Article last updated: February 2018 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
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.
Diamond Push Up:
In my experience, the minimum requirements before you start working on a muscle up are:
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.