The muscle-up is one of the most sought after intermediate techniques and the foundation for many advanced tricks.
Typically muscle-ups can be done on the bar or on rings, with many people disagreeing on which is the easiest to master. When it comes to learning how to do a bar muscle-up, the secret is in the timing, whereas with ring muscle-ups it is much more about strict technique.
Important: Not all pull-up bar types can be used for muscle-ups. Read our guide here on which pull-up bars are best for muscle-ups.
Table of Contents
What’s The Technique For Straight Bar Muscle-Ups?
In its most basic form, the bar muscle-up technique can be broken down into an explosive pull-up to get yourself over the bar, and then a push to get yourself to the top with your arms straight. If you’re already pretty good at pull-ups and dips then you shouldn’t find it too hard to learn the muscle-up.
The bar muscle-up relies on utilising a bit of motion to power yourself up and over the bar. The key difference here between the bar and the rings is that on the rings you can propel yourself upwards in a vertical motion, whereas because the bar is in your way you have to get around it. To do this you’ll first want to start by gaining a bit of a forward swinging motion on the bar, and then just after you reach the end of the motion you then pull yourself up with as much power as you can gather to get yourself up and over the bar. Because you begin to pull yourself up as your swinging backwards, you should be able to pull up above the bar and then straighten yourself up directly above it.
The Swing, The Pop And The Push: Breaking Down The Muscle-Up Technique
If you’re on the smaller side you’ll want to start with a small hop onto the bar, otherwise just grab it from behind to begin the swinging motion. Start with your arms around shoulder width apart and try and keep a slight bend in your arm, since doing a muscle-up from dead hang is hard work!
The word “swing” may be a bit much here, as the idea is to simply get a bit of momentum under the bar so you can pull up on the back swing to behind and above the bar. What you want to avoid is the erratic CrossFit “Kip” type movement.
This is the part where you explode into the pull-up, and is the trickiest part of the muscle-up to master. To do the pull-up you want to bring your knees up to your stomach, and then instantly pull-up and kick out at the same time to get the upwards momentum.
Timing is the most important part here. You need to pull up just as the swing momentum is starting to bring you backwards.
By bringing your knees up to your stomach, you are moving them to the place they want to be at the end of the pull-up movement, therefore the pull-up is solely focusing on getting your upper body above the bar. The kick part of it should also help the explosive part of your pull-up too, just remember to keep your feet together.
The final part is the equivalent of the push part of a dip, and should be the easiest part for most people. When you feel your weight is over the bar, lean your weight on the bar and bring your elbows up and behind you, then push up until you have straight arms. If you’re having problems with this part but can get yourself up and onto the bar, then try working on bar dips to increase your strength in this area.
The full motion
Put it all together and you’ve got yourself a bar muscle-up. To turn one muscle-up into multiple muscle-ups you’ll want to make sure you drop down off the bar in a smooth manner, and in the reverse of how you pulled yourself up. If you just drop down you will lose any momentum, so try and drop off slightly behind the bar so that you return back into the initial swing, ready to then pop back up into your next rep.
At first you should be aiming for a single rep, but as you manage to do a muscle-up focus on slowly increasing this number, and more importantly, work on getting a smoother technique. The less swing the better!
Where Am I Going Wrong?!
Below are the most common problems when trying out this technique:
Pulling yourself ‘into’ the bar? You’re likely trying to pull-up too early; wait a fraction of a second after you have reached the peak of the swing before pulling, that way your momentum is heading only slightly backwards rather than forwards.
Swinging over the bar a bit frantically? The best form possible is with minimal swing, however in the early days most people feel they need more swing to help them over the bar. Start the muscle-up with a smooth and gentle pendulum-like swing; enough to get the motion but not enough to ruin your form.
Getting one elbow up, then following up with the other? This is known as the “struggle-up” and makes your muscle-ups look pretty terrible. Some people find this is a stepping stone to getting a muscle-up in good form, however my recommendation would be to concentrate on good, symmetrical form, as opposed to picking up bad habits early.
Still Struggling With Muscle-Ups?
As previously mentioned above, timing is the most important factor in the bar muscle-up and is where most people with good pull-up strength fall short on this technique.
If you’re still struggling then you’ll want to go back to basics and ensure that you can manage a number of explosive pull-ups which propel you up above the bar. Your explosive pull-up should bring your nipples to the bar height, so if you lack the strength to achieve this then it is recommended to go back and work on these. You need to walk before you can run of course!
Founder of calisthenics-101.co.uk. Training calisthenics since 2012.
Currently working on: 30 second one-arm handstand, muscle-up 360, straddle planche.