How To Do A Muscle Up (Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners)

The muscle-up is an advanced movement that’s deceptively tricky. Although it looks like the natural progression from a pull-up, the change from pull-up to muscle-up requires a rethink of how the body moves. 

Combining a pulling motion with a pushing movement, a muscle-up is a strength exercise that needs serious control, power, strength, and speed. It isn’t just a pull-up with  an extra bit at the end.

How To Do A Muscle Up

Before you attempt a muscle-up, you need to train each section of movement individually.

In this guide, we’ll cover how to prepare for a muscle-up, and how to work through the movement with correct form. 

What Is A Muscle-Up?

A muscle-up is an exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, pulling the body up and above the bar, before pushing forward, and lowering down. A muscle-up is often seen as an advanced pull-up.

Rather than stopping when the chin reaches the bar, a muscle-up involves pushing the body upwards, so the bar is below the chest. Doing a muscle-up combines the pulling movement of a pull-up, with a push to get the body above the bar. 

Are Muscle-Ups Hard To Do?

Muscle-ups seem like the logical next step from a pull-up, and if you’ve mastered those, then you might think the transition is easy. However, advancing from a pull-up to a muscle-up requires training for a whole new kind of movement.

For that reason, even those who have plenty of strength for a pull-up can find learning a muscle-up to be very difficult. Instead of battling through with pure strength, muscle-ups require an addition of agility and power.

The movement has to be quick, explosive, and strong. 

How Do You Train To Do Muscle-Ups?

The best way to begin training a muscle-up is to isolate the core movements, and prepare for each of these separately. Before you start conquering muscle-ups, you need to be proficient at pull-ups.

You should be able to perform sets of 10 pull-ups, before you progress to the muscle-up.

When you think you’re ready, here are elements to train preparing for muscle-ups. 

Chest-To-Bar Pull-Up

Strength is a crucial component for performing muscle-ups. While the move is more than just a super-strength pull-up, this is a good place to start.

Chest-to-bar pull-ups will help to build the strength needed to advance, improve form, and emphasize the importance of control. 

To perform a chest-to-bar pull-up, hang from the bar with the hands just beyond a shoulder width apart. Keep an overhand grip, with both arms fully extended.

Hold the legs bent at a 90-degree angle, and locked together. Lift the body up by using the pull-up motion, until the chest is touching the bar. Hold the position for a second, then lower back down in a controlled movement. Complete 4 sets of 6 reps.

Straight-Arm Pull-Down

The strength required for a pull-up comes primarily from the lats and biceps, but a good muscle-up involves a large range of muscle groups. Performing straight-arm pull-downs can develop the vital back muscles. 

Begin by looping a resistance band over the top of the bar, and then pulling the back of the band through the front to form a loose knot. Tighten the knot at the bar, and you should have an anchored triangle of resistance band to work with. 

Grasp the band with an overhand grip, hands a hip width apart. Step back, keeping your arms straight at shoulder width. Step far enough back that you can feel the stretch in your lats.

Keeping your arms straight, pull the band down, until your hands are at your hips. Hold the position for a second, before raising your arms. Complete 4 sets of 10 reps. 

Straight Bar Dips

There are two reasons to train straight bar dips before moving onto muscle-ups. First, they develop the muscle groups that are vital for the pull and push movement. Second. They emphasize the importance of control. 

To perform straight bar dips, you need a bar at upper ab height. Grasp the bar with your hands a shoulder width apart. Push up to extend your arms, bringing the shoulders in front of the bar.

Dip the shoulders forwards, and bend the elbows to bring the chest down. Lower until your chest touches the bar. Push back, lock out, and repeat. Complete 4 sets of 6 reps.

Negative Muscle-Ups

Negative muscle-ups focus on the lowering portion of the movement, helping you to gain control over your body. Begin above the bar, using a block as a jumping off point if necessary.

With your chest above the bars and arms extended, lower yourself by bending the arms, until gradually hanging below the bar. Complete 4 reps of 6. 

How To Perform A Muscle-Up With Correct Form

Having built up strength and understanding by performing preparatory exercises, it’s time to attempt the actual muscle-up.

  1. Grasp the bar using a full grip, with hands shoulder width apart.
  2. Move to an ‘active hang’. Keep the arms and legs long, with a slight bend to the elbows. Engage the lats by rotating the shoulders away from the spine. Squeeze the quads and glutes, and engage the core by tucking the pelvis. Keep your chin tucked. This is the basic position from which to start each rep.
  3. Use the lats and arms to pull down on the bar and move yourself upwards. Allow the legs to travel, but keep the torso centered. Lean back as you pull upwards, and keep the movement quick. 
  4. Continue the pull movement until the chest is above the bar. Lean forward, and then push the upper body up. 
  5. Straighten the elbows to finish pushing. The chest should be above the bar, with the shoulders leaning slightly forward.
  6. Bend the elbows and lower the chest, keeping the shoulders in front of the bar, and moving the body down.
  7. Keep moving down until the chest reaches the bar, and then rotate the upper body down below the bar. The legs can move forward, but keep them locked together. Return to the starting position. 

Final Thoughts

Progressing from a pull-up to a muscle-up isn’t straight forward, but by gradually advancing through the movements, you can gain control over this tricky exercise.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy our article on ‘How To Check A Kick‘.

Christopher Anderson
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