Skill progressions for ring muscle ups: learn how to advance your skills and strength for this tricky exercise.
A ring muscle up is an advanced gymnastics exercise that requires a lot of strength and practice to master. It is a bodyweight movement which sees an athlete hang from a set of rings, pull their chest up and transition their centre of gravity to the top of the rings, finishing with their arms locked out on top.
Athletes who can perform ring muscle ups showcase great grip strength, impressive pulling strength, and remarkable body awareness.
Ring muscle ups are slightly harder than bar muscle ups for two main reasons: a bar provides stability that the rings lack and a false grip is recommended when performing ring muscle ups, which is harder to develop and hold.
Skill Progressions for Ring Muscle Ups: Movement Breakdown
Grip and hang
The ring muscle up starts with a dead hang, which is supported by your grip. If you can’t simply hang from the rings you probably don’t yet have enough strength to perform ring muscle ups.
Spend five minutes after every class simply hanging from the rings for as long as possible, ensuring your shoulders stay active.
Strict muscle ups: To perform a false grip, get your wrist all the way up on the ring. This will help both with the initial pull by reducing the range of motion and the final dip, as your hand position is final on the ring as you transition and would not need to slide around it to support you.
Just like any other aspect of training, you should practice this grip regularly to increase strength and stamina.
Have a look at these grip exercises to help strengthen your false grip:
Especially important for kipping ring muscle ups, the swing comprises the hollow and arch positions and gives the body the momentum needed to pull your centre of gravity over the rings.
You will need to be tight throughout the movement; it’s your core that moves between the hollow and arch positions.
Once you’re comfortable with the swing – if you’re performing kipping ring muscle ups – the next skill progression for ring muscle ups is to add the pull component.
Form the hollow position perform a chest pull, binging your chest as close to the rings as possible while trying to keep your hips high.
Make sure to keep your elbows tight as far as you possibly can and aim to get them around your sternum, keeping the rings close to your body throughout. Keep your core tight, while you’re pulling with your arms, your core is facilitating the movement and helping you set up right for the transition.
A useful tip is to think about this part of the movement as pulling the rings to you, instead of pulling yourself up to the rings.
A good skill progression exercise for this section of the ring muscle up movement is the banded hip-to-ring drill (video below). It will teach you to maintain a tight hollow position, keep your arms long and build strength in the lats.
“Maintaining tension through the lats as you transition over the rings will allow you to catch higher at the top because you’re staying active through the transition,” writes CrossFit Training.
Getting over the rings is known as the transition of the ring muscle up.
The transition will look different if you’re performing strict or kipping ring muscle ups; you’ll strongly pull your shoulders forward if you’re training strict RMUs or you’ll perform an aggressive “sit-up” in the air during the kipping.
You can practice the transition by hanging under a set of low rings and putting your legs on an elevated surface such as a box in front of you. Place your heels up onto the box and keep your knees bent, placing your body in a horizontal position.
Pull the rings down to your sternum, tracing your chest as your shoulders go forward and then press our with the assistance of your legs.
The last part of the muscle up is the dip. You will need great triceps strength to perform it and lock your arms out at the top of the rings.
The dip is further complicated by the instability of the rings, so make sure you stabilise yourself after the transition before you lock your arms out.
Four ring dips with full range of motion are the basic strength requirement recommended. Work to achieve this strength before you attempt large sets of ring muscle ups.
To perform a dip start at the top of the rings, with your arms locked out and tip your head forward, bending your elbows to bring your body low.
You’ll come to a position where your shoulder is below the elbow and your bicep is essentially touching the ring. Then press back up to full extension into the initial ring support.
If you’re developing the strength to perform a deep ring dip, you can assist your movement by placing your feet on the ground.
Ring Muscle Up Tutorial: Progressions & Drills
If you’re a visual learner, have a look at this video covering basic strength, drills and skill progressions for ring muscle ups.
Exercises to Help Progress with Ring Muscle Ups
These additional six exercises will help advance your skills for the ring muscle up. They are not part of the movement but can help you develop the strength and body awareness needed to master the exercise.
- False ring rows
- Legless rope climbs
- Russian dips
- Baby muscle ups
- Negative muscle ups
- L-sit lift off
Even if you can already do muscle ups, these six exercises can help you achieve multiple reps. Read our specific article for a more in-depth look into each exercise.
Kipping or Strict Ring Muscle Ups
Once you have mastered the skill progressions that break down a muscle up you can start to think about using your energy and strength more efficiently by performing kipping ring muscle ups.
While both exercises essentially boil down to the same pull, transition and dip movements, strict muscle ups require an unsurpassed level of strength, while kipping muscle ups require much more skill and coordination.
Skill Progressions for Ring Muscle Ups
Upper body pressing and pulling strength are absolutely essential to perform ring muscle ups. Push ups, ring rows and dips are all great exercises to build up your strength.
“If you are still struggling with strict movements such as pull-ups and ring dips, it should be your priority to work towards strengthening these two areas before moving on to strict muscle-ups,” write Invictus training.
As a rule of thumb, you should be able to do:
- 5-7 strict chest to bar pull ups or high pull ups
- 5-7 strict ring dips to a deep position
Another exercise to progress your skills for ring muscle ups is the ring support, which establishes whether an athlete can effectively support their body, with their arms locked out and elbows active, at the top of the rings.
Many athletes lack the stability to perform a solid ring support and the rings move around and make the whole movement of the ring muscle up harder, especially if you’re trying to string muscle ups together.
To perform this movement press into the rings so that your shoulders are active and supporting your body, with your arms by your side.
Kneeing muscle up
We’ll break this movement in positions:
- Position yourself below the rings by establishing a false grip and holding it intact as you let your hands support your weight. You can bend your knees here and keep your feet right under the rings.
- Use your legs to pull yourself to the rings, bringing the rings to touch with your chest.
- Trace the rings around your chest and to your armpit, keeping them close to the body, to come to the bottom of the dip
- Jump to full to a position of support above the rings.
The kneeling muscle up is a great skill progression to get familiar with the movements of the exercise.
Engage the upper body more by elevating the height of the rings, which will deepen and elongate the pull on step to.
You could also put your feet in front of the rings, which will also lengthen the pull and demand more of the upper body.
Once you’re comfortable with the pull with little leg assistance you can move to the high rings and attempt a full ring muscle up.
Banded ring pull-downs
One of the most effective skill progressions for ring muscle ups are the banded ring pull downs.
As explained by Ben Dziwulski of WODprep, performing banded ring pull-downs are a great way to practice your skill progressions for ring muscle ups as they go through the same range of motion as your body would during a ring muscle up.
You can take an in-depth look at the exercise here.
Scaling the ring muscle up
For athletes who have got ring muscle ups but can’t necessarily handle them at high intensity, use these scaling options.
- Camille performs ring muscle up with skill: Photo Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.
- Ring Muscle Up: Photo Courtesy of CrossFit Inc
- Ring-dips: Photo Courtesy of CrossFit Inc
- muscle-ups-by-wodprep: WODprep
- skill progressions for ring muscle up: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.