by Alex G
Are you getting into calisthenics and trying to get your first muscle up? Here’s how I got mine in about 3 weeks and what I learned from the experience.
A while back I saw this thing called a muscle up on Instagram and thought to myself, “Wow, it’s like a pull-up that never ends…imagine what I could do with a power like that!”
At the time I didn’t know what calisthenics was, but I was very much into working out, lifting weights most days. So with a new goal I decided to tack muscle up training onto my lifting routine. It took me about 3 weeks to go from zero to muscle up. Here’s approximately how that went – in 8 convenient steps – and how this simple move changed the way I train:
ONE – I Googled “How to muscle up”
Pretty obvious first step, and like many people who start by Googling a calisthenics move I ended up on a Thenx video:
In this video, Chris Heria breaks it down into a few steps. This was my introduction to the concept of progressions, which are important for learning any new cali skill. This is specifically the video that helped me but there are plenty of decent ones out there.
TWO – I tested my strength
I could do more than 10 pull ups with ease and according to the internet that’s enough to be able to muscle up. If you can’t do 10 pull ups, I suggest working on that first. Stay tuned for an article on that.
THREE – I tested my progressions.
Watch the video above and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Chris Heria breaks it down into three parts:
- Magic button – swing forward slightly and press down with your feet onto an invisible magic button
- L-sit pull down – Soon as the magic button is pressed, pull down ont he bar with your arms and lift your legs into an l-sit position
- Lay over the bar – Once you get the timing right, focus on bringing your chest over the bar to bring you into the bottom of the dip position.
I tested my ability to do all three of these things, and knowing that I could do them individually, I was able to start joining them together into the single muscle up motion.
FOUR – I tacked this onto my daily training.
Every day (rest days not included), I’d spend between 5 – 20 minutes attempting to muscle up. I didn’t know it at the time, but this kind of patient, fragmented training is referred to as “greasing the groove” and it’s pretty amazing.
If you want to know what I did exactly it was something like this:
- Practice magic button for a couple minutes
- About 3 sets of 5 L-sit pull downs (launching from magic button)
- About 3 sets of 5 Attempts to get over the bar.
- After doing this I would assess myself to see where I could improve and do some free play to focus on understanding the movement. For example at 11.20 of the video above, Chris runs through a good drill for understanding the form, so I would do a bit of this.
Note: A lot of people practice muscle ups with a resistance band, hooking the band over the bar and placing their feet in it like this:
Personally, when learning to muscle up I didn’t use a band at all.
Another note: Don’t overdo it. As a beginner, the muscle up move can really take a toll on your joints. Always warm up and stretch your shoulders, chest and arms and if your body tells you to stop, you should stop. It took me 3 weeks to get this but it’s not a race. I had years of weight training under my belt, if you don’t, you might need longer, and you may need rest days between attempts.
FIVE – I practiced patience, and determination.
It would be great to just follow the progressions and get it in your first few tries, but that doesn’t always happen (though sometimes it does). I kipped and flopped and struggled for about a week. I also learned the importance of warming up and stretching before doing these kind of moves, and I moved this practice to before my weight routine, instead of after – partly so I’d be more fresh, partly cos I was addicted to trying to get my goal and couldn’t wait.
SIX – I finally got it.
One day after about a week as I was kipping into what I expected to be a failed attempt at a muscle up I found myself above the bar…and it was glorious – above the bar, that’s where happiness is. Not wanting to lose it, I dropped and did two more before coming down, but feeling higher than ever.
SEVEN – Then I lost it
For some reason I took a few days off trying muscle ups. And in doing so learned the importance of consistency. My muscle up was gone, I couldn’t figure out why. Later in my cali journey, while trying to get more complex moves, I would learn that if you get it, you gotta keep doing it or you’ll lose it again.
EIGHT – I got it back
After greasing the groove for the next few days, it returned. There was another important lesson here: mind over matter. It’s not easy to do, but I personally find that the most progress occurs when you can silence your doubts, believe confidently that you can do something, convince yourself it isn’t as hard as you might think and always approach it with a clear mind. Once I convinced myself I had this move in the bag I was able bank it in my cali account and go after the next move, while continuing to work on improving my newfound muscle up.
Almost a year later I’ve hit plenty of other targets and learned a lot about the contrast between weights and bodyweight, and it all started with a muscle up.
So if you’re trying to get your first muscle up (Or any cali move) here are the key takeaways from my experience:
Learn the technique and progressions (YouTube is great for this)
Grease the groove (Test, rest, repeat)
Be patient and be determined (routine > pressure)
Train your mind as well as your body (Focus, breathe, be one with the bar)
Be consistent (You will get it, and when you do, hold onto it)
Stay real and happy training.