Allow me to start with the disclaimer that there are tons of reasons why you may not have gotten a muscle up yet. I just wanted to give you what I feel are the top 6 reasons and a little insight on how you might go about addressing them.  My hope is that one of these will resonate with you and that the next time you are able to try that you end up on top of those rings or ‪that bar. So here we go!

  1. Comprehension of the movement. 

This is a high level gymnastic movement. High level means you’re going to need some skills and a lot of body awareness. If it were an easy movement errbody in the box, gym and club would be doing it. But they’re not. Because it’s hard. A lot of moving parts go into flying on top of those rings or ‪that bar. And if you watch gymnasts they do all of their muscle ups strict. No swing, no kip. From static hanging to full lockout on top (with those palms facing forward for those on the rings). It’s a lot to piece together.

When you really break it down it looks like this:

Bar

  • Start from a dead hang below bar. Arms fully extended.
  • Pull the bar to your hips.
  • Aggressively bring your chest forward. Think of doing a fast sit-up.
  • Catch in that dip position
  • Press up to full lockout

Rings

  • Start from a dead hang below rings. Arms fully extended. Some prefer using the false grip.
  • Pull the rings to the bottom of your rib cage (often times thinking of brining them to your hips will ensure that you make it to your rib cage). Make sure to keep them close! Gentlemen- think about tracing your pecs. Ladies- think about tracing your lovely lady lumps.)
  • Aggressively bring your chest forward. Think of doing a fast sit-up.
  • Catch in that dip position
  • Press up to full lockout

It seems simple enough. But when you add in the swing and your legs and hips and factoring in that shoulder issue because you probably didn’t warm up properly and everyone yelling at you everything goes out the window in any attempt to just do the freaking thing.

Correction?

Work on it in segments:

Bar

  • Practice pulling your hips to the bar via an aggressive kip swing.
  • Practice the catch. (This can be done with a box under a high bar on the rig. Start with arms fully extended and head through the arms and bent knees. From there use a little jump to get yourself over the bar.
  • Work on pause dips (holding for a :05 at the bottom and pressing out to full lockout for sets).
  • Once you’ve got the ingredients down start piecing them together. Bar to hips to catch to lockout.

Ring

  • Try working on your false grip.
  • Then move on to working from a false grip hang to the pull (or to getting your hips to the rings if you’re working on a kipping one).
  • Practice the catch. (This can be done on a low bar setup on the rig or the low rings with a band.)
  • Work on pause dips (holding for a :05 at the bottom and pressing out to full lockout for sets)
  • Once you’ve got the ingredients down start piecing them together. False grip hang-pull to catch to lockout.

Think about the end goal but make sure to visualize it in steps.

2. Strength 

So you say you’ve been working out out for how long? And you feel you should have definitely gotten a muscle up by now? Oooohhhh, my young grasshopper. You know that this whole fitness thing is a lifestyle, right? Okay, and remember that your ego should get checked at the door when you enter a fitness facility? Okay well don’t pick it up on your way out either. Leave that mofo there.

Yes, you may very well have been working out a long time and yes you may very well be oh-so strong that if all else fails you can just fight crime with your bare hands. But, have you been building strength in the muscles you need for a muscle up?

When we workout we typically use the muscles that work for us, regardless of whether or not those are the ones intended for use on a particular movement.

We also have a tendency to do our favorite moves – the ones that make us feel strong and powerful, not the moves that we suck at. And this is where imbalances occur.

The muscles needed for a muscle up are strong lats for your pull and strong triceps and shoulders for your dip. Yea, you may be able to string together tons of pull-ups and that’s awesome. But your goal now is a muscle up, so you need to start training those specific moves.

Correction?

Weights + Food:

Try the following movements incorporated into your training 3x per week. Make sure you are activating the right muscles!

  • Chest to Bar Pull-ups
    • This uses more lat engagement. Go a little wider with your normal pull-up grip and pull your chest to touch the bar just below your nipples
    • You can also do negatives of this
  • Dips
    • Use the rings
    • Jump up to support and descend. I suggest working your way up to a :05 pause at the bottom and pressing up to full lockout and rotating palms forward
  • Negative MUs
    • Start at the top in a full finished lockout position. Slowly descend to a dead hang at the bottom (the start of the movement)
  • Lat Pulldowns
    • You can use a band looped around the rig. Place a PVC pipe in the band and step forward until you feel some resistance. Imagine you are pressing a beach ball under water. Keep your shoulders down and back

Approach the above movements as a circuit. Complete 10-12 reps of each and go through all four moves three times, three days a week. Make sure you are recovering properly. Quality food and rest are vital to improved performance and muscle growth

  1. You. Are. Go-ing. Way. Too. Sloowwww.

This movement requires turning over at exactly the right time, or taking the struggle bus to the top. Often times athletes aren’t fast (or “aggressive” enough) in that turnover to make it to the top.

Correction?

Bar

  • Practice the turnover using a low bar setup on the rig. Secure a barbell with bands and start with your hips up, on your toes.
  • Try doing 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Rings

  • Practice that catch position in the low rings. Set-up underneath low rings using the false grip. Make sure your hips are up and you’re your knees are bent. Practice pulling the rings to your hips and catching in the bottom of the dip. Do this by thinking about looking at the ground and tucking your knees in. You can also use a band underneath your hips for some additional assistance
  • Try doing 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  1. You’re not pulling low enough. 

So you have the strength, the aggressive turn over, but you keep smacking your chest into the bar or falling short on the rings. You (and your muscle memory) could be pulling the bar or rings to your chest as in a pull-up. Go lower.

Correction?

Bar

  • Kip swings pulling the bar to your hips
  • Focus on this sole component- not the next step
  • Try completing 2-3 pulls to your hips and then going for a muscle up

Rings

  • Kip swings pulling the rings to your hips
  • Focus on this sole component – not the next step
  • Try completing 2-3 pulls to your hips and then going for a muscle up
  1. You’re not practicing enough

Maybe you’re close but you’re just not quite there yet (or maybe you even have muscle ups but they’re wonky). You’ve got to put in the time to get the results. As one of my favorite coaches Megan May says, “Repetitions create muscle memory and movement patterns for safety & success.”

Correction?

  • Practice!
  • Record yourself or ask your coach to take a look and see where your weakest point is. Then make a commitment to DRILL THAT AREA 3-4 times each week to help set yourself up for success.
  1. Confidence

I tell my athletes all the time with various moves, “Trust yourself.” Here is where a bit of mindset comes into play.

Correction?

  • Know you can do it.
  • Visualize yourself doing it
  • Try recording yourself and then drill your weakest point (as suggested in reason #5) and make that your strongest point.

Again, these are just some of the most common reasons why athletes haven’t yet successfully muscled up. For your specific reason, it’s best to work with a knowledgeable coach that you know (*ahem* or that you’d like to know. See how to contact me below). That way they can see what you’re currently doing or not doing, and hopefully give you the tools and drills you need to get there!

Until next time stay strong and keep the gains coming!