One day I went to a calisthenics facility near my apartment and met two guys who were doing handstand push ups, muscle ups and levers.
I was impressed by their strength, so I chatted them up.
They had a calisthenics group here in Copenhagen and invited me for their training sessions.
During my first session I noticed that most of the guys there could do muscle ups.
I was surprised, because I had tried getting a muscle up for over a year without any success.
I was always stuck at the top of the pull up position.
I thought that I simply didn’t have the build to do muscle ups since I’m a tall and heavy guy.
However, after training calisthenics several times outside, I saw a few guys who were just as tall as me doing muscle ups.
This made me realise that I can also do one if I put in the work.
In this article, I will explain how I got my first muscle up, and why YOU should work your way up to do one.
Why You Should Learn The Muscle Up
You should learn the muscle up because of two reasons:
- It’s a COOL movement. Few peope can do it.
- It trains your whole upper body in one movement.
When you can do muscle ups, you will be able to do an exercise that the majority of other guys cannot, and you will be able to train your whole upper body with this one movement.
Muscle Up = Explosive Pull Up + Transition + Dip
The muscle up consists of 3 parts:
- Explosive pull up
- Transition over the bar
A lot of people think that the transition is the most difficult part, however, in my experience, that’s not the case.
The transition is only difficult if your pull up isn’t explosive enough.
If you can get your lower chest over the bar as a result of having an explosive pull up, the transition will be MUCH easier, and the dip will feel like a regular straight bar dip.
Therefore, the most important part of the muscle up is the explosive pull up.
However, before you think about working on the speed and distance of your pull up, you want to get strong on the basics.
You need a basic strength to start working on your explosiveness.
You can’t have an explosive pull up if you can do just 8 reps with decent form.
Therefore, the first step to get a muscle up is to get strong on the basics.
How to Get Your First Muscle Up
Step 1: Get Strong On The Basics
In the calisthenics community there’s a popular saying that it’s the 1000 pull ups that you did prior to your first muscle up that eventually enable you to get your first muscle up.
I agree with that saying.
I did pull ups and diamond push ups for YEARS before I got my first muscle up.
Diamond Push Up:
In my experience, the minimum requirements before you start working on a muscle up are:
- 15 pull ups
- 25 diamond push ups
If you can’t do 15 pull ups and 25 diamond push ups, your body is not ready for a muscle up.
To achieve those numbers, follow my basic bodyweight training routine.
Now, some of you may wonder: Why are we working on the diamond push up, and not the dip?
The reason for this is that dips put a lot of strain on your shoulder. As a beginner, that may get you injured if your shoulders aren’t ready for the dips.
In contrast, diamond push ups put less strain on your shoulder, while training the same muscle groups as the dip.
Step 2: High Pull Ups and Dips
Once you got the basics down, you start working on high pull ups and dips to get that explosiveness.
High Pull Ups
In a regular pull up you pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar, then lower yourself.
This isn’t enough in a muscle up.
In a muscle up, you want your whole upper body to clear the bar, so you want to start training your pull ups in a way that resembles that movement.
To do that, you pull yourself up until your chest is above the bar, then lower yourself.
The goal here is to pull yourself up as high as possible and as fast as possible.
The speed and distance you develop from this exercise is key to get your first muscle up.
Explosive Parallel Bar Dips
For some people, dips may hurt the shoulders.
If that’s the case, then I advise you to stop dips and put the muscle up dream on hold for a while, so you can figure out the reason to why you can’t do dips.
However, if that isn’t the case, then you want to work on those explosive parallel bar dips.
To perform an explosive dip, lower yourself slowly as far down as possible, and then EXPLODE all the way up.
The key here is to go as far down as possible so the dip movement somewhat resembles that of the dip movement in the muscle up.
I didn’t follow a specific training routine to get stronger on those two exercises.
I just did 2 sets of them 2 times a week, and I always did them first.
This is the key to gain explosiveness.
Explosive movements need to be trained when you’re completely fresh and you want to do just a few sets, because you won’t be able to stay explosive once your muscles are burning.
Simply pick a few days in your training schedule and do as many reps as possible on each movement for 2 sets.
Keep in mind that the key here is not to do more reps.
The key is to be more explosive on each rep!
10 high pull ups and 15 explosive parallel bar dips
I found that once I could do 10 high pull ups all the way up to my chest and 15 explosive parallel bar dips, I was able to do a muscle up, so I advise you to aim for the same numbers.
Step 3: Give It Your All And Do Your First Muscle Up
If you can do 10 high pull ups and 15 explosive parallel bar dips, you have the strength and explosiveness to do a muscle up.
All you need to do now is give it your all.
A lot of people get caught up in thinking about technique when trying it.
I know a friend who was overanalysing his muscle up so much that he completely forgot to give it his all.
I once told him: Give it your all. Forget about technique, and simply think about pulling yourself over that bar at all costs.
He did so, and got his first muscle up.
The same applied to me.
I tried muscle ups for almost 2 years without success.
Then, one day I tried to do a muscle up at the END of my calisthenics workout where I was completely exhausted.
Despite being exhausted from my workout, I got my first muscle up.
The reason to why I got it was because I had shut off my mind and simply focused on giving it my all.
Now, the technique wasn’t pretty, but nobody has great technique on their first muscle up.
For a lot of people, the muscle up may seem like an unreachable goal.
It surely was for me. Back when I couldn’t do a set of 10 good pull ups, I couldn’t even imagine myself doing a muscle up.
I have all the excuses in the world not to do one. I have skinny wrists, long arms and I’m tall and heavy.
Combine this with skinny-fat genetics, and you got a build that is as bad as it gets for bodyweight training.
Despite those obstacles, I achieved the muscle up, therefore I’m certain that you can achieve a muscle up as long as you put in the work and follow this guide.
If anyone reading this can do muscle ups, leave a comment with YOUR tips on how to get a muscle up.
If you can’t do one yet, feel free to ask any questions on how to get it.
I have had great success with the BARSTARZZ routine
Get Stronger To Get Your “Muscle Up” Routine!
Although I could not do “15 pull ups” in a row I still did the routine… and did a muscle up 1 month later after struggling very hard for over 1 year.
“1) 5 Reps Of Negative Muscle Ups With A 5 Count Down
Get on top of the bar however you can (climb, boost, jump.) Preferably a shorter then average bar. Once your at the top of the bar have you arms locked out. With arms locked out slowly count down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 as you are counting down you are returning to the start position. From dipping down to the pull up position. Then repeat.
2) 10 High Pull Ups
The same as regular pull ups but you want to get as high as you can. Aim to touch the pull up bar with your chest. Don’t worry if you can’t do ten like this do as many as you can then finish with regular pull ups
3) 10 Straight Bar Dips
Similar to the negative muscle up, get to the top of the pull up bar. Next dip down towards the upper part of your stomach, then back up.
4) 10 Explosive Knee Raises
Explosive knee raises are different then regular knee raises. For instance instead of coming up slowly, you will come up faster aiming to bring your knees to your chest. This mimics the motion your legs do when first doing muscle ups
5) 10 Clap Push Ups
At the top of the push up clap your hands. This works the explosive movement that you will need when making the hand transitions during the muscle up.”
I just wanna ask … I’m 13 and I can do 10 pullups and 12 chinups. Are those good stats for my age?
And I forgot, I started to train 2 months ago.
Very good and great you’re starting early!
Hey Oskar, I am struggling so much with the muscle up! I can do around 18 pullups max with perfect form, 25-30 dips and 35 diamond pushups. When I go for the muscle up, I swing a little and pull as I am going back as explosive as possible and tucking my knees in for a little momentum. I then get the bar to my lower chest and just get stuck! I think it is the transition but not sure. I tried to do the false grip hang to go for a slow muscle up but I just can’t even hang for 10 seconds. Could you please give me some advice? I am 14 and my stats are:
6ft 146lbs, Around 10% body fat
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer
Wow you’re only 14 and already doing this at 6ft tall. You’re a beast.
I suggest you just keep at doing whatever you’re doing. Your stats are very impressive for a 14 year old.
You will get the muscle up soon
Yeah, I hope I will get it. It is just that I have literally no proper place to do a muscle up. I just try to do it on thick bars. Maybe I should build a calisthenics park and then it will make it easier for me to do muscle ups and progress! I have been working out for 4.5 months and I think I should start learning more complex moves like muscle ups, back lever etc. I hope I will continue to make progress because I have had a plateau in the past. Here is my routine: 6 explosive pullups(chest)
15 explosive knee raises
Do you think that this is a good routine?
4 sets of that routine
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer
It’s a good routine if you can progress on the exercises and get more explosive so you can eventually do muscle ups.
I love your site!
And it’s interesting to realize that have a very similar life story – although I am Brazilian.
I have skinny fat genetics and used to weight around 80kg (around 176 pounds) at 1.68. So, I was skinny-fat AND small!
I used to hate my body, but thanks to reading and researching A LOT about nutrition, exercise, etc; i could change my body and feel more in control of my life – and, just as you did, I created a website!
(It’s called senhortanquinho.com, but it’s in Portuguese).
Anyway, now that I have reached a much better body, I could start focusing on doing some cool stuff with it, and I am nw interested in doing some muscle ups!
I was never able to perform one, and I am finding the transition part (between the pull up and the dip) very difficult.
Any tips on that?
In any case, I love your work and your website. I specially like how you talk about things like aesthetics – that is what is most important to everyone after all. Life isn’t only a game of strength.
Thanks for posting these articles. I’ve enjoyed reading them. As a historian/writer, I appreciate a fitness trainer who can write properly.
Your transformation is remarkable.
I’ll be following your procedure in this one to get my first muscle up. My reasoning is that the preparation will force my body to not be the skinny-fat slab of pizza dough that it (naturally) wants to be. I’m at 12 chin ups, 20 close-grip pushups and 30 bodyweight squats. I don’t know my fat percentage but I’m 41 years old and weigh around 160.
I can’t lift weights anymore because of lower back issues, so this minimalist, at-home training seems perfect for me. Thanks for sharing (especially the way diamond pushups nail the upper-inner chest). The two moves not only smash chest and lats, but are an arm killer as well!
I’m hoping my functional strength will come back and I’ll get the muscle up!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer
Thank you Tom. I’m sure you can get a muscle up. It’s just a matter of time :)
Hey oskar! I’m a big fan and appreciate all the great advice and inspiration you give us.
I was doing diamond push ups and chinups but have recently started bringing my nose/lips to my hands instead of chest to hands as I flare my elbows out during daimond pushups. (Some call these diamond kiss pushups)I was wondering if you’ve ever tried this,because even though it’s much much harder for me and is making my triceps and outer bicep bigger much faster,I’m worried it might not be working my whole body as much and that my fat levels might stop decreasing as a result. I guess what I’m asking is if you think this variation is enough to work my whole body (since im also doing pull ups and squats)or if I should stick to a more basic variation of push ups like diamond push ups or regular push ups.
P.S. with the knowledge I’ve gained on your site I’ve had very good results so far! By adding healthy fats to my diet,removing gluten,dairy,sugar and soy,and taking quality supplements like fish oil I’ve gone from 145 pounds at 5’8 with a body fat% of 26% to 140 with a body fat % of 18% in 6 weeks while gaining about a quarter pound of lean dry mass. I’ve got a long way to go but I thank you sincerely for the great information and inspiration you kindly share on this site.
Surprised to hear you don’t deadlift anymore! Do you do barbell squats?? Thanks
I don’t squat or deadlift anymore. I’ve built my thighs and back to the size I want them, so I can maintain with machines/bodyweight.
I read in an earlier post/comment that you didn’t do dips because of shoulder pain. Has that obviously subsided now? given you’re talking about dipping and muscle-ups in this post.
I ask mainly because I like dips but have a feeling that may cause pain in my chest/sternum. I always beleived that I’d never be able to get a full good looking chest without doing dips…. so am hesitant to drop them completely… but maybe it’s safest to do so.
Yes, the shoulder pain is gone after years of training. I guess it’s a result of strengthening my shoulder by training it often with many different exercises and doing many sets and reps. Suddenly when I did dips one day the shoulder pain wasn’t there.
If dips hurt you, they’re not worth it. No exercise is worth an injury. Have you tried diamond push ups?
can i get wide back like you and SWR of 1.66 just with bodyweight chinup and pullup.no deadlift and external weights
I never do deadlifts anymore.
I can’t answer that question since everyone is different. Some people respond better to certain exercises.
what is the ideal greek SWR and what is your SWR(shoulder to waist ratio)
The ideal is 1.61. Mine is 1.66 if I use my narrowest waist measurement just below rib cage, and 1.51 if I measure my waist under the belly button (closer to the hips).
Yes, you can do that, but I would advise you to find a smaller bar first, since that’s easier
Is it possible to do muscle ups from fat tree branch or a fat pole on which my limbs dont touch around
You mean your fingers don’t go all the way around?
And your forearm size nearest to elbow where it is largest
are Diamond pushups and pullups enough for front and rear delts growth
Can u tell me your wrist and forearm size.mine is 6.5inch.i think its below average
I believe you’ve already asked about my wrist size 3 times. As I’ve told you before, it’s 16.5 CM.
im still ages away but still it makes me curious, about the sternum pull-up is it more core work to lean back the body like that or you lead with the biceps? sometimes ive tried it with chin ups but there is no way i could get the bar lower than my upper chest. The whole thing starts to make sense to me once i made my first diamond push ups i used to fall from the chest before i finished the negative phase.
I know for sure that it’s more back work when I lean back, and I guess the core also get’s a good workout. With that said, you use your whole upper body, so in the end I guess it’s just the strongest muscles taking over to get you over that bar as fast and high as possible.
Good job! I’m stuck on 21 chin ups, and I am having a hard time getting past it. My goal for next spring/summer was over 30…
Thank you John. 21 chin ups is a very good number, that’s also around the number I’m at. Do you also train weighted chin ups/muscle ups? I feel like the regular chin up becomes more “endurance” once you go over 20 reps.
I do the weighted as well, but for some reason the gym “loses” the belt every several months, but I agree 100%, it’s starting to feel like a stamina workout.
Here is a video of me doing chin ups with 70’s..
At least your gym has a belt!
I found that going past 20 chin ups doesn’t change much. It doesn’t help my muscle ups, and it doesn’t build muscle.
The best thing to do is to either make the reps harder by doing them slower, or doing more sets with shorter rest or to do weighted chins.
Great job on those chins man! Arms and shoulders looking huge. I’m still working on that.
When doing dips I have pain between my two pectoral (chest) muscles, in the sternum. I think I have the strength to do them but this pain is stoping me a lot. Can you give me some tips?
Hey i think thats called “costochondritis” im dealing with that as well, id like to hear as well if Oskar has anything to say but ive read that you must keep your head looking to the front, not down
Mark, I never had that pain, so I’m not the right guy to ask about that. However, I can tell you that if you have pain, it’s not worth it to do the exercise.
Hello Oskar, I notice on the video in your article that you are doing chin ups for the high pull up sets. Will this make any difference when it comes to actually attempting the muscle up? Great article by the way
Whether you do chin ups or pull ups doesn’t matter that much, however, since you use a pull up grip in the muscle up, it’s best to do the pull up.
Thanks for your reply Oskar
The reason I asked the question is because I’m struggling to get beyond 8 dead hang pull ups with good form at the moment, but I can manage 13 chin ups. My goal is to get my first muscle up as soon as I can, but it may take me some time to get to 15 pull ups. I’ll keep trying.
If you can do 13 chins, it’s only a matter of time before the pull ups catch up. The reason to why the difference is so big is that your back is weak relative to your biceps. Start practicing the pull ups more often, and incorporate other back exercises if you’re at a gym.
Will do, thanks for the advice
Hey Oskar, watsup man.
Have been thinking of putting a comment on ur page for a long time, finally got around to it. Ur articles have been a great help to me. I m a 28 years old proper skinny fat guy, started with around 210 pounds on a 6 foot frame almost 18 months ago. Couldn’t do a single pushup, let alone a chin up (doing 1 chin up was like a dream). Had no muscles watsover (blame it on years of playing warcraft and eating shit…
What are your stats now?
Here’s my stats
Age :- 28 years
Height :- 6 feet
Weight :-150 pounds
Body fat percent :- around 14 to 15% (Visible love handles, moobs, and noticeable fat around belly)
Chinup max:- 6
Diamond pushups max :- 20
Nutrition :- 1800 cals on 4 days, 900 cals on 2 Fasting days, around 2500 cals on sundays. Around 70 to 100 gms of proteins daily. Weekly average of around 1600 cals daily.
Supplements :- Creatine
Workout :- 4 to 5 times a week, centered around chinups and Diamond pushups
Goal :- Reach around 10% body fat, get rid of love handles, fat around belly and ass, and then start slow lean mass bulking.
Weight loss stalled for last 2 months.
Pls help Oskar!
Great job on the fat loss!
You said that weight loss stalled. How about your measurements? How did they change? Also, how many inches is your waist?
I haven’t been tracking my measurements. Gonna start from now. Currently my waist is around 33 inches.
Though my weight loss has stalled, my chinupmax has gone up to 6, from none in these two months, despite being on a deficit. Your website has been a great help. Started doing negative chinups as many times in a day as i could. My first Chinup almost 6 weeks ago, was an awesome moment for me. Thanks and keep up the good work.
You went from 0 to 6 chin ups in the past 6 weeks. Your waist measurement is also good for your height. Just continue adding reps to your chin ups while keeping your waist measurement around 33-34, and you’ll be good. You can always lose that last bit of fat later, but for now, just keep the momentum going and get to 15-20 chin ups.