In summer of 2016, I decided that I wanted to learn how to do a muscle-up. I had been training pull-ups inconsistently for a couple of years at that point, but I could do 12 if I put all my energy into it so I figured 1 muscle-up wouldn’t be too hard.
My first muscle-up attempt had me flailing on the pull-up bar like a fish out of water. There’s no way it could be this hard right? Wrong…for me it was that hard because I had absolutely no technique. It took me approximately 3 weeks of attempting the muscle-up every single day before I accidentally stumbled upon the proper technique during one of my workout sessions. Then it took 2 more months of training every single day before I cleaned up the technique to the point where I was comfortable with the form.
At that time, I didn’t have a gameplan or blueprint to follow and I was completely oblivious that there was even a method to learning the muscle-up. I figured that every single day I would just try my best to do the muscle-up, regardless of my form, until I was strong enough to do a full muscle-up with proper technique. And that’s exactly what I did.
What I would’ve done differently…
Hindsight 20/20, that was extremely stupid of me and was a recipe for disaster. I was practically going to workout every single day asking to get hurt – AND – I was focused on the wrong thing. I was completely focused on the “until I get strong enough” part and not on the “proper technique” part. And the proper technique part is THE MOST important part of the muscle-up.
So here is what I learned, and what I now implement with my clients so that they don’t make the same mistakes that I did when learning how to muscle-up.
The primary focus points:
First, regular pull-ups are a priority. Inherently, the muscle-up contains a pull-up so if your pull-up is weak the muscle-up will be extremely difficult to learn. Regular pull-ups will help to build you up to the next step.
The next step is transitioning to your high pull-up. The high pull-up requires you to be explosive and to pull the bar as low as possible. Start with pulling to the chest, then belly, and if you’re really strong to your waist. This is the first half of the muscle-up and you can train it with assistance bands. It is at this point that you would also start to pay attention to your body placement.
To get your muscle-up you have to go around and over the bar, NOT up and over the bar. What does this mean? This means that you have to be at an angle when you begin your muscle-up so that you won’t be blocked by your shoulders.
How do you do this?
The way you do this is by drawing an imaginary line in front of you. When you get on the bar, swing a bit so that your toes reach that line. Once your toes reach that line, you initiate your high pull. This causes the point where your hands are touching the bar to become the point of rotation around which your whole body will be moving as you go AROUND and OVER the bar. This part can be a little bit tricky, but it is the key and turning point in learning your muscle-up. Once you feel the high pull-up with proper body positioning, you will understand the mechanics of the muscle-up. It is also important to remember that although this step is vital to know in theory, you will only truly understand it once you get it in practice.
The third step involves rotating your wrists on the bar to get into the bottom of your straight bar dip position. If you did your high pull explosively enough, your elbows will already be pointing back and your shoulders will be over the bar. The rotation of the wrists completes that motion and is the transition from the pulling portion of the muscle-up to the pushing portion.
What to aim for:
The goal is to have both arms moving simultaneously (elbows come up together, shoulders go over the bar together, and both wrists turn over the bar together). If you end up only doing one arm at a time, this is called chicken-winging and it opens up room for you to injure yourself by overloading one side. If you catch yourself chicken-winging, grab an assistance band to help you out so you can go up with both arms simultaneously with good form.
The last part of the muscle-up is the push portion which is the straight-bar dip. Once you complete this portion you will be done with your muscle-up. HOWEVER, many people get stuck on this point and end up falling back under the bar because they have not trained their straight-bar dip. To train your straight-bar dip, find an elevated surface that you can use to jump to the top of your muscle-up. From that position, work on your straight-bar dip until you are strong enough to push yourself up comfortably for about 10 reps for 3-5 sets.
These 4 steps work your entire muscle-up. An extra step that is very helpful that I like to throw in as a bonus is the muscle-up negative. This works the reverse of the muscle-up (you do the muscle-up going down instead of up) and helps to create that muscle memory and strength in the muscles that are necessary for the muscle-up.
How to do the muscle-up negative:
To do this, find an elevated surface that you can use to jump to the top of your muscle-up (similar to how we did with straight-bar dips) and do your straight-bar dip, but, this time you will keep lowering slowly until your head goes under the bar and then slowly extend until you are hanging from the bar. Jump off the bar and repeat for reps.
This reverse simulation of the movement helps to keep tension in the proper muscles to develop that strength for the full muscle-up.
KEEP IN MIND!
This gameplan is essentially a blueprint for how to get your muscle-up. It might take some people a few months to implement, it might take some a year to implement, and it might take some multiple years to implement. The important thing to remember is that your fitness journey is a marathon and not a sprint. You are in this for the long term and your priority should be achieving your goals in a sustainable manner, without any injuries.
Implement these 4 steps, plus the bonus step, in your routine in order to unlock your muscle-up. And if you have any questions, or want custom 1:1 help to reach your fitness goals, DM me “MyFitness” on Instagram @joemirofit or on Facebook Messenger @https://www.facebook.com/joemirofit for more information and I’ll reach out to see if I can help you hit your fitness goals!
-Coach Joe Miro