The muscle up is probably the best calisthenics exercise in existence because it targets several parts of the upper body and works them intensely. Almost everyone can do a push up and a sit up but very few people can do a muscle up. In fact most untrained people have a hard time doing one pull up!
Here’s a step by step guide on how to do a muscle up:
- The muscle up is basically a pull up followed by a dip and the transition between those two is the most difficult part of the exercise. To make that transition easier some people hold the pull-up bar with their thumbs on the bar instead of around it. The grip will obviously be weaker like this but some say it helps them with the transition. Try that first and see how it goes.
- People who can’t do the muscle up are usually either not strong enough or not using the correct technique (or both). Strength is the most important of the two though. In fact if your muscles are strong enough you will be able to do it regardless of how bad your technique is. The best way to train your body and get stronger for this exercise is to do the very same exercises involved in the muscle-up, namely the pull up and the dip. Ideally the dips should be performed on a pull up bar in front of you (as it’s done in a muscle up) instead of the usual dip bar with two bars on your sides. Some people use gymnastic rings but I prefer a bar. Train diligently and use a weighted vest or a weighted backpack to make your exercise more efficient.
- Some people are strong enough and do use the correct technique but still can’t do it because they are overweight. Obviously the leaner you are the better you will be at performing such exercises since you are lifting your own weight. And even if you have the strength necessary for the muscle up, excess fat makes you slow and it will be difficult for you to switch from the pull up to the dip. Strength exercises like the ones mentioned above will help you lose weight but you should follow some cardio workouts and/or change your diet if you’re seriously overweight.
- Once you’re strong and fit enough to lift yourself up confidently, you’ll need to master the technique of the “false” muscle up. The technique is simple in theory but it can really be a pain to get it right. Start at the usual dead hang position as if doing a pull up. Swing forward with your legs and as your body swings backwards use the generated force to pull yourself upwards as quickly as possible till your shoulders are above the bar. By now you should be close to a dip position and the frontal muscles such as the deltoids and pectorals will become active instead of the upper back muscles used for the pull up. This is the so called muscle up transition and if you get stuck in this part, then you will need to train your muscles more with pull ups, dips and perhaps some other exercises. If you succeed in transitioning yourself to a dip position then all you need to do is perform that dip and the muscle up, or should I say false muscle up, will be complete.
- Now the reason I’m calling it false muscle up is because the force generated from the swing was used for the transition, but now that you have managed to do this it will only be a matter of time before you succeed in doing the proper muscle up in which no external force is used. Instead of performing pull ups and dips separately, start performing this exercise to increase the strength of the muscles involved. In time you will become capable of performing the muscle up only by using your own strength, without swinging and without pulling yourself up explosively. Only then can you claim that you have succeeded in doing the muscle up.
The muscle up is a very hard and a very advanced technique which is why it’s so rewarding to perform. Normally calisthenics are easy to perform unless you use a weighted vest or something while performing them. Regular people can do a few push ups and sit ups without training but there’s no way they are going to do a muscle up without any previous training. Rest assured that your upper body strength is greater than average if you can do it.