It’s hard not to be impressed when you see someone performing muscle-ups! You can see, immediately, that he or she has put in the time and dedication to make their “machine” strong and capable.
Muscle-ups are a very challenging, advanced movement that demands explosiveness and power from many of the muscular systems in our bodies. Further, because it’s a bodyweight exercise, performing Muscle-Ups require that we are strong in relation to our body. This makes it even tougher for many folks who may be experienced “weightlifters,” who might focus most of their time on the bench press or dead lifts. If they haven’t focused on energy system training, or getting leaner and meaner, then they will have an extra challenge moving their own mass through space quickly enough to complete the movement.
WHAT IS A MUSCLE-UP?
From a dead-hang, an individual must pull themselves up with enough force to bring their chest above the bar, and then press upwards to straighten out their arms above the bar. Then they drop to below the bar, and repeat!
WHY DO MUSCLE-UPS?
Pressed for time? Knocking out a few sets of this complex movement will fire up your entire upper-body pusher/puller muscle groups; comprised of the back, chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and core.
Also, you’ll impress yourself – and everyone else, whether they admit it or not…
HOW DO I SAFELY BUILD UP TO DO IT?
For simplicity’s sake, let’s break it into four basic progressions:
- Leg Swings: This is essentially a core movement, whereby any solid core training can help you build up the strength to complete this – see previous “Ask Andy” articles for specific exercise recommendations. Not insignificant here, however, is the GRIP STRENGTH it takes to hang from, and indeed propel yourself up on over, a bar. While some may suggest you do a series of forearm exercises to increase your grip strength, my recommendation is that you start any workout regimen by adding in some dead hangs. Try to hang from a bar for 15 seconds/30/45, even one minute. In my experience, when doing a large amount of pull-ups or advanced movements like muscle-ups, it is my grip which fails first…
- Basic Kipping Pull-Ups: once you’re comfortable with dead-hangs and leg swings, you can start doing the kipping pull-ups. In order to build that upper-body pulling strength, you can add in exercises like lat pull-downs, a variety of rows, shrugs, bicep curls, or negative pull-ups. For a goal of multiple muscle-ups, your goal should be to manage at least 20 kipping pull-ups at a time.
- Pull to Chest: This is a kipping pull-up with some extra oomph. Use your kipping momentum to “whip” yourself upward to a height where you can touch your chest to the bar. I found tangible gains in my pull-up power/explosiveness by training in weighted pull-ups. It’s much easier to perform this movement after several weeks of training pulling movements wearing a 50 lb weight vest or holding a 100 lb dumbbell between your ankles!
- Muscle-Ups: Okay, there is never going to be a time when you feel ready to try this for the first time. I’ve been there often, thinking of doing some muscle-ups, and even after all these years I still wonder if I’ll be able to manage any. The key is this: dedication and courage. Train hard, and just try! Try multiple times – and if you don’t succeed this time, then complete your week of workouts and good nutrition/hydration/nutrition/sleep (see previous Ask Andys) and try again. Give yourself a couple months of routine and self-discipline, and I’m sure you’ll be impressing everyone around you before you know it!
NOTE: Don’t allow doubt to dissuade you from trying. Train hard, and you can do it. Look – I filmed this video and posted it recently, and I’m 46 years old, with four kids and four jobs, and the busiest a person can be. If I can do it, so can you. Need more help? Holler at me: @andywhatsnext