Master the Muscle-Up


The muscle-up is one of the most coveted CrossFit exercises that takes a ton of strength and practice to master. In concept, a perfectly executed muscle-up may not look all that difficult to master, but the grip and the movements often prove a bit unnatural for anyone trying for the first time. Basically, a muscle-up is transitioning your body from pull-up to dip in one fluid movement.

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The Four Steps to a Muscle-Up

STEP ONE: Hang from a pull-up bar with a false grip (thumbs on top the bar, not around)

STEP TWO: Pull yourself up (chin to the bar)

STEP THREE: ‘Roll’ your chest over the bar as a transition from a pull-up to a dip

STEP FOUR: Press your hands down and drive your body upwards (the dip)

We’ve asked owner/trainer of Reebok CrossFit 5th Ave. Nathan Forster to help explain the basics of the muscle-up. “This is one of the most complicated CrossFit movements you can do,” he says. “It’s the last thing that a lot of people get.”

Forster’s step-by-step coaching tips:

Starting in a dead hang position on a straight pull-up bar, get a good kip going with your legs and hips. Keep your elbows in tight and “pull the bar down to your belly button”  while simultaneously exploding your hips up at the same time. Once your hips and legs are parallel to the floor and your hands reach your belly button, explosively throw your chest and head over the bar. Finally, press up so your arms are in full extension.

Forster says that for most people, the technique of the muscle-up is what’s most difficult to master, although it definitely takes some strength to accomplish as well.

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Building Up Your Muscle-Up Skills

Forster suggests starting with basic pull-ups on the bar for several repetitions. (Make pull-ups more challenging by finding a way to add weight: dumbbells or kettlebells locked between your feet is a good option.) This will do a great job of strengthening your arms, shoulders and back.

When you’re feeling better about your level of strength, move on to the first progression of the muscle-up, which is very heavy on technique. Practice the movement on the ground by lowering Olympic rings down so they almost hit the floor, then fully extend your arms down and work on throwing your head and chest through the rings while keeping your elbows in tight.

Forster says the progression from there is to do muscle-ups on the pull-up bar, then you’ll move back to the rings using a full range of motion. Finally, once you’ve completed a muscle-up on the pull-up bar and nailed one on the rings, now you can raise the rings a little higher after each time you feel you’ve mastered the technique. Eventually, you’ll do the exercise standing up tall, making you a master of one of the most challenging exercises out there.

“It’s definitely one of the most advanced movements in CrossFit, but it’s also one of the most rewarding,” he says. “It works a ton of technique, which helps you learn how to use your hips, a lot of core, your shoulders, your chest, your triceps–all that is engaged in this movement. It’s also just a huge milestone that you feel really good about when you figure it out.”

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