The Elusive Muscle Up…

The elusive Muscle Up…

It’s coming to that time of year where everyone is rushing to get their Muscle Up’s in order for the Open. Like most of my blog posts I’m going to cut straight to the point. CrossFit has been teaching the Muscle Up WRONG for years and it’s no wonder people are struggling to get them or when they do get them they look like shit! For this entire article I am talking about the ‘Kipping’ variation (not strict). Please also bare in mind that a Muscle Up in CrossFit is a different movement to a Muscle Up in gymnastics, AND a Kip in CrossFit is different to a Kip in gymnastics…

Sure, we CrossFitters don’t get points for making it pretty, but let me assure you the prettier it becomes the more efficient it becomes.

Let me illustrate a point here. Back in 2007 Olympic lifters cringed when CrossFitters were trying to Snatch, the movement was heavily bastardised because quite frankly nobody had practiced the movement before. Fast forward to 2016 and CrossFitters are now Snatching AT THE OLYMPICS!!!! Clearly there has been a MASSIVE growth in CrossFitters ability to Olympic lift. The same cannot be said for gymnastics. Muscle Up’s look almost the same now as they did ten years ago!

If you think trying to learn the Olympic lifts is technical then you should try gymnastics. Most programs these days are all about the heavy lifting and it goes to show, CrossFitters are getting f*cking strong. But it is sad to see that the gymnastics side of things has remained nearly the same. I believe it’s because it is too hard, too technical and honestly not as fun as lifting heavy weights.

Because of this technical difficulty, most coaches don’t teach things like Muscle Up’s regularly if at all and if they do teach them it is normally incorrectly.

Let me guess, big swing, pop the hips, turnover… Oh man, your turnover was too slow… People are being setup to fail right from the start so I’m going to break down for you how to do it properly.


1) Grip – Unless you are uber flexible then go neutral grip. If you are like spaghetti then use a false grip. The main goal of a good grip is that it allows you to Kip properly and freely with straight arms and allow some internal rotation and abduction from overhead.

2) Kipping – This is where most people go wrong and it is no fault of their own. CrossFit Kipping and Gymnastic Kipping are different and what most CrossFit coaches don’t realise is that the way they have been taught is incorrect.

2a) Hollow Body and Arch Holds on the floor. Core braced correctly, quads, glutes, calves engaged. Solid as a rock.

2b) Hollow Body and Arch Holds on the rings. Same as above, tension is the key.

2c) Dynamic Hollow to Arch swings on the rings. TENSION is the key. It should NOT be a passive swing, it should be an active pulling of the correct muscles. Inertia should NOT be involved.


2d) Exaggerated Hollow to Arch with shoulder movement (Lat/Lever movements on Hollow, internal rotation and abduction on Arch). There should be a slight feeling of weightlessness at the top BUT still FULL TENSION through the body to the rings.

This is where people start to go wrong, they do not maintain tension. MAINTAIN TENSION!!!


3) The Pull – Exaggerated Hollow to Arch with shoulder and arm movement. I call this drill the Drinking Bird Drill. Exactly the same as above but as you start to feel weightless at the top you begin your pull over the rings. This involves a slight arm bend to pull you towards the ring and simultaneously your feet will change direction and start to move behind you. Instead of transitioning to the dip support just hold the body and go back down to the start position (Like a Kipping Pull Up).

This is where 99% of people go completely wrong… As they start to pull and ‘sit up’ over the top of the ring their Hollow Body position is lost and they end up in an ab crunched position. Their feet do not start to travel behind them. If you maintain a Hollow position, hips as the pivot point, as you pull with your arms your feet should move behind you and ASSIST the head traveling forward through the rings.

Two videos below, one of KFed trying the Drinking Bird and one of myself showing a bit more intensity and strength.


4) Transition – Transitioning through should happen almost automatically IF you have kept tension during all the previous parts. That is why it infuriates me when people keep working on their transition when in fact it is everything beforehand that is fucking it up. The one thing I will say here is that if you are in a neutral grip you need to rotate your hands around the ring so that they go from a pulling to a pressing position. That can take a little getting used to but it is something you can practice sitting in a band on low rings.

Below is a little sequence we used to start working on the transition. You can see she goes through the Kip progression with each swing, including a Drinking Bird, then hit’s 3 solid transitions. Focus is on getting the first steps right every rep!


5) The Dip – If you have executed Part 2, 3 and 4 properly then the feet will keep traveling up behind you and assist in an upward motion for you to press out with. If you have done the good old CrossFit Muscle Up and you are in a tucked position when you are in the Dip Support then you will probably do the old knee drive and press. I’m not going to harp on about the dip, focus on getting the first parts right and the rest will follow.

For more information on the transition and dip please refer to the blog post below. I haven’t gone into detail in this post because odds are that you aren’t even getting the first parts right yet.

The last thing I will say is that you are far better off building strength to assist with your first Muscle Up rather than using the CrossFit Kip to get your first Muscle Up. Sure you will probably get it sooner, but it is a ton more dangerous and more inefficient. Once again it’s the people that do the boring stuff correctly in the background all year round that will come out on top in the long run! Now go and do some levers and learn how to KEEP TENSION!!!

Good Lat and core drill to help you keep tension (courtesy of Sam Thackway).

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