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.