If you’re looking for a powerful move in the gym that will build muscle in your entire upper-body while also looking awesome in the process, then you need look no further than muscle ups. Muscle ups are moves you perform on the pull up bar which involve moving straight from a pull up movement into kind of dip depending on the bar. In other words, you will be lifting yourself up past the usual peek of the movement so that your upper body is above the bar you were hanging from and you can then ‘press’ your bodyweight straight up.
This is a movement that’s popular among gymnasts, among free runners and among anyone else who wants to improve their ability to control their own bodyweight. It’s also a brilliant exercise for everyone else that will target all of the supporting muscles in your upper body and core while at the same time targeting more major muscle groups than even most other compound movements.
There are just two drawbacks. The first is that it’s hard to find somewhere to do muscle ups seeing as you can feel a little self-conscious in the gym and most gyms don’t have high enough ceilings anyway. The second problem is that it’s pretty tough to do if you aren’t a pro-athlete.
I can’t help you with the first problem, but I can certainly help guide you through the second.
Building Up to the Muscle Up
If you can’t already perform a muscle up then the issue is likely to be one part technique and one part strength. Muscle ups require a number of specific muscles in the upper body and core to work in unison and that means you may need to use some targeted training to build up to the movement.
First and foremost then you should be practicing pull ups and chin ups. Specifically it’s easier if you start by using pull ups (meaning you have an overhand grip). You can perform a muscle up with your hands either way around, but when you transition from a chin up you will need to quickly flip your hands around first in order to do so.
Practice doing pull ups then and as you do them try to use an explosive motion so that you are ‘bursting’ up in a staccato fashion. This will ensure that you are targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibres, which are the ones you use in order to create the explosive power necessary in order to perform a muscle up. Ultimately you want to generate enough momentum to carry yourself up past the bar with little effort during that stage of the movement.
Likewise you should also try performing the second half of the muscle up, though this is the easy part admittedly. To try this one you can use a squatting rack with an empty barbell set around navel-height. Now bend your knees and practice pressing yourself up and down – it’s essentially like a dip, except you’ll be targeting a slightly different part of your pecs and your triceps will be getting less focus.
Putting it All Together
As you develop the raw power in both parts of the move you’re essentially going to have to put it all together in one seamless movement.
To start, try pulling yourself up 30% higher than the bar, and as you do that keep your legs straight and pointing forward slightly (so that there’s a slight bend in your waist). As you pull yourself up you are going to focus on swinging your lower back and buttocks upwards almost as though you were going to roll forwards over the bar (but don’t). The closer you bring yourself in to the bar, the less your legs are going to weigh you down and the more of the right kind of momentum you are going to generate to carry you over the top.
Once your centre of gravity is above and in front of the bar you will find it’s relatively easy to rest yourself on your hands with your arms bent. Now the last thing to do is simply to press yourself upwards by straightening those arms. You can perform as many reps up here as you like before letting yourself drop again in a controlled manner.
If you struggle to get this at first then you can practice by ‘jumping’ into the movement if you have a bar low enough. Now enjoy the stares of admirers in the gym and get ready for even more admirers in the future once you’ve worked them into your usual gym routine and given yourself an even more impressive physique as a result.