One of the best known exercises in the world of calisthenics is the muscle up. This exercise is the first step out of ‘the basic zone’. When you pop up that muscle up for the first time people literally feel like they are on the top of the world. The muscle up is an amazing exercise for building strength, when(!) performed the right way. In this blog I will discuss what you need to do to perform a good muscle up.
Let me first tell you the differences in the different techniques of performing the exercise. We got the regular muscle up and the false grip muscle up.
So with the regular one you will need to have a momentum to go through the hardest part of the muscle up, the transition. That momentum is created by a moment of kipping and using that energy to get up or the explosive power of your muscles. If you don’t have any momentum you cannot go through the transition, unless you are a freak of nature…like the guy in the video beneath.
With the false grip variation you usually don’t kip or use your explosive power, but you’re going right into that hardest part, the transition. The false grip is making the transition easier, but it is a lot more challenging for your wrists and forearms.
In this blog I will discuss the regular muscle up and let the false grip be for what it is, namely what I mentioned in the sentence above this one.
My advice is to first work on your basic strength. You will need to be able to do at least 10 clean pull ups. Clean means dead hang at the start and bar to chest at the end. If you cannot reach your chest with the bar it usually indicates certain muscles are too stiff and/or your muscles are not strong enough in that end-range of the pull up. In this case, make your chest and shoulders more flexible and make use of an elastic band to make the pull ups lighter.
As second, is the front dip. Again you will need to be able to perform at least 10 clean front dips. This means elbows locked and shoulders away from your ears at the start and elbows pointing backwards, shoulders still away from the ears and the lower part of your chest touching the bar. If this so called clean front dip is too hard, just use an elastic band to make the exercise easier.
Clean from the beginning
So why should you perform clean pull ups and dips from the start? My question is, why not? If the answer is: “because it’s harder”, you should think again. Nobody said it was going to be easy!
Like I said before, the transition is the hardest part of the muscle up. So would it be a good idea to make that transition smaller? I think so! By making the range of your pull ups and dips bigger the transition is getting smaller. The only thing you need to do is pulling high and dipping low, but clean of course. A good method to use is the hold your highest pull ups and lowest dips for 10-15 seconds at for example at the end of each set. Or you can make sets out of it alone too. You need to work those muscles in the end range!
When you got your basics right try to get more explosive in your pull ups and dips. The first thing you should do is perform all the exercises your do as fast as possible in the so called concentric phase. In this case the phase where you pull yourself up and dip yourself up.
The second thing you can try is to do weighted pull ups and dips. Add an extra 10 kg for example by using a weight vest or a belt with weight. This way you can get a lot stronger and make more explosive pull ups and dips.
Good exercises for the transition
Besides performing high pull ups and low front dips in your workouts I advise to do skull crushers to make your triceps a lot stronger and perform inverted rows to make your upper back stronger.
The progression exercise for the muscle up I recommend is the negative muscle up. This means you start on top of the bar by hopping up or doing a pull-over and let yourself slowly lower down, ending in the dead hang.
This is my advice, do with whatever you like! Thanks for reading it!
About the writer
Guido Bakker, physiotherapist, calisthenics trainer and founder and co-owner of the Dutch Calisthenics Federation (www.calisthenicsnederland.nl).
I love to move, inspire people and motivate you to get of your ass and move. Use it or lose it!