Skip to main content

The Muscle Up

Ahhh the elusive muscle up.  The holy grail of CrossFit movements.  Today at Anchor there are several athletes who have accomplished their first muscle up and many that are still trying to get the elusive first one.  This article is intended to help everyone.

The muscle-up is astonishingly difficult to perform, unrivaled in building upper body strength, a critical survival skill, and most amazingly of all, virtually unknown.

This movement gets you from under things to on them.  Let your imagination run.  Though containing a pull-up and a dip, its potency is due to neither.  The heart of the muscle-up is the transition from pull-up to dip – the agonizing moment when you don’t know if you’re above or below.  That moment – the transition – can last from fractions to dozens of seconds.  At low, deliberate speeds, the muscle-up takes a toll physically and psychologically that can only be justified by the benefit.  No other movement can deliver the same upper body strength.  Period.

This Frankenstein’s monster combination of pull-up and dip gives the exercise advantages that render it supreme among exercises as fundamental as the pull-up, rope climb, dips, push-ups, and even the almighty bench press.

We do our muscle-ups from rings chiefly because that’s the hardest place possible.

Here’s how to do a muscle-up on the rings:

1. Hang from a false grip

2. Pull the rings to your chest or “pull-up”

3. Roll your chest over the bottom of the rings

4. Press to support or “dip”

It’s that simple.  Steps 1 and 3 are where you’ll have trouble if you do.

From a normal grip, roll the meat of the hand over the ring, leaving the thumb on the starting side until the wrist opposite the thumb is in full contact with the ring – this is a false grip.  It shortens the forearm, greatly improving strength.

The false grip is difficult simply because it’s a sufficiently odd feeling that the beginner rarely believes is what’s expected.

No false grip, no muscle-up.  When an athlete can’t get it, 50% of the time they’ve got too much hand on the thumb’s side of the ring. This part is really very, very easy.  On the other hand, rolling your chest over the bottom of the rings is very, very hard.

Here are some tips for rolling your chest over the bottom of the rings.

1. Stick your nose as far over the rings as possible

2. Drive your elbows from down in front of you to up and behind your collarbone to the armpit, just above the nipple

3. Keep the rings as close to your body as possible

4. Tighten your gut

5. Have the meat of the thumb trace a line from collarbone to the armpit, just above the nipple

Ultimately, none of this really helps; you just have to struggle with it until you get it.  Assuming the grip is O.K. – you’ll know it is if you get deep bruises on the wrist opposite the thumb – there are two other

common barriers to the muscle-up.  First, not being strong enough.  Here’s the litmus: if you can  do fifteen good pull-ups and fifteen good dips then you’re strong enough.  If you can’t, work your pull-ups and dips overtime until you can do the muscle-up.  If you can do the pull-ups and dips, your grip is good (you’re getting bruised wrists) and you’re still unable to get above rings, then you’re either letting the rings wander away from your body or you aren’t trying hard enough.

The muscle-up gets noticeably harder with every quarter inch the ring moves away from the body.  Keep the rings in as close to your body as you can.  Only a buddy can tell you if they’re wandering or not. Typically the struggler has no sense of where he is.

As weird as it sounds, not trying hard enough is common among even the most accomplished athletes.  Don’t give up on each attempt until you’ve struggled for ten seconds with the rings at the chest. This part is very hard.  How hard?  Not very, really.  Gymnastics moves are graded “A” through “E,” “A” being easiest and “E” hardest.  The muscle-up is an “A” move.  That’s right, easiest. So it’s easy for gymnasts and nearly impossible for most everyone else.

Article courtesy of The CrossFit Journal November 2002.

[youtube url=””]


Our Partners

  • crossfitjournal
  • crossfit-kids