The muscle-up is one of our favorite calisthenics exercises.
As a beginner, getting this exercise right is a matter of timing, momentum, and movement. However, as you progress, you should decrease your reliance on momentum and increase the upper body strength used.
It is normal that, as a beginner, you rely a lot on leg movement to get your chest over the bar, completing the muscle-up largely due to the momentum gathered.
In this article, we’ll show you how to train pure explosive upper body strength in order to keep your legs and core tight and complete the muscle up without much, or any, momentum.
Muscle-up Progression Exercises
Exercise 1- Clapping Pull Ups
Working on the explosive side of the pull up is a tricky thing. You can do “normal” explosive pull ups, but research has found that your muscles are more efficient if you are working towards a goal.
For that reason, clapping pull-ups are a great exercise. To clap above the bar, you need a lot of upper body explosive strength, which is crucial to nailing the muscle up without kipping.
The Officialbarstarzz have a great tutorial on this exercise:
Exercise 2- Birdie Dip (Dips on the pull-up bar aka Single Bar Dips)
Now that we’ve covered the first phase of the exercise, it’s time to move on to the above the bar movement.
This exercise is particularly good if you find yourself getting stuck in the “chicken wing” position, where you have one arm above the bar and the second gets stuck outwards like a chicken wing.
To do the birdie dip, simply get yourself over the bar, as if you just finished a muscle up, make a slight angle between your core and legs, and do a dip.
The video below should give you some guidance:
Exercise 3- Negative Muscle Ups
As with most exercises, doing the negative, i.e- the inverse movement is one of the best exercises.
So jump on to the bar and try to slowly go down to starting position. The idea here is to release the muscles as slowly as possible.
This not only works on the muscles but also the movement memory.
Muscle Up Without Kipping Progression
Now that you’ve trained the necessary muscles, it’s time to focus on the movement.
Step 1- The 1 step balance muscle up
If you can do muscle ups, this first step should be easy. Simply place yourself underneath the bar, hold the bar, and take a small step back.
Now release your feet and let your body naturally swing. Perform the muscle up as you would.
Step 2- The no step muscle up
Once you easily do a few repetitions of the above exercise, reduce the balance by placing yourself under the bar, and hanging on the bar push your feet to the front and muscle up.
Step 3- The pull-up position muscle up
Finally, hang on the bar, as if you were doing to do a pull-up staying static in that position. Now instead of doing a pull up, do a muscle up.
This is the hardest variation of the exercise and once you’ve mastered it you’re pretty much a calisthenics boss.
We hope these exercises and technical notes have helped you progress your muscle-up form.
It’s very important that you do exercises that are appropriate to your strength and skill level, as this is one of the exercises that causes the most shoulder and wrist injuries.
With that in mind, if you feel any pain whilst doing muscle ups, we recommend going back to dips and pull-ups, the foundation exercises to the muscle up. In the past, we’ve written a comprehensive beginner calisthenics workout, so make sure to check that out if you’re still struggling.
As always, we welcome your comments in the box below!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.