3 Steps to Your First Muscle-up!

Hey all!

The CrossFit Open is freshly over, the New Year is upon us and this is generally the time when goals for next year are being established. Many of you may have already been setting your sights on the holy grail of the CrossFit community: the coveted ring muscle-up! Figuring out a place to start and making a plan can be tough to navigate. I’m here to help. Here are three steps to get you started on your journey.

Step #1: You will need to evaluate your physical capacity and strength. Everyone starts at a different place. Very few people walk in the doors and accomplish a muscle-up within the first 30 days. It often takes an extended period of time to get there. But with patience, commitment and perseverance to overcome obstacles it can be done!

To have a successful and safe run at completing a muscle-up, we recommend having the following in place before attempting your first: 

  1. The ability to hold  in both the top and bottom position of a ring dip for 20 seconds each. This demonstrates that you can safely support your own body weight when you transition over the rings.
  2. The ability to perform 5 consecutive strict pull-ups and 5 consecutive strict ring dips. This demonstrates you have the strength required to pull yourself high enough to transition over the top of the rings and press yourself out of the dip after the transition. 
  3. The ability to hang from the rings for 20 seconds with a FALSE GRIP.

The lack of using a false grip is the #1 chasm that holds many back from getting a muscle-up who have the strength to do them. I’ve heard every excuse as to why not to use it. ‘Someone told me I didn’t need one.’ ‘It hurts.’ ‘I can’t kip when I hold a false grip.’ The list goes on and on. 

The false grip is important for many reasons:

  1. It stacks the wrist so the transition to the top of the rings can be a lot smoother. 
  2. It reduces the chances of ‘chicken winging’ because it forces the elbows to stay close to the body. For those of you who have a ‘chicken wing’, it’s quite possible the false grip can help fix it.
  3. It shortens the distance of the pull from under the rings by 1-2”. 
  4. It helps develop muscle memory on transitions for the time when you want to move away from using a false grip to string larger sets together. 

Step #2: After you evaluate your physical strengths and abilities, you’ll need to work on filling in the gaps and establish action steps on how to improve in those areas. 

First and foremost, you will need to practice patience. If you have an area that you need to work on, be patient. With consistent work and some time you can reach your goals. It’s easy to try to run before you walk, but it’s important you establish the basics before attempting a higher skilled movement.

What do you do if you’re unable to hold on the top and/or bottom of the rings for 20 seconds? Every day practice supporting yourself in a ring pushup position at both the top and bottom. Spending time either before or after class is a great time to get these practice sets in. Once you accumulate 1-2 min in both positions, it’s time to move on to high rings for the dip support holds.

What do you do if you’re unable to hold a false grip hanging from the rings? Practice ring rows and holding the rings in a ring row position while also holding a lacrosse ball. The lacrosse ball forces you to hold onto the rings just under your palm in a proper false grip position. This strengthens the forearm and toughens up your wrist so you feel more comfortable holding a false grip in the future.

What if you’re still shooting for your first pullup? Stay patient, you’ll need to accomplish your first strict pullup first. Your journey might take a little longer, but it can be done. Start with this:

  1. 3 sets of 10 seated pull-ups and 10 negative pull-ups for 3 days every week. The amount of time to get there is different for everyone, but this is a very basic yet effective way to begin building your strict pulling strength. As the sets of 10 begin getting easier, you can make the sets more challenging by putting a box under your feet.
  2. After you’ve accomplished your first strict pull-up, what’s next? Here are some examples of how to start adding volume. Keep in mind, you may need to perform each tier 3 days per week for 4-12 weeks.
      1. 1 strict pullup E:90 x 5 reps
      2. 1 Strict pullup EMOM x 5 reps
      3. 2 Strict Pull Ups E:90 x 8 reps
      4. 2 Strict Pull Ups EMOM x 8 reps
      5. 3 Strict Pull Ups E:2 x 9 reps
      6. 3 Strict Pull Ups E:90 x 9 reps
      7. 3 Strict Pull Ups EMOM x 2… etc…You get the picture, the goal is to add volume and reduce rest time in between sets. This may take awhile to build up to. Stay patient.

What if you’re still shooting for your first ring dip? This is very similar to working toward your first pullup. Stay patient, begin with the foundation of a dip first, which is a push-up. Once you’ve easily mastered push-ups, add ring push-ups, etc…

  1. 3 sets of 10 Pushups first
  2. 3 sets of 10 Ring push ups second
  3. 1 Ring Dip EMOM x 8, etc…similar to the strict pullup progression

Want a more detailed plan on how to accomplish your first pullup and dip? Check out our PULLUP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: (listed under ‘class plans’)

Step #3: Once you have all the above prerequisites completed, shoot for accomplishing a STRICT MUSCLE-UP before attempting kipping.

Performing a strict muscle-up before attempting a kipping demonstrates you’ve developed the STRENGTH and CONTROL required for a safer transition with less chance of injury to the shoulder. Many have the strength and capacity to perform strict muscle-ups, but fail because of two things. 

First, because they are not able to use a false grip. This is either because they refuse to practice with it or they’re holding the false grip incorrectly. The best way to improve in this area is by practicing hangs, ring rows, etc. with a false grip whenever possible.

The second is generally because the athlete is pulling the rings to their shoulders rather than the rib cage and not holding a hollow position. In order to transition over the rings, the shoulders and torso need to be above the rings. If the athlete is pulling to the shoulders it does not allow for enough room to be able to transition over the rings.

To practice strict muscle-ups begin with a seated strict muscle-up with your feet placed on a box. Be sure to pull low, toward the bottom of your rib-cage as practice. This may take several weeks to months of practice, but once you feel comfortable move on to high rings.

Begin practicing strict ring to rib cage pull-ups by using a false grip on high rings. It is often really helpful to practice holding lacrosse balls in your hands. When you feel comfortable with performing 3-5 strict ring to rib cage pullups. It’s time to attempt a strict muscle-up.

Once you have mastered pulling to your rib cage,  the strict muscle-up transition is a matter of performing a fast sit through on the rings. The torso should be high enough, the strength is established and all you have to do is transition your body over the rings.

BOOM! You accomplished your first strict muscle-up! Time to move forward to kipping. I suggest practicing your hollow & arch kip on high rings holding a lacrosse ball. It might take a month or two to get comfortable with kipping holding a false grip, but stay the course. Be patient! Practice frog kip transitions on low rings until you feel comfortable adding the kip and transition together. 

Want a more detailed plan on how to accomplish your first muscle-up? Check out our MUSCLE-UP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: (listed under ‘class plans’)

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