Not all muscle-ups are created equal.
We’ve all seen people at the gym flinging themselves up over a bar. (Hell, a lot of us have probably done it.) But a smooth, controlled muscle-up is one of the best demonstrations of pulling strength and body control there is.
Developing all that strength and control isn’t easy, and a lot of people get stuck.
And that’s why we made this tutorial. In it, we break down the muscle-up so you can tackle it the smart way, and build the skill and precision you need to do a beautifully clean muscle-up on the rings.
Skip the Kip: Why We Prefer the Strict Rings Muscle-Up Over the Kipping Muscle-Up
If you walk into many (not all) CrossFit gyms around the world, you might see people doing kipping muscle-ups, which are very different from the muscle-up technique we’ll describe below.
A kipping muscle-up is where you use momentum to get yourself up and over the rings. This is very different from the strict muscle-up we teach, which uses strength in every part of the movement.
Depending on your background, you may have strong opinions about the kip. Or not. But this issue tends to be a divisive one in the training community.
Here’s why we prefer the strict over the kip:
Safer on the Joints
The primary reason to learn a strict muscle-up first is to condition your muscles and joints appropriately to lessen the chance of injury.
There is nothing inherently wrong with learning a kipping muscle up if your body can handle it.
But for most everyone (not just total beginners–even stronger people won’t necessarily be used to the forces and stresses from a kipping muscle-up because it isn’t like what they have done before) going right into kipping style will be too much and likely cause overuse problems if not outright trauma.
Use the form we teach below to get really strong with each part of the movement, and your joints will thank you.
Gives You Better Control Over the Forces
Knowing how to kip can be a useful skill, as it teaches you how to use momentum and coordination, but if not done smoothly it’s very jarring on the body.
The kipping muscle-up also really shouldn’t be done as a repetitive exercise because you can’t control the forces well enough. In contrast, with a strict muscle-up or pull-up, you can do as many reps as you can with perfect form, and then when fatigue hits you can simply stop. No matter where you are in the movement, you can lower yourself safely without risk of injury.
Because of the momentum in the kipping muscle-up, you could easily be placed in a position where you can’t get out of it with control if you need to.
If you do want to learn the kipping muscle-up, you would be much better off learning the strict muscle-up first so that you can do the kipping muscle-up with control. This will be safer and much less frustrating in the long run.
The Muscle-Up at a Glance
Okay, so you understand why we teach strict technique and not kipping, but the strict rings muscle-up can look a bit more intimidating than the kipping muscle-up.
You’re not using momentum (which just about anyone can generate); you’re using your own strength.
When we break the muscle-up down into its simplest parts, though, you can see that it’s really just the combination of a few separate movements. This makes it a lot easier to work on getting stronger in each part of the skill, and then work on combining those parts.
You’ve got this 🙂
The four pieces of the muscle-up are:
- The Grip–For the strict muscle-up, we’ll be using the false grip. With this grip, the rings are set in the hand nearer to the crease of the wrist. This is definitely an awkward position for most people at first, and it takes some time and practice to get the technique down, and to figure out the tweaks in positioning that are best for you.
- The Pull–The next step is pulling your body up as strongly and smoothly as possible. This means having a good proficiency in pull-ups. A strong pull is key to a good muscle-up, and without it, you’ll be unable to do one without swinging and kipping.
- The Transition–This is the part where most people get stuck on the muscle-up. Think of this as “putting on your t-shirt.” You’re pulling yourself to the top and then there’s a transition to pushing yourself up for the dip. It’s common to get stuck here if you’ve got issues with shoulder mobility or strength. Click here for an article that will help you work on fixing that.
- The Push–Once you’ve gotten through the transition, the push through is the easiest part. You’ll just keep your body tight and strong, and land in top position with the rings turned out. If your pushing muscles could used some work, our push-up tutorial will help.
When you see the muscle-up laid out like this, it’s just a matter of following the progressions that will help you strengthen each of these four parts.
Step-by-Step Guide to Finally Nailing the Muscle-Up
Simply understanding the components of the muscle-up won’t get you to magically master it. What will help you finally nail it is strengthening each component progressively so that you feel confident in each part of the movement.
In this video, I’ll take you step-by-step through the progressions I use with my students when teaching this skill.
|False Grip||• Place hands high on the rings
• Bend wrists to allow the rings to hang on the hands
|Baby Muscle-Up||• Keeping feet on the ground, pull hard until your shoulders are over your hands
• Keep elbows in
|Baby Muscle-Up Transition Work||• Just work on the transition portion of the Baby Muscle-Up
• Practice repeats of this transition to get comfortable and strong with it
|Jump Muscle-Up||• Start with feet on ground like in the Baby Muscle-Up
• Pull yourself up to the rings, then jump up into top position so your feet leave the ground at the top
|Low Muscle-Up||• Starting again with feet on the ground, pull your knees up then jump up into the muscle-up|
|Full Muscle-Up||• Place the rings high enough so that your arms can be straight while standing beneath them
• Pull your body hard up to the rings
• Transition your body from below the rings to above the rings
• Push hard to put your body into the top position
We’ve had quite a few clients write to us after seeing this tutorial, saying that working through these progressions helped them finally nail the muscle-up. One client sent in this video of his very first muscle-up (you can see the look of surprise on his face at the end!), along with the feedback that follows:
“Today I did my first few muscle ups. My girlfriend and I were doing a ring session and I banged out a set of 10 dips (I seldom go past 5 reps) like it was nothing so I thought ‘wait a minute… I think the next level is calling to me.’ Anyway, I want to thank YOU because most of the helpful information I absorbed on how to perform this movement is on your site and YouTube channel. Your explanation of the false grip, how to train it, and the transition were imperative. I’m teaching myself all this stuff, so resources like yours are considered heaven-sent. YOU are a good reason why the Internet exists.” – Evan Reiser
These progressions aren’t magical, but they do work, especially if you put in the time and training like Evan did. Keep at it and you’ll get it.
What if You’re Stuck? Here’s How to Push Through Plateaus with the Muscle-Up
You’ve likely run into some trouble with the muscle-up, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.
It’s a tough move, and just being able to do pull-ups and dips doesn’t in any way mean you’ll be able to put those together into a smooth and clean muscle-up–not without specific work on the transition (which is covered extensively in the video above).
But like any tough skill, you may reach plateaus in your progress because progress is not linear.
You may have three or four weeks where you’re getting better and better each week, and then another few weeks where you feel kind of stagnant. That’s normal.
But when you work on complementary skills concurrently, you’ll find that those stagnations are less common. When you hit a plateau with one exercise, you continue making progress with another, and that way you’re always working toward your goal.
As an example, in our Integral Strength program, we work on pulling exercises like chin-ups (an important foundational skill for muscle-ups), along with explosive strength moves like broad jumps, and a whole lot more. Together, these complementary skills lead to well rounded strength.
These complementary skills are progressive and adjustable, so for instance, if you’re stronger in your chin-ups than you are in your jumps, you can work at a higher level with your chin-ups, and take it down a level with your jumps to really hone your skills.
This way, even if you do hit a little plateau in your progress in one area, you’ll still be moving forward in another.
Build Skills Without Frustration
Integral Strength will help you build the kind of well-rounded strength that carries over into demanding physical skills and dynamic sports. All you need is a pull-up bar and a bit of floor.