Muscle up in calisthenics park elderveld Arnhem

Muscle up training: the ultimate guide (2024)

The muscle up, one of the most impressive calisthenics exercises. Mastering this exercise demonstrates your commitment to calisthenics training. It’s the perfect movement to showcase both your push and pull strength. And although the muscle-up may seem impossible now, it is certainly achievable for most people to learn this cool exercise. And how to do that, you’ll read in this blog.

What is a Muscle up?

We start with the basics: what is a muscle-up exactly? It’s a calisthenics exercise that combines a dynamic pull-up with a straight bar dip. Your own body weight serves as the resistance for your training. However, the muscle-up is quite a challenge for many novice athletes to master. This is because it requires a significant amount of dynamic strength, and mastering the technique is crucial.

technique muscle-up

The ultimate goal of muscle-up training is to perform it without kipping/momentum. It looks like this:

  • Hang under the bar with palms facing away
  • Hands are in a slight false-grip position
  • Pull yourself up diagonally without kicking your legs
  • When your chest is at bar level, rotate your wrists above the bar
  • From this position, execute a straight bar dip.

Dynamic pull-up

Which muscles used in the muscle-up

In the dynamic pull-up, you primarily engage the back muscles (lats) and biceps. To push yourself up, you mainly utilize your front delts, chest muscles, and triceps. In addition to all these muscles, your abdominal muscles are extremely important. They provide stability during the transition from the pull-up to the dip.

Requirements for the muscle-up?

A good time to start training for muscle-ups is when you have mastered the basic exercises. On average, this is around 6-12 months after you’ve begun practicing calisthenics. After this period, you often have built up enough strength to start training safely.

To make it concrete, below are three requirements in the form of grip strength, pull strength, and push strength.

Grip strength

The way you hold the bar is called your grip. With a normal grip, as in the pull-up, your hands hold the bar vertically, and your wrists are in line with your hands.

When training for the muscle-up, it’s important to use the false grip. This grip will significantly assist you on the path to your first rep.

The false grip involves hanging your hands over the bar, shortening the range of motion for the muscle-up and making it easier. Make sure you can hold a false grip on the bar for at least 30 seconds before you start your training.

Normal grip
Normal grip
False grip voor de muscle-up
False grip

Pull strength

The dynamic pull-up is the most challenging (and crucial) part of the muscle-up. It makes sense because the higher you can pull yourself, the easier it is to get over the bar. The pulling component significantly differs from standard pull-ups, where the goal is only to bring your chin above the bar.

minimum pull strength for the muscle-up

KingOfWeighted conducted a study on the minimum required pull strength, and the findings are remarkable. To execute a muscle-up with light kip/momentum, you should be capable of performing a standard pull-up or chin-up with an additional weight equivalent to around 50% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 90KG, your goal would be a weighted pull-up with a 1RM of 45KG. This higher weight requirement is due to the increased strength demand in a dynamic pull-up, where you pull yourself much higher than in a regular pull-up.

While the weight might seem challenging, it shouldn’t deter you from starting your training. The necessity of a 1RM of 50% of your body weight doesn’t imply that you should only begin muscle-up training once you’ve achieved this level.

Nevertheless, you do need a considerable amount of strength. For this reason, I recommend achieving a 5RM weighted pull-up with at least 20% of your body weight before embarking on muscle-up training. This means that if you weigh 90KG, you should first train towards sets of 5x 18KG weighted pull-ups.

To add weight to your pull-ups, I recommend purchasing a dipping belt.

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Push strength

In addition to the pulling aspect, it’s also crucial to practice the pushing part of the muscle-up, namely the straight bar dip. Ensure you can perform at least 8 of these. When doing straight bar dips, focus on going as deep as possible, as this will make the transition easier.

Straight bar support hold
Straight bar support hold
Straight bar dip oefening voor de muscle-up
Straight bar dip

Summarized requirements

What are the minimum strength requirements?

  • 30 seconds false grip hold
  • 5 weighted pull-ups with at least 20% of your body weight
  • 10 straight bar dips

In 4 steps to your first muscle-up

Now that you meet the minimum strength requirements, you are ready to begin your muscle-up training. In 5 steps, you will work towards your first real muscle-up.

Step 1: Explosive Hanging Knee Raises

Ultimately, the goal is to make the muscle-up as clean as possible. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use momentum while learning. Explosive hanging knee raises will significantly contribute to your journey to your first muscle-up. Pull your knees up as far as possible during training, and when going back down, fully extend your body. Aim for 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps.

Step 2: Dynamic Pull-Up

To reach as high as possible above the bar, you now combine a dynamic pull-up with explosive hanging knee raises. Make sure you have a bar that you can just reach. Push off with one leg and fully extend your body with your feet about 40 cm in front of the bar. At the moment your body is completely straight, pull yourself up as hard as possible and bring your knees in as quickly as possible. By doing this simultaneously, you create maximum momentum and reach the highest point. Aim to get your chest above the bar. Go for 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps.

Stap 3: jumping muscle-ups

Now that you’ve built the strength and momentum to get above the bar, it’s crucial to train the transition. You can do this by practicing jumping muscle-ups.

Choose a lower bar that you can easily reach. Stand directly under the bar (or even slightly in front of it) and grip the bar with both hands. Jump up with both legs and pull yourself over the bar simultaneously. Keep your head as close to the bar as possible.

The farther you go from the bar, the harder it becomes to make the transition. It’s essential to ensure that at least your chest comes above the bar.

Always make sure that both elbows go over the bar simultaneously. No chickenwing! If one of the elbows goes over the bar while the other lags behind, there is a risk of shoulder injury, so avoid it at all costs.

Step 4: assisted muscle-ups

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In the previous steps, you trained the components of the muscle-up individually. Now it’s time to bring them together. By using a resistance band, you make the exercise more manageable, allowing you to focus on technique.

Aim for a minimum of 3 sets of 4-6 reps with a light to moderately strong band. The goal is to gradually reduce the resistance of your band. Once you complete 3 x 6 reps with a band, it’s time to switch to a lighter band.

If you find that you need a heavy band from the start, it means you’re not ready for the muscle-up with a band. In that case, focus on weighted pull-ups and the previous 3 steps first.

your first muscle up

If you’ve consistently followed the previous 4 steps, you’ll undoubtedly achieve your first muscle-up. Now it’s crucial to minimize the momentum until you can execute it completely clean.

Afterward, you’ll likely want to increase the number of muscle-ups per set. You can do this by practicing sets of 1 or 2 muscle-ups initially and then continuing to train with bands for larger sets.

If you find that you need a heavy band from the start, it means you’re not ready for the muscle-up with a band. In that case, focus on weighted pull-ups and the previous 3 steps first.

Tips for the muscle up

Train muscle-ups at the beginning of your workout – the muscle-up engages various muscles, making it quite demanding.

Train muscle-ups at least 2 times per week – for optimal results, it’s essential to train muscle-ups more than once a week.

Allow for sufficient rest – since the muscle-up involves both a push and pull element, schedule this exercise with consideration. It’s wise to plan the muscle-up after a rest day to ensure your muscles have had enough recovery.

Switch up your grip – as the standard muscle-up becomes easier, vary by using a close hand grip or a wide grip.

Continue practicing the basics – especially include dips and (weighted) pull-ups in your routine; the muscle-up complements these exercises, it doesn’t replace them!

Be patient – since the muscle-up partly relies on technique, it may take some time to master. Stay patient in your training, and avoid forcing it, as this could lead to injuries.

Reduce your body fat percentage – the lighter you are, the easier it is to pull yourself above the bar.

Learn more about technique and training – check out our post on fitness books/calisthenics books to enhance your training knowledge.

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