If you’ve never done a muscle-up before, you’re going to be able to after reading and understanding this tutorial. I’ve taught hundreds of guys to perform muscle-ups over the past few years, and when I teach in-person they almost always get it while we’re standing there (if they have some lifting experience already and natural strength).
Needless to say, I’m confident in my ability to teach this seemingly complicated movement in a simple way.
The Muscle-Up For Testosterone Enhancement
If you’ve read Master Your T or the THOR Program, you realize how great of a movement the muscle-up is for natural testosterone enhancement, especially when you can do it weighted. It’s great because hormone release in response to training is entirely dependent on “work done” on muscle tissue over a short period of time.
Work, as a construct, is dependent on Force generated, as well as the amount of distance over which that Force displaces some weight.
For this reason, the muscle-up is, in my opinion one of the best movements to master to increase your T levels naturally. Why? Because you’re displacing your entire body weight (plus extra weight if you do it weighted) over a massive distance compared to every other lifting movement.
Most pull up bars are around seven feet high, so you displace your weight over that distance plus some extra for the reverse dip movement at the top of the bar.
The muscle up also requires such explosive power to require you to make this displacement quickly, adhering to the explosive/time requirement in the above mentioned “Testosterone Work Principle.”
Most people approach their first muscle-up completely wrong. As a result, they struggle for months — even years — before actually doing one. Some people don’t even stick around that long before abandoning the pursuit. Others don’t even try because it looks difficult.
Why Do You Want To Do A Muscle-Up In The First Place?
1. It’s Badass
We’ve all seen those videos of the guys in New York City repping out muscle-ups on YouTube. A muscle-up is an impressive feat of human strength and power. Most of us are attracted to that and would love to be able to do it ourselves.
2. It’s an Amazing Workout
A muscle-up works your entire upper body and core, front and back. The movement, an explosive pull-up into reverse dip, engages your chest, back, shoulders, abs, obliques, forearms, biceps and triceps. It’s the ultimate resistance exercise and can be used as a great single-movement workout if pressed for time or experimenting with minimalism. (Maybe add some bodyweight squats, too.)
The Big Issue
So what’s the problem? Why can so few people do muscle-ups, even after trying and trying for months?
Well, most people approach the movement incorrectly. They walk up to the bar, jump up, hang for a second, swing their legs and pull up, trying to thrust themselves over top of the bar. For even the strongest of us, this approach will prove fruitless.
Most people don’t break it down to the core movements, electing instead to just go for it… and they fail.
The problem with this approach is the fact that most of us are used to lifting weights and don’t have much experience with bodyweight training. It’s a completely different animal. With weights, if it’s too heavy, we can just subtract plates then try again. However, with bodyweight movements, strength, power and technique all need to be present, or it ain’t happening.
The correct approach (which I used to learn how to do my first muscle-up in only two weeks) is focused on the fundamentals. When I approach anything, I tend to break things down to the absolute foundation. A compound bodyweight movement like the muscle-up is a complex system of muscle contractions and momentum. But at the core, two things need to be present in order to execute the movement:
- Adequate physical power
- Correct technique
I’ll break each of them down for you here, then tell you the exact approach I used over two weeks to do my first muscle-up.
Why You Need Adequate Physical Power
The muscle-up is as much about power as it is about strength. (I could actually make the argument that it is more about power.) I’ve seen some pretty skinny guys do muscle-ups at Tompkins Square Park in my time training there. They do not possess the muscular strength that many bigger guys do; however, they clearly have some amazing neuromuscular adaptations from bar training in general and their muscles can burst very well.
The nature of the movement requires an explosion over the bar as you transition from pull-up to reverse dip. This means you need to train for explosive power. The best way to do this for a muscle-up is to work on plyometric pull-ups and high “bar-to-chest” pull-ups.
The three best plyometric pull-ups to do are:
1. Basic plyo-pulls, where you explode at the top of the pull-up movement, letting go of the bar momentarily before grabbing back on as you descend back toward your starting point.
2. Clap pull-ups, where you explode so high above the bar that you can clap your hands together (similar to clap push-ups) before descending back to the beginning of the movement.
3. Bar-to-chest pull-ups, which are essentially high pulls. Do a standard pull-up, only instead of peaking at the neck you continue to pull until your chest touches the bar, preferably beneath your pecs. Hold it momentarily before descending.
All of these movements will challenge you. They will be uncomfortable. But doing them will guarantee you the adequate power to do your muscle-up. Please note that you’ll likely be sorer than usual when doing these moves. Very important neuromuscular adaptations are taking place when you begin training this way. Your muscles are being worked DEEPLY. The result will be rock-hard, dense, explosive muscle. Definitely worth the work.
How to Master Muscle-Up Technique in Five Minutes
Before we get into the movement itself, it’s imperative that you understand how crucial technique is to learning to muscle up. Incorrect technique equals no muscle-ups, ever. If you don’t understand the basics, you’ll never do one. Simple as that.
READ MORE: Building Muscle While Intermittent Fasting
Luckily, I’m about to break the basics down for you, and they’ll only take about five minutes to understand fully.
There are only two things you need to understand: grip and center of mass.
Correct Muscle-Up Grip For Beginners
I highly recommend you use a “false grip” to learn how to muscle up. It will accelerate your learning process due to the distribution of downward force. This is compared to a traditional wrapped grip on the bar, which pushes less force downward and more force underneath the bar, which is counterproductive.
I’ve seen guys with good natural power learn to muscle up with wrapped grip, but it’s rare. You’ll have a much easier time if you use false grip so you can concentrate on pulling straight up. Then you can straight down through the movement, the importance of which will become apparent when I discuss center of mass.
It typically takes a little getting used to when you first begin using false grip, but you’ll quickly learn to love it.
Correct Center Of Mass Placement For Muscle-Ups
Center of mass placement when learning to muscle up is super crucial. This is what 99 percent of people get wrong, and why they NEVER learn to muscle up.
What is center of mass placement, you ask? I first learned about it high school physics, so it doesn’t take a genius to understand. It just takes an awareness of the fact that your body is a weighted object in space, like anything else.
In physics, the center of mass of a distribution of mass in space is the unique point where the weighted relative position of the distributed mass sums to zero or the point where if a force is applied causes it to move in direction of force without rotation. The distribution of mass is balanced around the center of mass and the average of the weighted position coordinates of the distributed mass defines its coordinates.
– Wikipedia (Center of Mass)
Correct center of mass placement helps facilitate the power transfer with ease, allowing you to hoist your body over the bar seamlessly. This is opposed to incorrect center of mass placement, which will always limit you from making that transfer from pulling to a reverse dip over the bar.
The Most Difficult Part of a Muscle-Up
The most difficult part of the muscle-up movement is the transition over the bar. It’s only difficult because it relies on proper CoM (center of mass) placement, which most people get totally wrong.
Don’t worry though. Once you get it a couple times, your body internalizes the motion and it becomes second nature. So you won’t even have to think about it again. It’s like learning to ride a bike: You have to pay attention to it in the beginning until your vestibular system can take over.
First, I’d like to demonstrate the WRONG CoM placement I always see people do when trying to do a muscle-up. This is likely what you’re doing right now when you jump up onto the bar.
- Incorrect CoM 1: Too Far Forward
- Incorrect CoM 2: Too Far Back
Muscle-Up Mistake 1: Center of Mass Too Far Forward
This is the most common mistake I’ve seen newbies make. They hop on the bar, swing forward, wiggle around and… well, nothing else really. They just try and try, but never get over the bar.
Why? Because their CoM is way too far forward.
They try to kip (unsuccessfully) or thrust upward, but they never get over the bar. This is because their CoM is actually in front of the bar. It’s impossible to get over, since the transition over the bar requires you to pull through the bar, which requires your body to be slightly behind the bar.
If your CoM is in front of the bar, you’ll NEVER get the transition because it’s physically impossible.
Muscle Up Mistake 2: Center of Mass Too Far Back
This is less common, but typically happens when someone is a “thruster.” This is where they try, usually as a last-ditch effort, to thrust themselves upward over the bar. In this case, the body’s CoM relative to the bar is so far behind the bar that you cannot generate the proper force to get over. Usually, the person gets their chest to the bar then fails, since there’s no real leverage available to them to make the transition.
Don’t think too much about this one. You want your CoM as close to directly underneath the bar at transition time as possible. This will give you less resistance and allow you to channel the momentum you’ve just generated into exploding in the exact right direction. Not too far forward and not too far backward.
Part of getting your CoM correct is getting the “feel” right in terms of using your body’s natural (or unnatural if you want to try kipping a little) swing to carry momentum into the transition. This will take a little trial-and-error practice, but you’ll figure it out eventually.
Try and feel for the point right before transition where you feel light for a split second. That’s where you want to be.
How I Did a Muscle-Up in Two Weeks
When it really comes down to it, you need to:
- Have the proper technique
- Be powerful enough to make the transition over the bar
And these are both achieved best via intense focus over a short period of time.
Once I broke things down into this easy way of thinking, I was able to do my first muscle up in just twelve days of focus.
I was “greasing the groove” as often as possible by working on technique and explosive pull ups multiple times per day. Basically, I obsessed over it.
This isn’t difficult to do either. Any chance you get, jump up onto a pull up bar throughout the day. I was in NYC, so I practiced on scaffolding around buildings on the street. You can also go to a neighborhood park on the way to and from work and spend 5-10 minutes practicing.
Long story short: If you truly want to do this, then you will make time and find ways to achieve your goal.
Also, I made sure and eat as healthy as possible during this time. I figured if I could drop a pound or two, it would help a little bit. Less weight to pull.
That’s All You Need For How To Do Your First Muscle-Up!
I really hope that this helps you achieve your goal and opens new possibilities for you in terms of bodyweight training. If you’re following the THOR Program, this tutorial will give you everything you need to properly do Workout C.
Adopting a minimalist approach to fitness has allowed me to train only two to three times per week while consistently gaining strength. I can now easily rep out sets of 8-10 muscle-ups when I work out, even in the middle of a weightlifting session. My muscles are as dense as rocks.
There’s something so freeing about knowing you can get a great workout in anywhere you go and not having to worry about being near a weight room or having a gym membership.
The Best Workout Using Muscle Ups
Incorporating muscle-ups into your workout routine is just one step toward building muscle and an amazing physique. If you want to build an amazing body you can be proud of, you need a complete workout program. As I’m sure you know, it can be hard to know what workout programs actually work. It’s no secret that the majority of the information in the fitness industry is complete BS.
That’s why I set out to create a workout program based on science… not hype and false information.
Through vigorous research and personal experimentation, I developed what I believe is the most optimal workout program in the world: the THOR program.
THOR was designed using specific power movements — like the muscle-up — and having strength progression with those power movements. This facilitates an adaptive response in your muscle tissue that leads to insane muscle and strength gains.
The THOR program is hands-down the absolute best way to train your body. Period.
Want to check out the THOR program? Learn more about it here!