Conquering the muscle up

Brick by brick

For me there are very few feats of strength more impressive than a muscle up.  For those who don't know, a muscle up is essentially a chin up and a dip added together and can be done on either a bar or rings.

What makes a muscle up so difficult is that not only do you need to be able to do a chin up but you need to be able to bring (practically) your waist to the bar to then be able to move into the dip movement.  Needless to say that foot from your chin to your waist is like Everest!

Achieving a single (yes one!) muscle up is one of my fitness goals on my 92 day get fit for forty campaign (check out day one if you want to see the start of the journey).

You have to start somewhere

That starting point for me seemed very far from my goal!  I am not great at chin ups but I can do them.  I am pretty good at dips so I thought that I would be in with a shot at doing a muscle up.  So on my first attempt, with almost no research or training, I totally failed.  Not even close!  Not to be deterred I tried about 5 more times all with pretty similar results.  Now to be fair this was after my three sets of strict chins ups, but honestly, it was clear I had a long way to go.

It was pretty clear to me that I had two problems:

  1. The raw strength to pull myself up with enough force to get my waist up to the bar
  2. The technique to actually perform the movement smoothly and efficiently 

Quality time on the google machine was required.

The strength work was relatively straightforward and I came up with a plan:

  • Continue to work on my strict chins
  • Add in a session with weighted chins for low reps to build raw strength
  • Add in more mixed suspension work (monkey bars and ladders) to build strength and endurance in my connective tissues, overall back, arm and grip
  • Add in pull ups
  • Add in muscle ups using resistance bands

I already work back Monday (chins), Wednesday (dumbbell rows) and Friday (cable rows and deadlifts).  So it was going to be difficult to add too much more to these sessions but here is how I broke it up:

  • Mixed suspension work added to Monday
  • Pull ups and Muscle ups added to my Tuesday mobility session (Handstand and box jump time!)
  • Weighted chins added to Friday

This is a lot of volume but the extra work I am just going to go by feel on the day.  This was the first week that I started incorporating this work in and I won't lie - I have been sore everyday!

Technique was an interesting one for me.  Essentially, especially in the beginning, "cheating" is a necessary evil.  Using your own body weight through a combination of swinging and kipping to help propel you up over the bar is the only way to progress.  This was a difficult one for me as I am a bit of a technique freak - largely through learning the hard way (unfortunately).  Injuries take you away from training, which ultimately leads to slower progress overall, and secondly, as you get older injuries just take much longer to heal.  So I wasn't really a fan of this until I tried it out for myself.  Now I wasn't successful (at all) and I wasn't much closer than my previous attempts, but it did show me that this was the way forward.  

The breakthrough

As I noted earlier in the post the muscle ups have been a little bit of an experimental process over the past week and a half, but early this week I had a breakthrough - I managed to do a muscle up!

Now I have to concede that I did it with the assistance of the resistance band - the blue one (which is the second strongest!), but I can't tell you the shock I got when I put some of the tips above into practice and found myself dipping off the top of the bar!  What a feeling!

That strangest thing was that in this session I tried a few more times, but I couldn't repeat the initial success.  As you can imagine this was extremely frustrating but I was pretty fatigued by this point so I decided to call it.

Yesterday during my mobility session I hit the muscle ups again with the resistance band (still the blue one).  The lessons of the previous session must have sunk in as I was back up over the bar again.  I managed to do a number of single rep sets (about four I think).  I was really surprised how much it was taking out of me, but I went for one last set and managed to string together three consecutive muscle ups to finish.  I rounded the session off with some pull ups, handstands, box jumps and laps with the sled (weighted with 65 kgs).

So I am feeling pretty good about the progress.  I am still a long way from being able to do a muscle up with no assistance but it feels totally achievable now.

I hope you enjoyed the update! 

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