I often get asked what I feel is the best exercise for the upper body. Of course, there isn’t one. But when it comes to building size, strength and mobility in the upper body nothing surpasses the muscle-up. Since it combines a pull-up and dip into one movement it stands alone as being a single, unstable strength exercise that challenges the upper body pulling and pushing muscles through a full range of motion.
The muscle-up is one of those strength exercises that’s tougher than it looks. Before I attempted my first rep last spring I could easily do 25 pull-ups and dips from the rings. So when my gymnastics coach showed me the technique, I thought: Heck, I just need to pull really hard in the pull-up portion, flip my hands, and my body will continue into the dip.
I was wrong.
Yep, I failed miserably the first time I tried a muscle-up. And most of my athletes do too, even though most of them are already pretty strong and fit when they hire me. This exercise requires a lot of technique – you can’t fight your way through it, regardless of how strong you are.
So there are two important steps to prepare you for the muscle-up:
1. Perform dips and pull-ups from rings through a full range of motion
If you haven’t been training the pull-up or dip on rings, it’s time to start. Your shoulders, chest, and upper back must first get accustomed to the instability of the rings.
Second – and this is crucial – you must work up to a full range of motion pull-up and dip. The dip is especially important here. When you transition from a pull-up to the dip in the muscle-up your hands will be very close to your armpits. So you must have strength in that position to pull off the movement. This strength comes from building your strength and mobility so you can perform the full range of motion lowering phase of a dip where your thumbs touch the outside of your pecs.
Be sure to stretch your shoulders, pecs and lats, too.
2. Work up to 5 full range of motion pull-ups with a false grip
The most difficult part of learning the muscle-up for me, and virtually everyone I talk to, was getting accustomed to doing pull-ups with a false grip. The false grip (aka, deep grip) is the wrist position that allows you to flip your hands into the correct position during the transition phase between the pull-up and dip. If you grip the rings normally and attempt a muscle-up you’ll never make it. Your wrists must be the same height as the rings, hence the necessity of the false grip.
I’ll tell you upfront that doing pull-ups with a false grip is very humbling. You’ll swear your arms will never fully straighten at first when you attempt to hang in the bottom position. But like any difficult movement, be patient and your strength will increase rapidly.
Once you get the point where you can do 5 full range of motion dips on the rings and 5 full range of motion pull-ups with a false grip, you’re ready to start experimenting with the muscle-up. Check out the video below so you can start studying the muscle-up. This post just briefly covers a few of the key points.
Importantly, nothing beats hands-on instruction and coaching. Especially for complex exercises like the muscle-up.
That’s why I’ll be covering it in my next seminar. The muscle-up is one of 5 essential rings exercises I’ll teach in my upcoming Phoenix seminar on February 2-4. To find out how to attend this awesome coaching event click the Phoenix Seminar Details here.
Christmas is that time of year when you often get bombarded with gifts you don’t want. Sure, your aunt might have worked for months to knit that wool sweater with dancing snowmen on it, but it sure isn’t going to help you get stronger or leaner.
So I’ve compiled a list of Waterbury-approved Christmas gifts for the athlete in your life. Or just take the initiative and buy these gifts for yourself!
1. LUMBAIR SUPPORT BY DR. MCGILL
I have an old disc injury that I’ve managed to contain over the years. Well, that was until last June when I started doing back flips. Yep, my L5 disc reminded me many mornings that it still had some residual damage. I knew I needed be more proactive so I started incorporating more core strengthening exercises and mobility drills. I also make a point to support my low back whenever I was driving or sitting at my desk.
In September, Dr. Stuart McGill happened to be in town so we got together for dinner. When I gave him a ride to the airport McGill saw the rolled up towel I was using for extra lumbar support. He gave me a befuddled look and said, “You really need my LumbAir support.”
So I got one from him and it’s basically fixed my low back pain by freeing up the constant tension I was putting on my discs. I assumed the low back stiffness I experienced every morning was normal until I started using his LumbAir throughout the day. It’s always with me: in my SUV, at my desk, and on the seemingly endless plane rides I take these days.
If you have been struggling with back pain, get the LumbAir and use it whenever you’re sitting. You can find the LumbAir at this link.
2. MY 2012 COACHING RETREAT IN PHOENIX
On February 2-5, 2012 I’ll be giving a rare, up close and personal seminar in Phoenix Arizona for the Staley Performance Institute. This retreat will be an incredible opportunity for coaches and athletes to get two full days of personal instruction from me.
Here’s the schedule for this awesome event:
Thursday (Feb. 2): 6:30pm-8:30pm– Meet and Greet with Chad Waterbury and friends in the evening. This is a great chance to just make friends in a casual environment and, get ready for our seminar.
Friday (Feb. 3): 9:00am-12pm Lecture – Chad Waterbury will cover the science of motor unit recruitment and the essential components of rate of force development – the key to athletic prowess in power sports. 2:00pm-5pm Practical – A complete hands-on session will cover the unique exercise sequence Waterbury uses to develop rate of force development for MMA athletes using three scientific training strategies. Progressions from novice to advanced will be covered.
Participants will go through a full-body training session designed to improve balance, power, and strength.
Saturday (Feb. 4): 9:00am-12pm Lecture – Participants will learn the shortcomings with the common nutritional strategies, and how to fix them. Meal timing, intermittent fasting, workout nutrition, and supplementation will be covered. 2:00pm-4:00pm Practical – Waterbury will outline the 7 essential body weight exercises an MMA fighter or power athlete should master. Progressions for each exercise will challenge even the strongest athletes. This hands-on session will transform your views on what it means to have full body power and mobility. 4:00pm-5:00pm Q&A with Chad Waterbury – We’ll wrap things up with any lingering questions you have for Chad. Saturday Evening- 6:30-8:30 Closing dinner. Some time to socialize and process what you’ve learned at the world famous Aunt Chiladas.
This event will be the most thorough seminar I’ve ever given. My entire system for building power athletes along with my latest tricks for high-performance mobility and nutrition will be covered in detail. I’ve never agreed to do such an in-depth seminar, so this is a very limited opportunity. I hope to see you there!
3. JACO TRAINING APPAREL
I know you want to look cool when you train. But just as importantly, you want to be comfortable. Jaco is a high performance clothing company that has burst onto the hard-core training scene over the last few years. They sponsor many top UFC fighters and they make, in my opinion, the best training apparel on the market.
That’s why I was honored when Jaco asked to sponsor me.
Their performance t-shirts feel like cashmere but they breathe enough to keep you cool. Their shorts, pants, hoodies, bags and gear not only have killer designs but they can take the necessary abuse from any hard-training athlete.
Since I’m a sponsored trainer you might think I’m biased, but I honestly believe you won’t find better training apparel on the market for men or women. Check out Jaco’s awesome line-up at this link.
4. GYMNASTICS RINGS
All of the upper body and core training I do these days with MMA fighters and power athletes are on gymnastics rings. It’s the most versatile and effective tool I’ve ever used. The options are endless when it comes to training with rings – you’re only limited by your imagination.
If you’ve never attempted pull-ups, dips, handstand push-ups or the front lever on rings you’ll quickly realize why all those male gymnasts have such incredible upper body development. The type of contraction you get while training on rings is like nothing else.
The best rings I’ve found for the price are at Christian’s Fitness Factory. First, the rings are made of wood – that’s essential for absorbing sweat and using chalk. Second, they’re adjustable with markings on each strap so you’ll know each side is even. Third, they’re made from high quality material.
5. AST ENZYMES
Inflammation can be a killer – literally. Name virtually any disease and you can be sure excessive inflammation is a culprit. But beyond disease, it’s that pesky inflammation that keeps you from training more frequently at the highest intensity.
The first, and best, line of attack against inflammation is to add plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and wild fish into your diet. For some, however, that’s not enough.
AST makes an excellent line of enzymes that I’ve used with myself and my clients. Just take one pill three times per day between meals for three days. If you’re still suffering from joint or muscle pain, up the dose to two pills three times per day. That should alleviate your suffering by reducing the amount of C-reactive protein levels in your system.
The Exclzyme-2AF enzymes represent a super simple way to reduce inflammation and hasten recovery from a muscle strain or sprain. Just click the image below.
6. HUGE IN A HURRY
Since its release three years ago, Huge in a Hurry is still going strong. Every week I receive excellent feedback regarding the effectiveness of the system. Here’s a testimonial I recently received:
“Chad, I have been following your Get Big and Get Even Bigger programs
for the past few months. I used to workout a lot, but due to work I fell
off the train.
I was hesitant at first with the radical departure from other programs I have used. Using three core lifts to target all major muscle groups and letting the big, high muscle exercises take care of the tiny muscle specific lifts is quite different for me. I won’t lie either, I doubted I could achieve the same results with such a different program.
Attached is a before and after photo I took 81 days into your program. The results speak for themselves. Thanks for such a great product!” -Palmer
The best news of all? Huge in a Hurry is now less than $10! You can get it on Amazon at this link.
Question:Hi Chad, I recently purchased Huge in a Hurry from Amazon, and think its a very well written book. I love the plans and how they’re laid out in the book. I’ve been strength training for a few years, and have had decent trainers along the way, so I honestly feel like I have form pretty locked down.
With that said, I was experimenting with my back arch while doing back squats in June this year, and ended up herniating my L5/S1 disc in my lumbar spine – so completely stupid and a mistake I’ll never make again. I was out for a few months, and did physical therapy for over 2 months. I’m now back in action, and have been cleared to do split squats, single leg squats..basically any squat that is not with both legs. I’m leaning on the cautious side!
My question for you, is how can I do the program and work around the 2 legged squat / deadlift exercises? I suppose I could wait a few more months to get started, but your book got me excited to focus again.
CW Answer: Thanks for your support Andrew and I’m stoked that you like Huge in a Hurry.
First off, most avid lifters have some level of disc herniation (bulge). My friend and colleague, Dr. Stuart McGill, works with many NFL players and he constantly sees disc problems. Or put another way, he constantly sees NFL players who play with herniated discs. I don’t have the hard numbers, but I’d guess that the majority of all NFL players probably have some type of disc herniation, even if they’re not symptomatic. You can include me in that category.
In other words, you can have a herniated disc and not even know it. The good news for the small fraction of you who don’t have a disc problem is that this information will still apply to you. I follow the same technique and core activation protocols whether or not a client comes to me with back pain. Prevention is key for those who aren’t injured because it’s very likely that you will herniate a disc unless you get your training parameters right.
There are three important steps to follow when performing any leg exercises, or any strength exercise in general, when you’re experiencing back pain.
Step #1: Improve tissue health and mobility
When your back is aching you can be sure there’s compensation going on in multiple muscles throughout your body. If you have pain in your left low back I’ll bet your left hamstrings and calves are tight as guitar strings. You must loosen the fascia covering those muscles so they can move freely.
That’s why you should start each workout with the golf ball foot roll as popularized by Anatomy Trains author, Thomas Myers. Stand barefoot and roll the bottom of your right foot over a golf ball with as much pressure as you can withstand for 30-60s with each foot. This relaxes the fascia from your calves all the way up to the back of your neck. Focus on the sorest spots since they need it most. Then, foam roll your spinal erectors, quadriceps, IT band, glutes and calves.
Step #2: Activate your core and lats
Before each set of a leg exercise perform the side plank with rotation. This is one of the most beneficial activation exercises you can do to protect your back and remove stress from your aggravated disc. The benefit of this exercise is that it activates the muscles in your quadratus lumborum (QL) and lats, two muscle groups that are essential for spinal stability.
I recommend you perform 3-5 slow, intense reps of the side plank with rotation on each side before every set of leg exercises (squat, deadlift, lunge, etc).
Step #3: Focus on single leg exercises that don’t cause pain
When you’re experiencing radiating pain from a disc herniation, most physical therapists will recommend that you stay away from two-legged exercises such as squats and deadlifts. I agree with that cautious approach.
So, if you’re following the workouts in Huge in a Hurry and have an injured disc, replace all traditional squats and deadlifts with single leg versions of each. A back squat can be replaced with a single leg squat or lunge; a deadlift is replaced by a single leg deadlift. Do your best to stick to the same other parameters for that workout.
For example, if a workout calls for 40 total reps for the back squat with a load you can lift 10-12 times for the first set, simply replace the back squat with a single leg squat or lunge and follow the same protocol.
However, there are two important points to keep in mind. First, just because it’s a single leg exercise doesn’t mean your nagging disc will approve of your choice. Any exercise that causes immediate pain should be avoided or you should reduce the load. Second, I talk a lot about lifting fast in Huge in a Hurry but that advice goes out the window when you’re dealing with an injury. Perform each rep slow and controlled and focus on keeping your core and glutes tight.
Now, what you do outside of the weight room is just as important. In fact, it’s probably more important. There are 168 hours in a week. So if you lift for four hours each week that leaves you 164 hours where you can really aggravate your discs.
That brings me to step 4…
Step #4: Maintain lordosis throughout the week while sitting
I herniated a disc at L5 back in 2001 when I was doing heavy back squats. Since that time I’ve managed to keep it under control, even in the face of nonstop strength training. However, it wasn’t until this last year when I finally fixed the problem.
How did I do it?
I made a point to maintain the inward curvature of my low back (ie, lordosis) whenever I was sitting. I realized the time I sat at my desk or on an airplane or driving to clients was constantly aggravating my decade-old disc injury. The solution is as simple as rolling up a large towel and placing it between your low back and whatever chair you’re sitting in.
Follow these four steps and you’ll allow the disc to heal without losing any significant strength or muscle.