Sometimes called “the ultimate upper body exercise”, the muscle up has gained quite a bit of popularity in recent years. Combining elements of both pullups and dips, muscle ups can be a demonstration of not only strength and strength-to-bodyweight ratio, but athleticism as well.
However, because muscle ups do require a fair amount of technique, you’ll want to follow a dedicated muscle up progression prior to attempting your first rep.
Bar or Rings?
The first thing you’ll want to decide is if you’re going to train on a pullup bar or gymnastics rings. Many feel that muscle ups on a bar are more difficult, but using gymnastics rings adds slight tweaks to form that you may not be used to if you’ve not used them extensively in the past. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll want to be able to do 10+ solid, slow and controlled, no-cheating reps on both pullups and dips prior to starting your muscle up progression.
It bears mentioning at this point that the higher you can pull yourself up during a pullup, the easier the transition from pullup to dip will be. In other words, if you can do your 10+ strict and controlled pullups all the way to your sternum instead of just getting your chin over the bar, your muscle up progression will be much easier.
It isn’t necessary to use a “false grip” in your muscle up progression, but most coaches (especially in the gymnastics community) will recommend one, as it generally makes the transition from pullup to dip easier. A “false grip” means to drape/flex your wrists over the bar or rings. A properly done false grip would actually let you hang from the bar or rings by your wrists without actually holding on with your hands. You’ll keep your thumb on the same side as your fingers if using a bar, but wrap it around if using rings.
Jumping through the Transition
As the transition from pullup to dip is always the most difficult part of a muscle up, one way to improve your transition is to jump through it. Do this by using a low pullup bar (like you might see at a playground), lowering the height of your rings, or putting a box under your pullup bar for you to stand on. Regardless of which method you use, you’ll want your bar or rings to be at about eye level or so.
Squat down, start to pull yourself up, then use your legs to “jump” through the transition into the dip. Don’t jump so hard that you fly right through the transition – rather, give yourself just enough momentum to get through it. As you continue your muscle up progression, you’ll want minimize use of your legs, placing more of the emphasis on your upper body. Eventually, you’ll be ready to perform a muscle up freely hanging from the bar or rings.
It takes a very high level of strength (especially when compared to your bodyweight) to do strict muscle ups, so feel free to employ kipping into this part of your muscle up progression. By swinging, kicking, and kipping your legs, you can mimic much of the same effect you were getting out of jumping before. Kipping will help you get through the difficult part of the transition, letting you be able to better take advantage of the strength you have in your back/lats and chest/shoulders. Do know that this part of your muscle up progression may take a little extra time as you hone in your technique.
How long this overall process takes will really depend on how strong you are for your bodyweight when you start, your proficiency at pullups and dips, and how quickly you can improve your technique in the transition. But when you stick with these steps consistently, the transition from pullup to dip will become easier, and you’ll be performing full muscle ups before you know it.