Up in the most beneficial way for their strength development, try focusing on the following details and see how much better your control and conditioning in pulling gets:
Important cues and do´s:
- Start from a Passive Hang, then go into an Active Hang and pull yourself up from that position.
- Pull aiming to a) bring the rings to your chest and b) getting your elbows behind your body.
- Spend one second in the top position.
- Spend at least three seconds on the way down maintaining the shoulder activated the whole time.
- Finish the rep by transitioning from an Active Hang into a Passive Hang.
Volume requirements vary from person to person, but being able to do 5 sets of 5 reps of these should be a must before attempting Muscle Ups.
Exercise #2: Ring Dips
A lot harder than Bar Dips. Beginners should start working on Dips on a bar so they can develop the pushing strength before transitioning to the rings. If you are already a machine on parallel bars when it comes to dips, but your Ring Dips are a problem because of the stabilization component, try practicing a support hold on the Ring first for a few weeks (3 to 5 sets of 10-20 seconds) until you get a hang of the control needed for the movement.
Cues and Do´s:
- Begin in a Support Hold: arms completely extended, hands close to the body,, shoulders depressed (pressed down away from your head).
- Maintaining your body as straight as possible, start descending into the bottom position until you reach as deep as possible, thinking about bringing your shoulders to your wrists. The descent should last at least 3 seconds.
- From that bottom position, push (hard) to bring you back up into the Support Hold, locking your elbows again completely out and rotating the hands outwards.
Same thing as with the Chin Ups, a general 5×5 is required to claim mastery over this pushing movement.
Exercise #3: Muscle Up Transitions
The most important exercises in the development of the Muscle Up itself. Now that we got the pulling and pushing part of the movement covered, we shall use a tool to work on the missing link: the transition between the pull and the push. Some people are able to do Muscle ups with raw strength acquired from Chin Ups and Push Ups, but do not be mistaken: the transition part of a Muscle Up is the hardest part, the one that actually loads your joints the most and requires the most control and conditioning to prevent injuries.
Start these with the rings on a height in which you can put your feet on the floor and use the support of your legs to make the exercise as light as possible. As you progress over weeks with the exercise and feel that the transitions get lighter and less taxing on your elbows and shoulders, increase the intensity by using less and less support from your legs or making the rings higher.
- Make sure you have positioned your hands in a False Grip before you start.
- Begin by simulating the top position of a chin up: rings touching the chest, shoulder blades touching, chin as high as possible over the rings.
- Start moving your hands apart from each other, maintaining them as close to your body as you can and slowly make the elbows come higher and your chest go forward until you find yourself into the bottom position of Ring Dip.
- Return to the original position by slowly bringing the rings together to your chest again and letting the elbows drop with control.
- Repeat this process for a total of 30-45 seconds.
- Focus on the quality of the movement and the controlled articulation of the transition, pay attention to the details and try cleaning your technique each session.
3 to 5 sets of the Muscle Up transitions twice a week will help conditioning your joints and giving you strength in this pattern. You can easily integrate this exercise in the end of your strength workout (preferably after your Chin Ups and Dips if you are also working on getting the pushing and pulling strength requirements).
A good example of a MuscleUp-specific Workout, to be done twice a week, is:
A1. False Grip Hanging 3×15-20 sec
A2. Support Hold on Rings 3×20 sec
B1. Chin Ups 5×5
B2. Ring Dips 5×5
C1. Muscle Up Transitions 5×30-45 sec.
Go slowly ramping up the reps on the Chin Ups and Dips and manage well the intensity you use for the Muscle Up Transitions. Try to be aware of how fatigued your elbows, wrists and shoulders are and using as much support as you need to be able to complete the 30 to 45 seconds. Follow the details on form and benefit from an amazing control in your upper body strength!
If you decide to try this workout and need some feedback on form, Post a video of the exercises on Instagram under @noch3functionaltraining and me under @draloec and I will gladly give you advice :).
Rock on and thrive!
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