How to get your first muscle up

The muscle up is a great skill to work towards. It combines upper body pushing and pulling to move your body from below an object to on top.

However, there is more to a muscle up than just a pull up with a dip on top. The other parts are what make it difficult, but also worth the time and effort.

There are three main components to completeing this skill on rings:

  1. Pull up and dip ability
  2. The false grip
  3. The transition

You are unlikely to get a muscle up on your first attempt, but by training each component individually you can work up to the skill in a systematic way. This is how I approached getting my own first muscle up.

Pull up and dip ability
I would recommend being able to do ten pull ups and dips before starting further muscle up training.

This is because, although a muscle up only involves one pull up and one dip, they are not the hardest part of the skill.

As your numbers increase a single pull up/dip will become easier, allowing you to focus on the more challenging parts of the skill.

The false grip
When doing a pull up using a standard grip the wrist is below the rings, but for a dip we need them to be on top. To perform a muscle up with this grip would require a massive amount of kipping.

A decent false grip is essential to doing a strict muscle up as it allows you to perform the pull up with wrists already above the rings, making the transition to dip far simpler (although not easy!).

To get the false grip you wrap your hand over the top so that your wrist on the pinky side is flush with the rings.

False grip

False_grip

This will feel very weird to start with and your pull up numbers will probably fall dramatically, if you can do one at all.

Instead, start with false grip rows to get used to it and then move on to pull ups from there. The strength should come fairly quickly.

The transition
Once your false grip pull ups are getting strong you are part of the way there, but there is still some extra pulling/pressing to do to move into the bottom part of a dip.

This is the transition and it is the hardest part of the skill simply because most people will not have previously built strength in the angles required.

This article by Christopher Sommer gives two great tactics for strengthening the transition. I credit these tactics for me getting my muscle up in two months (I already had the pull up and dip numbers).

It is pretty simple (but again, not easy!):

  • For dips, start to lower into the transition at the bottom of each rep. It doesn’t matter if the range of motion is small to start with. The important thing is that you are able to press back out on each rep. Over time the ROM will increase until the bottom of your dip reps are  in the top-of-pull-up position. 
  • The tactic for pull ups is similar. As you perform your sets pull further into the top of each rep. Range of motion isn’t important, eventually you will end up above the rings, which is just a dip away from being a full muscle up.

Top tip – focus on keeping elbows close to your ribs when moving into the transition – it’ll make the movement stronger and safer.

Exercise plan
Here’s one way of progressively working on each component of the skill to build up to a full muscle up.

I’ve only listed the parts related to the muscle up, the rest of your routine is up to you. I would limit the amount of additional upper body work though.

In each phase try to add sets/reps each week until you can do the ones listed. Once you get those numbers move onto the next phase. Always stay well away from failure and leave at least a day between workouts.

  • Phase 1 – pull up and dip strength
    No magic here. Work both exercises 2-3 times a week, building up to 3 sets of 8 reps.

  • Phase 2 – false grip, early transition work (keep the ROM small), pull up/dip maintenance
    Day 1 – FG rows 2x>8, dip-transition (easy) 2x>5, pull up 2x>8, dip 2x>8
    Day 2 – FG rows 3x>8, dip-transition (easy) 3x>5
    Day 3 – FG rows 2x>8, dip-transition (easy) 2x>5, pull up 2x>8, dip 2x>8

  • Phase 3 – false grip and increasing ROM into transition (less volume, harder work)
    Day 1 – FG pull up 3x>5, dip-transition 3x>5
    Day 2 – FG rows 3x>10, dip-transition 3x>5
    Day 3 – FG pull up 3x>5, dip-transition 3x>5

  • Phase 4 – start working transition from the bottom
    Day 1 – FG pull up 3x>8, dip-transition 3x>5
    Day 2 – FG rows 3x>10, dip-transition 3x>5
    Day 3 – FG pull up-transition 3x>5, dip-transition 3x>5

If all goes to plan, one of the pull up-transition reps in phase 4 will eventually put you above the rings, which means you can do a muscle up.

Ok, got it. What next?

My pull up into transition came before the dip. So I can go up fine (with a little swing of the legs), but not lower all of the way. So, for me, there are two things to work on: lower under control and eliminate kipping.

I will concentrate on the lowering portion of full muscle ups while continuing to work the dip-transition in isolation. Lowering under control will pave the way for multiple muscle up reps and also integrating them into longer ring routines. 

The dip-transition will help with kipping as it builds strength in the middle part of the movement. I will also slow down my reps as much as possible and focus on keeping my legs still.

I’ll update in a couple of months!

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