How To Do A Muscle Up In Calisthenics & Street Workout

calisthenics pull up melbourne

Posted On December 2, 2019

The muscle up is one of the fundamental strength exercises in calisthenics. It’s also one of the basic transitions that allow calisthenics athletes to move from below the bar (BOTTOM) to above the bar (TOP).

In many ways the muscle up defines calisthenics. It’s the perfect blend of strength and functional utility. Despite their prevalence in calisthenics, the muscle up is by no means easy. A perfect muscle up is at the very least an intermediate skill .

The muscle up is more complicated than you think

The muscle up is made up of 4 basic components: The swing, the pull up, the transition and the dip. Each component must be mastered in the order given above. If the swing is incorrect, then it doesn’t matter how good the pull up is, it will not be possible to get over the bar. Similarly, if your transition game is poor, the dip you’ve mastered will be useless.

There are multiple types of muscle ups. For simplicity, we will focus on only 2: the standard muscle up and the false grip muscle up (slow muscle up). The standard muscle up is accessible to those with good pull strength and body awareness.

Step 1: Perfect the swing


Why do we need a swing? We need a swing because biomechanically it’s impossible to do a muscle up by pulling completely vertically. This is because if we pull vertically, we will pull ourselves into the bar and won’t be able to transition properly.

The swing allows us to circumvent this biomechanical problem by creating space between ourselves and the bar. The swing should be small and quite vertical. The body should be driven towards the ground at an acute angle.

Note that this is different to the usual relaxed swing that you may be used to – which is more circular in nature. This type of swing allows us to explode vertically, having created a slingshot with our own muscle elasticity.

Step 2: Master the pull up


Pull ups are a pre-requisite to muscle ups. You should be able to do a minimum of 15 pull ups before even attempting muscle ups. To tailor pull up training to muscle ups, it’s necessary to practice explosive pull ups.

Explosive pull ups are a type of pull up where the aim is to get your chest to the bar. This type of pull up is focused on power rather than strength/endurance, which is exactly what is needed for the muscle up.

pull up street workout st kilda

Step 3: Get a handle on the transition


This is the hardest part of the muscle up. The transition is the point where calisthenics athletes move from the BOTTOM position to the TOP position. It usually involves the slippage of the wrist forward, which allows the athlete to propel their torso over the bar.

It is important to use a combination of the power generated from the swing and the pull up to facilitate the transition. Many beginners try to jump the gun and ‘chicken wing’ the muscle up, that is, they try to get over the bar one arm at a time. This is cheating and can lead to injury.

Step 4: Build dip strength


This is perhaps the easiest part of the whole muscle up. Once over the bar, all that is required is the extension of the body through the triceps and deltoids. Aim to be able to do 10-15 dips before attempting muscle ups.

The false grip muscle up


The false grip muscle up is very different to the standard muscle up. Where the standard muscle up relies on momentum, the false grip muscle up involves only strength.

The false grip muscle up is done from a dead hang and requires the false grip. The false grip is where athletes place their wrists over the bar rather than hanging by the palms and fingers. This grip will initially be very uncomfortable, and it is recommended that it is mastered first on gymnastics rings.

The false grip circumvents the need for momentum by having the wrists sit over the bar from the beginning. As such, there is no longer any need to swing. Instead, the false grip provides a scaffold that gives leverage for athletes to raise themselves over the bar. It can be said that there is still a transition, however it is much more subtle and does not involve any wrist slippage.

Street Workout St Kilda, Calisthenics training in melbourne


Street Workout St Kilda hopes to give life to this calisthenics movement by providing guidance to athletes hoping to learn calisthenics and the intricacies of bodyweight training in a safe and supportive environment, with the correct progressions. We provide classes, personal training and programming for those that want to fast-track their progress in the calisthenics world.

We currently operate from Melbourne’s south-east. Whether you’d like to learn iconic isometric holds like the handstand or planche, or if you’re more into freestyle and barflow, join us and let us help you become a street workout athlete!

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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