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Muscle Up Series | Part 1

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Getting your first muscle-up is an unforgettable experience for anyone who’s trained in CrossFit. Everybody remembers when and where they got their first one and how that exact moment felt!

As far as difficulty goes, muscle-ups are very much like climbing a fence or hiking your body over a wall, they are the ultimate test of upper body strength and skill.

Achieving such a movement is easily done when a process put in place. A step-by-step process allows one to see whether they’re ready to make that first attempt and by the end of this blog I am going to show you how to take that first step towards making that goal become a reality.

By the end of this blog, you will:

  • Be equipped with strategies to improve your overall pulling strength, throughout the use of resistance, and accessory exercises that compliment your current
  • Use this knowledge to advance to stronger upper body strength movements and get closer to that muscle up dream!

Note: This progression sequence is for individuals who are already training and have experienced pulling exercises at a beginner’s level. If you are an individual who is quite new to physical activity, I would advise the assistance of a professional trainer to assist you with your goals.

So, what are the three most important things to consider when attempting to increase your pull up?

  • Proper set of your shoulders — including an extended warm up.
  • Time under tension in order for adaptation to occur
  • The use of assistance and accessories to allow stability and progression to occur

Important: Preparation is Key!

Before we undertake any type of exercise we must make sure we prep the shoulder structure accordingly to avoid any chance of injury to occur.

A solid warm-up is a must! The shoulder can be such a clumsy joint if it’s not looked after. A simple 10-15 minutes of proper preparation can significantly reduce the chance of injury occurring. A proper warm up, including both mobility drills to release tension and various dynamic exercises in order to activate and wake up those muscles!

The following exercises can be a part of your warm up:

  • Scapular push-up
  • Straight Arm Lat pull down 
  • Crossover Pull-down
  •  Internal Rotation
  • External Rotation

Check the video out below for a demonstration on these exercises.

Time under tension

In order for adaptation to occur, we must place our muscles under stress. Introducing time under tension into your training is a great way to not only build strength, but also stability within your muscles to produce the most amount of power and strength possible in the safest manner! Time under tension simply means the amount of time that muscle is placed under stress.

A great example of how we can bring this type of training into increasing our pull-ups is through the use of negatives. Negatives (eccentric pull-ups) focus on the downward phase of the pull-up.

A negative pull-up is simply the downward phase of a regular pull-up. How?

  1. Hold the bar with a wide grip with palms facing away from you, and start with your chin just above the bar.
  2.  Lower yourself as slowly as you can until your arms are completely straight

To get into the starting position, you may need to stand on a platform or a weights bench, or have a partner give you some assistance. The same exercise can be used with ring-rows, focusing on the downward phase and squeezing your lats to control the negative phase, or the drop.

Tip: The longer you can control yourself on the eccentric phase, the stronger you have become!

Check the video out below for a demonstration of an eccentric pull-up.

Assistance & Accessory movements

We’ve gone through building strength in the strict pull-up, we can also spend time working the muscles required for the pull-up. Even though the movements don’t mimic a pulling motion, they can still assist in developing the strength and stability we’re looking for in order for our goals to be achieved.

Try these exercises out:

Scapular Pull-ups: Again, not only a great warm up exercise, but also a fantastic way to build stability, grip strength and teach us to consciously to activate our shoulder blades when initiating a pull-up.

Get your hang on: Sounds simple, right? Wrong! Hanging from the bar can be as challenging as an actual pull-up itself! Increasing your hang time will allow you to increase not only your grip strength, but will allow you to use the muscles within your back to hold you in a perfect position, rather than burning out your forearms! When practicing hanging, start small, with sets of 10-15seconds and slowly increase overtime.

Ring rows: These bad boys will help us strengthen our backs and are just as hard as pull-ups when you do them right!

Hollow-Hold: Keeping our midline stable within any type of pull up or gymnastic movement is extremely essential helping the body from top to bottom stay in a nice and solid position. The goal here is to brace every single muscle in your whole body so that you adopt a rigid dish like shape. The only thing touching the floor should be your lower back with shoulder blades also risen. Start off by holding for 5-10-15 seconds at a time and before long, you will be able to hold for up to 30 seconds at a time. As they say, practice makes perfect!

So, remember, the three most important points when attempting to increase your pull strength are:

  • Proper preparation of your shoulders — including an extended warm up
  • Time under tension in order for adaptation to occur
  • Use of assistance and accessories to allow stability, safety and progression to occur.

The great number of strict pull-ups you have, the faster your dream of a muscle up will arrive!

A bare minimum of 1 strict pull-up and 1 strict ring dip is needed, but in order for them to turn into 5 strict chest-to-bar (pulling to your chest rather than to your chin) pull-ups and 5 strict ring dips is preferred in order for your body to transition smoothly. So, in the case of progressing to a muscle-up, more is definitely better.

A muscle-up is the highest pull-up you can achieve, therefore, train your pull-ups accordingly making sure full-range of motion is always achieved!

These things definitely don’t happen overnight but have faith that your hard work will lead to success with patience and consistency.

Look out for my next write-up where I will be breaking down the pushing strength required when it comes to the dip!