When it comes to ‘party trick’ exercises, there are few quite so showy as the muscle up, this is a dramatic demonstration of not only strength but also agility and body composition. Being able to perform this movement shows that you are light, agile and full of explosive power.
But is it all show and no go? Is this exercise useful for anything other than impressing other people in the gym?
What Is a Muscle Up?
For those not in the know, a muscle up is bodyweight movement that combines a pull up and a dip. In other words then, you start below the pull up bar and then pull yourself upwards explosively so that you move past and over the bar and can then push yourself up above it in a pressing movement.
As the movement combines these two other exercises, it also effectively targets the muscles that both sets work. From the first portion of the movement you train the lats and the biceps, while the second half of the movement works the pecs, the triceps and the shoulders. The whole thing meanwhile is very good for the core which you’re required to keep stable throughout the movement.
But at the same time, it’s also far from a perfect move…
Damage to the Wrists, Shoulders and Elbows
If you were looking at this from the perspective of a physiotherapist or sports coach, you would start by weighing up the potential benefits against the potential negatives. Does this exercise deliver on the risk/reward ratio?
The answer is unfortunately no and the main problem is the way the exercise works the wrists and the shoulders. As you go up past halfway you see, you are forced to very quickly rotate your wrists to move your hands from being underneath the bar, to being on top of it. This puts a lot of pressure on the forearms and on the medial elbows – if you have a golfers’ elbow then this is a recipe for disaster.
What’s more, the wrists are also under a lot of pressure, while the shoulders will be undergoing a very rapid internal rotation. All these things provide a lot of opportunity for this movement to cause injury and especially if you have any pre-existing conditions.
The Benefits of Muscle Ups
So those are the risks, how about the rewards? How likely are muscle ups to provide any real benefit?
On the face of it, muscle ups work a lot of muscles in a very compound manner as explained before. But at the same time a lot of the ‘trick’ to it is really about the timing and the momentum. When you perform a muscle up, you are allowing the swinging motion to help you propel yourself up and over the bar. This right away removes some of the challenge.
What’s more, while you get a lot of benefit from both portions of the muscle up, the fact remains that there are other exercises that can do the exact same thing.
When describing the muscle up earlier we said it had the combined benefits of a pull and a dip. So guess what? If you want to get the same results, you can just do both those exercises!