Though deceptively simple, the muscle up is quite a complex skill, involving two main compound movements, the linking of which requires not only strength, but fine timing.
The basic movement involves performing a pull up, followed by a single bar dip, in order to get on top of the bar. The difficulty of the move however, resides in the transition from the top of the pull up position to the bottom of the dip position, and being able to do explosive pull ups helps with this!
Consequently this is a progression I really had to break down into small steps, in order to make it as gradual and painless as possible.
I hope the following will offer you a clear pathway to your first muscle up.
You might not have access to the equipment to perform some of the steps on this page, in which case just skip that variation. It will make the transition from the one to the next a little harder, but it should be well manageable nonetheless.
Prerequisites: archer pull ups ; modified russian dips
A note on sets and reps: as opposed to the StartBodyweight basic routine which sticks to a format of 3 sets of 4-8 reps, the number of reps vary in this progression according to the difficulty of each exercise, in order to get you to a muscle up as quickly as possible.
Make sure you follow the principle of micro-increments however: if an exercise variation calls for 3 sets of 2-5 reps and you manage 2,2,2 on your first attempt at this variation, only increase by one in your next training session ( 3,2,2 ). When you can do 5,5,5 move on to the next variation.
1. Archer pull ups + modified Russian dips.
Do three sets of between 3 and 5 on each arm, with 3 to 5 min rest in between sets. Here's a video demonstration:
Do 3 sets of 3-6 reps, with 3 to 5 min rest in between
Watch the video below for a demonstration on parallel bars:
2. Archer pull ups to beginner muscle ups
Perform 3 sets of 2-4 reps on each arm, alternating between arms.
Here's a video demonstration:
3. Sternum and belly button pull ups + Russian dips or single bar dips
Perform a pull up until the bar is at chest level. Make sure your elbows remain close to your body throughout the later part of the move, and that they drive back past your shoulders.
Do 3 sets of 3-6 reps, with 3-5 min rest in between. Once you can do 3 sets of 6 reps, move on to belly button pull ups.
Perform 3 sets of 3-6 reps ; 3-5 min rest.
A note on the position of the legs: looking at the two pictures above or at the video, you will notice that my outstretched legs come under the bar. This occurs naturally to provide balance when performing sternum or belly button pull ups.
It is fine initially, but it will really hamper your progress if you keep the habit, when trying to achieve your first muscle up. In order to get over the bar, the majority of your weight must be in front of the bar during the initial pulling phase of the muscle up, not under it.
The following steps in this progression will gradually encourage you to keep your legs underneath you, rather than in front of you, thus shifting your weight to the front of the bar.
Perform 3 sets of 3-6 reps.
Watch the video demonstration below:
Single bar dips: if you do not have access to a set of parallel bars, perform single bar dips instead of Russian dips.
Lower yourself on a single bar until the bar is level with your nipples. This effectively reflects the often neglected middle portion of a muscle up.
Perform 3 sets of 3-6 reps
4. Beginner muscle ups
If you have access to the equipment for the next two steps (posts and rings), you can try just a couple of beginner muscle ups or even skip them all together, as they teach you a bad habit (one arm before the other).
Otherwise, perform 3 sets of 3-5 reps, alternating between arms if you can.
The key to transitioning from here to the elbow over the bar position on beginner muscle ups is going to be rotating the hand and the wrist,as if rolling on the throttle on a motorbike.
Watch the video below for a demonstration;
5. Muscle ups on posts
Hold on to the top of the posts and perform a pull up, transitioning into a muscle up. At this stage, you should not have any difficulties achieving these.
Perform 3 sets of 3-5 reps, with 3-5 min in between.
Video demonstration below:
6. Rings muscle ups
Perform 3 sets of 3-5 reps of rings muscle ups, as demonstrated in the video below:
Rings muscle ups are generally considered to be easier than bar muscle ups (though for some people, it's the other way around, possibly because they use explosiveness rather than strength and technique to get themselves over the bar).
In my experience, most people following the progression on this page will need to achieve a total of 5 consecutive rings muscle, before they can attempt their first bar muscle up.
7. Jumping muscle ups
Practice this by performing jumping muscle ups, as demonstrated in the video below.
These should be fairly easy by now, so perform 3 sets of 4-8 reps.
8. Bouncing muscle ups
In order to make sure you succeed on your first attempt, you are going to make use of the stretch-shortening cycle...
It is easier to perform an initial pull up before attempting your first muscle up: a muscle which has been pre-stretched (the downward phase of your initial pull up) will yield more strength than an extended one (the deadhang position). Effectively, bounce back from your first pull up into a muscle up.
Alternatively, do a jumping muscle up, lower yourself down, and bounce back into a full muscle up, as demonstrated in the video below:
Perform 3 sets of these, gradually building up to 3 sets of 8, with 3-5 min rest in between.
A note on the false grip position for bar muscle ups:
However, the position is slightly awkward, and it should not be necessary if you have followed the steps in the progression above.
You can see in the video below that I actually find these really awkward myself:
If -like me- you have struggled with muscle ups, I hope you will find this progression useful. The muscle up is a skill which looks easy at first, but which actually requires a fair amount of strength, technique and explosiveness.
Practice the 8 steps above diligently, and you will eventually get there!