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 to 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.
Muscle-Up Tutorial on Gymnastic Rings
In this video, I’ll take you step-by-step through the best muscle-up progressions.
After watching, scroll down for more details on why we teach it this way and how to organize your practice.
Wondering about using bands? Here’s my thoughts on that…
|• Place hands high on the rings
• Bend wrists to allow the rings to hang on the hands
|• 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
|• 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
|• Starting again with feet on the ground, pull your knees up then jump up into the 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
Basic Components of the Muscle-Up
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 use 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.
Scaling the Muscle-Up: Using Bands?
There’s a lot of ways to train your transitional strength, and people loooooove using gadgets and extra equipment like bands, but I’ve got a better solution:
The Baby Muscle-Up
To make a long story short, bands offer too much support at the bottom (where you probably don’t need it) and not much help during the transition, where you need the most help.
The Baby Muscle-Up is a more flexible and controllable solution that lets you gradually reduce your reliance on support.
Speaking of popular methods that fall short for strength-building…
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.
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.