If you were asked the question; “What’s the best calisthenics movement to train?” What would you say?
My first answer would be; ‘it depends on what you want’, however the follow up response would be, ‘but if you’re looking to get maximum bang for your buck, it’s the muscle up’.
Removing personal preference and my enjoyment of a wide range of bodyweight movements, if I’m looking for the best return on my training time, I do muscle ups. In this blog, I’ll tell you why, but just for the record, I’m talking strict technique on the bar or rings without kipping, because keeping it clean reaps far more benefits from the muscle up.
A fundamental principle of high-quality movement is that your kinetic chain (the connection of body segments allowing the transfer of forces) has a few basic requirements if it is to function optimally and without compensation. Ideally, we should have access to full joint range of movement without restrictions, stability through those ranges combined with the ability to produce force. If either mobility, stability or strength is lacking, then we’re likely to see a decrease in performance.
What a well-controlled muscle up represents is the synchronisation of several motor abilities. Range of movement, neuromuscular control, strength and speed all delivered with perfect timing.
If it looks effortless then you can be sure your human movement system is in a good place and it will happily reward you with some muscle up glory.
By including muscle ups in your training session you create the opportunity to exercise all these abilities at the same time. That puts a lot of ticks in the training outcomes box.
The caveat here, however, is that if you’re still learning to muscle up then it’s likely that it might not always look beautiful. If you were to analyse why, it’s probably because you’re lacking one or a combination of mobility, stability or strength.
For example, if you can’t create a well aligned setup position it might be that you have restricted range of movement in your shoulders. If the transition feels awkward and uncomfortable you might not have the necessary shoulder stability to control your posture during the transition. Finally, the one that most people struggle with particularly in the bar muscle up, is strength, or more specifically, power. If you can’t pull through full range of movement to get high enough above the bar, you’re unlikely to conquer the bar muscle up.
So the take away message is this: the muscle up requires respect because it is a challenging movement to learn and perform. It therefore makes sense that we should respect our human movement system and give it what it needs to perform optimally. If we do both these things, we’re likely to see much faster and effective progression in our training.
The second reason why muscle ups are such a good investment of your training time is because you train push and pull movements at the same time.
When I travel I often take a set of rings with me as 9 times out of 10 I know I’m going to want to train and I can usually find something to hang them from. If I do nothing else but a few sets of ring muscle ups I know I’ve done enough to maintain my pull up and dip strength whilst being incredibly efficient with the sometimes limited time and energy I have available.
It’s as simple as that. Muscle ups, whether on the bar or rings, work a lot of muscles in integrated patterns and thus keeps your body and mind happy.
The perfect muscle up starts in a dead hang and finishes with elbows extended at the top position of the dip. Aside from some technical differences, whether performed on a bar or gymnastic rings, the process of moving from the start to finish requires you to move through 3 phases:
Aside from these commonalities, the ring and bar offer some slightly different stimuli, both of which further enhance the muscle up benefits.
Due to the instability of the rings, a strict form muscle up requires a significant level of neuromuscular control and dynamic stability of the shoulder. The transition and completing the ring dip are the key points in the muscle up where people often struggle and it generally goes back to issues with mobility, stability and strength.
However, if you work through the progressions, these motor abilities are relatively straightforward to learn, the beauty and real value of the muscle up comes with being able to execute these movement patterns beautifully. If you can do that on the rings, you’re giving your human movements system a lot of the good stuff it likes.
The video below is taken from one of our workshops where I explain some of the technique points of the ring muscle up.
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The false grip on the ring is the key foundation movement for the ring muscle up if you want to do it strict because the ring moves and the technique of the false grip allows you to put the wrist on the ring how you want to finish in the dip / transition position without the need to move the hand on the ring… instead the wrist moves around the hand and ring. Follow Tim's tips for the false grip technique to start redefining your impossible of the ring muscle up. Full Ring Muscle Up Programme inside the Virtual Classroom 👉🏼 http://classroom.schoolofcalisthenics.com/course?courseid=ring-muscle-up
The bar muscle up is a slightly different beast. Because you have to navigate your way around the bar rather than moving into a space between your hands like you do in a ring muscle up, the physical demands change.
This is a power-based movement. You have to be able to pull explosively to generate enough force at speed in order to get your shoulders high enough above the bar. Unless you can do this, you won’t be able to perform a controlled and elegant transition. It is for this reason that so many people end up with one elbow above and one below the bar in a position which you’ll know if you have experienced it, is pretty unpleasant to be in.
Developing the ability to produce force at end range and pull hard and fast is not something everyone can do. But having that kind of capacity available in your upper body is something to relish.
Those are just a few headline muscle up benefits and I hope that if you want to reap them for yourself that you’ll get some extra motivation to continue or begin the process.
The muscle up is a gift that keeps on giving, but it can also take a lot too. It’s important that you build in appropriate recovery time and deload weeks throughout your training programme. The multitude of motor abilities being utilised is one of the big plus points, but that also means it can empty your physical resources so our advice is to train smart.
One last point, if you’re finding your muscle up training hard, just remember this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or small, has its stages of drudgery and triumph. A beginning, a struggle and a victory.