20 Muscle Ups Workouts for Dedicated CrossFit Athletes (Full Progressions Included)

These Muscle Up Workouts, Tips and Progressions will help you to master this difficult movement then apply your new skill across a variety of fitness settings. 

We will start with the Muscle Up tips and progressions. If you wish to go straight to the workouts click here

Muscle Ups

Do what the gymnasts do—muscle-ups! There’s hardly a movement that will work your upper body pulling strength better than a muscle-up. They also challenge your core (you have to remain braced throughout the movement) and your upper body pushing strength (you have to do a ring dip to complete the muscle-up).

Lukas Esslinger/ Katrín Tanja DavíðsdóttirSource: Lukas Esslinger/ Katrín Tanja Davíðsdóttir
Lukas Esslinger/ Katrín Tanja Davíðsdóttir

Set-Up: Set the gymnastics rings so they are approximately shoulder-width apart. Grab the rings with a false grip. Hang from the rings with the arms fully extended. Brace the core.

Execution: Pull the rings to your sternum as your torso leans back. Move your chest over the rings and come into a position that looks like the bottom of a ring dip. Keep your hands and elbows tight to the body. To complete the movement, get to the support position with arms fully extended.

Points of Performance: To get a “good rep,” ensure the following:

– You start the movement below the rings with your arms fully extended and feet off the floor
– You finish the movement above the rings with your arms fully extended in the support position
– Your feet do not rise above the height of the rings during the movement (such as during a kipping swing)

Pro-Tip: You wouldn’t do handstand push-ups before you learned how to perform a standard push-up. You wouldn’t do kipping chest-to-bar pull-ups before you learned strict pull-ups. Apply the same mindset to the muscle-up. Learn the strict ring muscle-up before you try the kipping variation.

Muscle Up Tips and Progressions

These 6 progressions will help you master muscle ups. They are from the excellent coach Tom Morrison, check out his website here.

  1. False grip rows
  2. Legless rope climbs
  3. Russian dips
  4. Baby muscle up
  5. Negative muscle up
  6. L-sit lift off

“There really is nothing cooler than someone hopping up on a set of rings and doing a muscle up. Most people can deadlift and squat to some degree, a majority can do pull ups, but in the world of getting acknowledgement for being a legend, the strict ring muscle up is King!

I still remember the first time I ever saw one (and I would have already deemed myself pretty strong at this point) and thinking “that dude is a beast!”. I wanted to take him out and buy him drinks just in the hope that he would like me! Then I saw a 10 year old girl do one… Naturally, I just wanted to kick her in the face. So clearly this girl couldn’t be stronger than me, so she must have been cheating! Which she was, she was using this thing called “technique” and what made it even worse was this other thing called… “Practicing”.

The progressions I am giving you here I teach to all my athletes, and every one that has devoted time to them has got their first muscle up, generally around 6 weeks.

Even if you already have your muscle up, these progressions are great for tidying it up and helping you achieve multiple reps. A super secret programming technique for you: whichever ones you suck at, do them the most.

1. False Grip Rows

One of the most important parts of the muscle up is the false grip, if it’s not solid you’re going to have a really hard time with your transition to the top.

Remember, set up is King! Wrist stretches should be done EVERY DAY in an extended and flexed position so you should have no problem attaining this. You HAVE to train the pull in this position or you will just not get through to the top, even if you can do 20 unbroken pull ups and dips, it is the wrist position that gives you leverage, turn out at the bottom and turn your knuckles to face each other then pull to your chest maintaining the grip at all times.

2. Legless Rope Climbs

If I see you climbing a rope using your legs it pretty much takes all of my willpower not to beat you to death with a lacrosse ball and rubber band! The BEST exercise for pulling and grip strength is the legless rope climb. If you can’t do it then scale it so that you’re still having to pull with your ARMS, unless your goal is to get better at standing up while holding on to something. Almost try to pull the rope to your stomach and the slower you move the better, think like a ninja.

3. Russian Dips

The transition is the tricky part of the muscle up, and it’s generally were most people will get stuck when they’re having their first attempt, the Russian dip is a great way to break it down and just focus on that one part. Again, slower is better and you can really hit this one with some high volume, keep as low as possible during the transition from elbow to press and try to have a really long neck the whole way through the movement. It’s all about shifting your weight and moving your body as one unit, so your hollow body position is key here! Keep your elbows in close to your sides, this applies to the push up also.

4. The Baby Muscle Up

The baby muscle up is putting the movement together with the feet still on the floor for a slight bit of assistance, opt for the tip toes rather than the ball of the foot or you may subconsciously push through your feet too much. Keep the rings as close as possible to you and break it down into 1. Pull to chest 2. Transition and 3. Press, feel the weight shift in your hand and make sure to maintain that false grip! The higher the rings are the more challenging this exercise is.

5. Negative Muscle Up

Again, this is putting the full movement together but in reverse. Take your time with this one and try to get that feeling of where your weight needs to be at each stage of the movement, be as ninja as possible! If you’re just dropping down in the transition part then go back to the baby muscle up until you get more strength, when you can do this movement with really good control you are well on your way to your first muscle up!

6. Muscle Up Progressions – L-sit Lift Off

I accidentally came up with this one day when I was practicing L-sit muscle ups. I had started to get tired then all of a sudden I starting stringing massive sets together, it took me a good 5 reps to realise I was actually just cheating. Set up with your false grip in place then drive through your heels to give yourself a boost to the rings, it’s all about the weight shift again, stay really tight through the middle and use the legs as a counter balance for the transition to the top of the rings, to make it slightly harder just don’t use your legs as much!

I’ve lots more progressions that I have used over the years but these days I spend more time getting rid of exercises to keep things more simplistic. So to recap, you’ve got your grip, your pull, your middle transition for below to above the rings, your dip and your lockout! All there in a nice bundle! Thank you for taking the time to read! And again don’t be afraid to follow my Coach page, I am forever posting tips on the silly things that everyone seems to miss! I hope to see you posting your first muscle up soon!”

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