5 Tips on How To Improve Your Muscle Ups

OK, let's face it. Muscle Ups are put into the CrossFit Open to sort the elite athletes from the average athletes. If you think you can survive regionals without muscle-ups, then think again! The same goes for Hand-Stand Push-Ups. These two movements consistently find out weaker athletes and expose them during Regionals.

This blog post is broken up into hints for those that already have muscle ups and those that are trying to get their first.

I can already do Muscle Ups...

...then your focus should really be on the following:

  1. Faster transitions and stringing them together.
    • Being able to shorten the distance you travel and getting consecutive muscle ups will save you time.
    • Try aiming for at least 2 muscle-ups every set to take advantage of the momentum and swing from the first muscle up.
  2. Tightening your kip
    • Lots of moving parts is inefficient in terms of time and energy
    • Watching those who have good, quick, multiple muscle-ups has shown me that they are economical in terms of wasted energy and don't flail around
  3. Learning to pull higher so you have less distance to press out,
    • The best athletes at muscle ups catch the rings at the bottom of their ribs...the ones who struggle are catching in their armpits.
    • The higher you can pull, the easier muscle-ups will be for you 🙂
    • Watch Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and how high she catches...
  4. Practice your kipping ring dips so you can go for longer when you get fatigued.
    • When you get stuck in the hole, learning to kip out is going to help!
  5. Decide if False-Grip is good for you or are you strong enough to do it with a neutral grip? 
    • A False-grip allows you to shorten the amount you have to pull but you will catch deeper into your armpits.
    • A neutral/normal grip will allow you to pull higher and avoid a deep ring dip/press out.
    • You have to play with both to see which is better for you.

I wrote the above and began looking for YouTube videos to illustrate some movements...and then I found this one - this video is great for those who already have Muscle-Ups - thanks Chris Spealler and Matt Chan!

I am having trouble getting muscle ups...

Well, there is no time like the Open to get your first! Some tips for you...

  1. Get Chest-To-Bar Pull-Ups...
    • ...but practice pulling to your belly button
    • Progress onto bar muscle ups when you can do that...the turnover isn't as hard on the bar and your arms will still be relatively straight
  2. Practice Your Ring-Dips
    • Your ring dips need to be strong and deep.
    • I see too many people practice their ring dips and stop short of a really deep range-of-motion...I am ok with that if that is your limit but if it is simply a lack of strength, then de-load and practice getting deeper.
    • It is no good to have 10 strict ring dips if your hands aren't up in your armpits. Your first muscle-up won't be a thing of beauty, it will be a fight to get into the catch position and pressing out the deepest ring dip you have ever done. Start practicing it now!
  3. Get a good kip
    • The best athletes in the world get their body basically horizontal (to the limits of legal) and aggressively turn over into their catch position.
    • Use your kip to roll that body into that position
    • Here are 2 videos to demonstrate what your first muscle up will look like (like that of a fatigued CrossFit Games competitor!)
  4. Get strong
    • Muscle Ups are about technique, no question about it...but having strength makes it a helluva lot easier.
    • Practice negative Muscle Ups - so start in the pressed out position and try to come down slowly and controlled
  5. Get coaching
    • Muscle Ups are one of those movements that an expert eye is invaluable.
    • Working out where you are in the technique and what your deficiencies are will help you most


6 Tips Common to All Movements 

Basically similar to my blog on preparing for the Open...

1. Practice your technique NOW

  • Feel comfortable in practice with competition technique and Range of Motion (ROM) and it will feel comfortable in competition.
  • Good technique is the most efficient way to complete the reps. For most movements, keep your back straight for crying out aloud!!
  • Motor patterns are strengthened with perfect practice - the more reps you do perfectly, the more likely you will do them

2. Continue your strengthening program (or start NOW!)

  • There are still 7 weeks before the Open starts and 11 weeks until it ends - there is time to make gains!
  • If you just get one more rep out because you are just a little bit stronger or you get a PB because you improved enough to achieve it, there is no better feeling in the Open. Last year, I got a 135lbs snatch 4 times - I got my first the day before I did 13.1. I also got my first CTB pullup during the Open. Strength helps!
  • If you are a Regionals athlete, the Open should just be a speed bump in your training program.
  • I have never heard anyone say "If I was only a bit weaker for that workout, I would have done better"!

3. Get your Coach to help identify and rectify your weaknesses

  • Most coaches are happy to tell you what to work on and will give you accessory (additional) exercises to do after your workouts.
  • Most coaches will have some form of one-on-one coaching sessions they can do with you - these are worth it for beginners and experienced athletes alike
  • If you do ask your coach for help and you DO NOT do what they say, then please DO NOT ask them for more help until you have done what they told you to do already!! Nothing is more frustrating to a coach than someone who asks for help but then doesn't do it.
  • If you have done everything you are told to do and your coach doesn't want to help you, ask yourself if you are in the right box or asking the right person...this should be extremely rare...in general and basically every box I have been to (over 20) and coaches I know (well over 50) have had coaches that are willing to help the athletes and care about their safety.

4. Sort your niggles out

  • One of the most common comments I hear is "If I had known how much better I would feel, I would have come sooner"
  • 'Nuff said!

5. Don't push to failure

  • Rich Froning rarely fails a rep. Don't waste your energy on failed reps. Rest and just concentrate on making good reps. Pushing to failure is a waste of time and energy and significantly increases your risk of injury...

6. Lose the "sins of Christmas" - get that body fat% down!

  • This one is for my friend John Z - all the bodyweight movements in the Open will get better if you are carrying less fat.

I am always keen to hear tips from other athletes, coaches and health professionals. Leave your comments below!



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  1. Pingback : 5 Tips on Preparing for the 2014 CrossFit Open | The Physio Detective

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