Conquering the Muscle Up: A Step By Step Guide

Intro to Muscle-Ups

Hello everyone! Today, I’m here to chat about the muscle-up. This exercise is challenging yet rewarding. Moreover, it’s filled with benefits. Muscle-ups go beyond strength-building. They enhance power, precision, and agility. When performing a muscle-up, almost all your upper body and core muscles engage. Consequently, this improves your muscle endurance and body control.

Why Muscle-Ups Matter: Real-world Fitness

Importantly, muscle-ups contribute significantly to ‘functional fitness’. This type of training aids with real-life tasks. As muscle-ups involve lifting your whole body, they simulate real-world situations, like pushing or pulling yourself up.

Tackling the Challenge: Why Are Muscle-Ups So Hard?

 If you’re wondering, “Why are muscle-ups so tough?”, it boils down to their complexity. They require more than what pull-ups or dips demand. The challenge lies in balancing strength and momentum. Plus, swiftly transitioning from a powerful pull-up to a deep dip makes muscle-ups a difficult feat

My Personal Journal: Overcoming Challenges With Muscle-ups

After starting CrossFit in October 2022, I immediately noticed several deficiencies, one of them was the ability to do muscle-ups. While I was comfortable with pull-ups, muscle-ups demanded much more. They required more coordination, strength, and flexibility than I initially had. Limited shoulder mobility and a lack of coordination with the move were major challenges. Yet, seeing others perform muscle-ups effortlessly in the gym inspired me to set out and conquer the challenge..  

First Major Milestone: Improving the Kipping Motion

My first significant milestone was improving the ‘kipping motion’. This CrossFit technique utilizes your body’s momentum to aid with pull-ups and muscle-ups. Perfecting it, however, is no easy task. The goal here is to generate, maintain, and utilize momentum for executing multiple muscle-ups. Although I am far from perfect, the significant improvements I’ve made have been encouraging. I’ll share some tips to enhance this technique below.


Step-by-Step Guide to Muscle Up

Let’s go through the muscle-up process, step by step:

1. Grip and Swing

Start by hanging onto a pull-up bar with your thumb wrapped around for a secure hold. Your palms should face forward. Your body should be straight, and your core engaged. Begin with a hollow body position, transitioning to a hollow arch position. Practice this drill with five reps, focusing on your form.

2. Kipping Pull-up with Lat Engagement 

Following the backswing, explosively pull with your arms while pushing down with your legs. Add a small jump while pulling the bar with your palms towards your hips, engaging your lats. Aim to get your chest to the bar. Again, practice this for five reps, maintaining proper form.

3. Transition with Assisted Turnover Drill 

The transition begins at the peak of your pull. Quickly rotate your elbows from below the bar to above it. This movement is known as the “transition”. Perform five reps of this drill.

4. The Dip

At this stage, push yourself up, straightening your arms and lifting your body over the bar. Ensure your body is upright, and your shoulders are over your hands.

5. The Descent

To wrap up the process, lower yourself down smoothly and under control. This action sets you up for the next swing and muscle up. After mastering these steps, you can shift your focus to strength-building exercises and fine-tuning drills for the bar muscle-up.

One effective drill is using a band to simulate the hanging position. Another helpful drill involves hanging from a barbell attached to the rig with a band. Lastly, a towel drill that promotes efficiency and a connected movement pattern can be introduced.


Here is a good video that walks through these steps: 


Assessing Your Readiness for Muscle-Ups

Before starting muscle-up training, it’s crucial to determine if you’re ready for this advanced exercise. It’s necessary to consider the following prerequisites:

  • Pull-ups: Can you comfortably perform at least 10 strict pull-ups? If yes, you’re one step closer to the muscle-up.
  • Dips: Another vital element is dips. You should be able to complete at least 10 strict bar dips.
  • Strength: The strength of your shoulders, back, and core muscles significantly determines your muscle-up capabilities.
  • Flexibility: The transition phase of the muscle-up requires adequate shoulder and wrist flexibility.


For those still working on these prerequisites, it’s wise to focus on exercises that build these areas before starting muscle-up training. I have a comprehensive pull-up training guide here


Warming Up: Preparing Your Body for Muscle-Ups

A thorough warm-up is essential before muscle-up training. It prepares your muscles for the upcoming workout and reduces the risk of injury. Some exercises particularly beneficial for muscle-ups include:

  • Arm circles: Perform for 20 seconds in both forward and backward directions.
  • Jumping jacks: Execute these for 30 seconds.
  • Wrist rolls: Complete 10 rolls in each direction.
  • Shoulder mobility exercises: Examples include pass-throughs with a PVC pipe or resistance band.
  • Scapula pull-ups: Aim for 10 reps.


The 7-Week Muscle-Up Training Plan

Once you’re warmed up and ready, can successfully complete the prerequisites above, you can move on to using this structured training plan to progress towards your first muscle-up.

Weeks 1-2: Boosting Strength and Refining Technique


  1. Weighted Pull-ups: Do 4 sets of 5 reps each. For these, use a weight belt. It increases the pull-up difficulty, helping your lats, biceps, and core get stronger.
  2. Elevated Dips: Complete 4 sets of 6 reps. Place your feet on an elevated surface. Lower your body until your shoulders are below your elbows. Push back up. This focuses on the chest and triceps.
  3. Kipping Practice: Spend 5-10 minutes practicing kipping. This isn’t about tiring yourself out. It’s about getting your body used to the swinging motion. This helps generate momentum for the muscle-up.

Weeks 3-4: Transition Training


  1. Banded Muscle-Up Transitions: Do 4 sets of 5 reps. Attach a resistance band to the bar. Put it under your feet. Now, perform the transition part of the muscle-up. The band assists your movement, letting you understand the transition.
  2. Negative Muscle-Ups: Complete 4 sets of 5 reps. Start from the muscle-up’s top position. Slowly lower yourself down. This gets your muscles ready for the full muscle-up movement.

Weeks 5-6: Combined Movements and Muscle-Up Attempts


  1. Pull-up to Dip Transitions: Perform 4 sets of 4 reps. Start with a pull-up. At the top, shift your elbows and shoulders over the bar. Transition into a dip. This simulates the muscle-up movement. It helps you practice the quick transition needed.
  2. Muscle-Up Attempts: At the end of each workout, try doing unassisted muscle-ups. Even if you can’t do a full muscle-up yet, this helps you see where you need more work.

Weeks 7 and Beyond: Mastering Muscle-Ups

  1. Full Muscle-Ups: Start each workout with muscle-up attempts. As your technique and strength get better, you’ll do more reps. Focus on maintaining strict form.


Incorporate these exercises into your routine to develop the strength and skills needed for muscle-ups. Always prioritize form over speed or number of repetitions. Injuries can happen with improper form. Listen to your body and rest between workouts. With time, patience, and dedication, you’ll do multiple flawless muscle-ups!


Concluding Thoughts

Mastering the muscle-ups takes time, determination, and regular practice. Though the path to your first muscle-up may present challenges, they can be overcome. Prioritize safety, maintain proper form, and stick to a structured training plan. Remember, the focus should be on form over speed or the number of repetitions. Listen to your body and use safety mats if available. Achieving a muscle-up is a significant milestone. But the real accomplishment lies in the self-improvement and physical development along the way. Keep going and enjoy each stride of this rewarding process!