The muscle up is the king of all upper body exercises if you don’t have access to an equipped gym. 99% of people won’t be able to do a muscle up on their first try, so you will need to work toward it with a progression of exercises. If you are out of shape or overweight, muscle ups will be out of your realm, so you will need to do some strength training and fat loss exercises to build up to these. However once you can do muscle ups, using them as an exercise builds serious muscle and strength. Let’s get you started right now.
Step 1. Hanging knee to elbow raises with momentum
When you you finally manage to crack your first muscle up - it won’t be pretty. It will be a whole lot of momentum, struggle and sweat, however what counts is that you got there in the end. After you have mastered a few sloppy muscle ups, you can then start to worry about how to do them with more strict form.
Getting to your first muscle up requires momentum, core strength, grip strength, pulling strength and pushing strength. The first step is to get momentum and core strength. Start by practicing hanging knee raises, all the way up to your elbows. These will help you to build a powerful core and also to get the momentum that you will need to get yourself up to the bar.
It’s also important to remember not to just dangle when you are doing these moves. This is dangerous and puts serious strain on your shoulders and neck. Hold yourself about 2-3 inches above dangling, and although it is harder, it is worth it. Hanging from a bar is also great for your grip strength.
Step 2. Pull ups - going as high as possible
Pull ups are what is going to build your pulling muscles to enable you to get you up to the bar in the first place. Don’t just train the same way every time either. Some sessions you will want to do slow, drawn out pull ups to build strength, and other days you will want to do bunny style, rapid pull ups to build speed.
When you are doing your pull ups, there is one thing to always keep in mind. You always want to be pulling yourself as high as you possibly can on every rep. The more you get used to pulling up higher, the easier your muscle ups will be and the stronger you will get.
Step 3. Dips to build your pushing strength
Once your are over the bar, you will need to really push yourself up to achieve a full muscle up. Dips are the most functional way to build up your pushing strength for muscle ups, and there are a few ways to execute them. Everybody knows about the age old dips on bars or by holding onto the corners of a 90 degree bench, and these are a good place to start. But the best way to practice is actually on a pull up bar itself.
Use a box to get up onto the bar so you can suspend yourself over it, holding yourself up with your hands. Once you are on top of the bar, slowly lower yourself down as far as you can, then push yourself back up for reps that you are comfortable with. At this point, it is extremely easy to go to low and let go of the bar and smash your jaw - so take it easy the first time you do this. If you don’t have a box or a short bar, using the bars at a playground is always another option.
Step 4. Practice getting over the bar
If you have been smashing out pull ups and dips like a champ, success is not far away. Now you just have to practice getting over the bar and pushing yourself up. This can be done multiple ways. The most common is to use a rubber band to hang from a pull up bar and then step inside it and use the pull of the band to help you get over the bar. The other common way is to use a short bar where you can touch the ground to help you get used to it.
One major thing to remember is to ensure that you turn your wrists when you get up to parallel with the bar. If you don’t you will find that you get stuck and can’t vault yourself up and over the bar.
Step 5. Muscle up time
If you have been crushing bar dips, pull ups and practicing muscle ups, have a go at executing some and see how you go. As I said earlier, your first muscle up will be ugly. Hell, your first 100 muscle ups will probably be ugly, but that’s normal. Once you have got the hang of them you can start to fine tune it and make them more fluid.
If you work hard enough and pump out enough prep work, you will get them in the end. Muscle ups are the big boss of all bodyweight workouts, so don’t be put off if you don’t get them after a couple of weeks - they will come when you are ready.