How to Get (and Keep!) Muscle Ups: A Simple, Effective Guide

Ah, the elusive muscle up. The movement that has frustrated CrossFit athletes everywhere, perhaps keeping them from checking “RX” on the daily WOD, plummeting them down the Open leaderboard or spending half their workout staring at the rings. If you are reading this and want to get your first muscle up, you’re in the right place. If you have done one or two but can’t string them together or have days where you can’t get over the rings at all, you’re also in the right place. 

With the 2018 CrossFit Open around the corner, now is the time to get your muscle up game in check. Read on as Conjugate Gymnastics founder Sean Lind shares his technique tips and best drills to conquer the rings.

4 Common Issues for First Timers

1. You aren’t strong enough.

2. You only practice pull ups and regular dips.

3. You aren’t spending enough time on the rings.

4. You aren’t working on false grip strength.

Finished off session #2 with some Kipping muscle-up fun. #muscleup #needatan

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You need to be strong.

How strong? Lind recommends being able to do a pull-up with roughly 30 percent of your bodyweight attached.

Yes, that’s a general strength guideline if you want to achieve a strict muscle up before kipping. Which you really should. But if you’re impatient, under a time crunch, etc. you should at the VERY LEAST be working on developing that pull strength as you practice kipping muscle ups.

“It’s like a new CrossFit athlete, you don’t make them do Fran [as prescribed] until they’re ready to handle it,” Lind said. “I want people to get a base level strength. I’ve seen a lot of people fail muscle ups because they didn’t build that foundation.”

If you aren’t at that level of strength yet, that’s okay. A lot of people aren’t. You should be incorporating a lot of the same guidelines we discussed in our pull-up section and spending time getting comfortable on the rings. The drill below (from Lind) will also help you work toward a strict muscle up, with the box taking away some of your bodyweight. (The more of your legs you have on the bench/box the easier the drill becomes.)

Working those transitions for today's #ADailyDose. This is a great primer for before muscle-ups and a great drill to develop the transition strength for those working toward them. _____ Putting your feet on the box takes some of the weight away and -unlike bands- doesn't give you any kind of reflex help. If it gets easy- add a weight vest. Make sure there's about a foot of space between the box and rings and DONT thrust your hips up. You're working on strict strength. (And breaking at the hip is also not the way to do a proper muscle up.) _______ This one comes from Athlete Daily friend and former circus star @seancarllind. Check out his gymnastics program through @hybridperformancemethod. Athlete: @cg12labours #ADailyDose #athletedaily

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“There’s a girl at my gym, who has a good understanding of swings and kipping, [and she] has muscle ups some days and not others. Because she doesn’t train strict strength. If you train the strict muscle up first and then train your kip, you will always have your muscle ups,” Lind said.

“You need that foundational strength. To be fair, it doesn’t matter what your weight is or your size. I’ve known athletes [that can] do 100-lb weighted strict muscle ups. I’ve worked with 275-lb guys who can do one strict muscle up, and 165-lb women who can knock out five. You should always be working on that strength.”

Pull ups and dips are NOT enough.

To be clear, you should absolutely be able to do multiple strict pull ups and strict dips before even trying to a a muscle up. (Do you try to deadlift 500-lb when you haven’t hit 400 yet? Skipping steps will set you up for failure and injury.)

But that’s not all you need to have. In fact, one of the main prerequisites Lind has —in addition to being a strong puller— is for an athlete to be able to perform a Russian dip (video below).

“Most people train dips like quarter squats, they aren’t developing the shoulders enough. Even a deep dip doesn’t prepare you that well for a muscle up,” Lind said. “If you want to train a muscle up you better be ready to do Russian dips. And to do that you need shoulder strength and stability, the ability to internally rotate and to get proper adduction.”

It takes a competitive male gymnast a year or two to get good at swinging on the rings.

So you working muscle ups for 10-15 minutes once a week, or whenever they come up in a metcon a couple times a month isn’t really going to cut it.

“Those [competitive gymnasts] are training 20 hours a week or so. They are spending 30-45 minutes on the rings, every couple days. So times that over a year and that’s just for them to get good at swinging,” Lind said. “You can’t neglect the swing if you want to do kipping muscle ups.”

Think about it: you don’t stop doing a barbell warm up just because you can clean or snatch with plates on the side of it. You have to prime your body every day and continue to get in good reps, even at lower weights. The same holds true for the rings.

Make it part of your warm up. Invest in a good pair of grips and practice ring swings for 5 minutes a day. Or work it in as skill. The more comfortable you get in moving from a good hollow body position to an arch body (and vice versa) on the rings, the better your swings are going to hold up in a high-volume muscle up workout. Having positional strength and good midline stability is crucial.

For beginners or those who struggle with the kip swing, Lind suggests putting a yoga block in between your feet to help you focus on maintaining the proper whole body tightness. Think of being one long piece and using momentum to float up to the rings. You are not breaking at the hip at any point.

If you have to, tape yourself doing sets of 10-15 swings. Make them as beautiful as you can. The more you can practice this, the better off your technique will hold up under fatigue!!!

False grip is key

It’s an uncomfortable position if you haven’t trained it due to the deep wrist flexion. But you’ll need it to get your first muscle up (along with bar muscle ups). Training your false grip is easy- grab two kettlebells in that manner and walk around. The next video shows a few progressions to help get you more comfortable (and stronger) pulling with a false grip.


Don’t think of throwing your head through the rings.

“That’s not only an incorrect movement pattern, it’s a good way to hurt yourself,” Lind said of one of the popular cues. “What ends up happening is the athlete swings and throws their head and shoulders forward, and sometimes they’ll catch a muscle up. A lot of athletes who aren’t skilled will do it and fall through the rings.”

You want to be pulling on the rings, creating tension and lifting yourself over the rings, not throwing yourself on top of them. You want to be pulling in one complete motion.

“Imagine throwing a ball in the air that you want to go vertical. If halfway through someone pushes it forward, you now lost your momentum to go up, you are going horizontal,” Lind said.

‘That head through style works against you in physics for movement going forward and puts your shoulders in a very bad position. When an athlete gets fatigued they will fall through their shoulders and hurt themselves. There’s a Chechi move in gymnastics which is essentially a front flip to a swing on top of the rings again. The way to do it is diving your head forward. That’s how you do a flip. It blows my mind when gymnastics coaches know that and still coach that way.”

Champion the no-hip kip

A lot of athletes will incorrectly pop their hips up toward the rings. But, just like with kipping pull-ups, breaking at the hip is going to make things harder in the long run. If your legs are bent, your body is bent, which means your swing won’t be as powerful or fluid by any means. And if you aren’t pulling or pushing constantly and transitioning slowly out of the dip it’s going to break down the movement.

“You have to work harder if that breaks down,” Lind said. “If your body stays tight, you are creating tension. I’m trying to promote that no-hip kip.”

Staying tight is a great thing to practice during your ring swings. If you couple that with the first tip, to continue to pull on the rings and not throw your head through, you’ll have one smooth movement. Which is exactly what a proper kipping muscle up is. There’s no flailing and dead stop as an athlete squirms out of a dip. There’s no throw and catch. The whole point of a muscle up is to get to the locked position of a dip as powerfully and efficiently as possible.

“It’s one movement. Don’t think of it [as] segmented,” Lind said. “It’s not broken down into pieces and you don’t need to break it down. That’s why you see that one fluid movement from athletes who do it right.”


Looking to improve your pull-ups? Check out Part 1 of our Victory Grips Gymnastics series ‘How to Master Pull-ups: Building a Better Strict, Kipping and Butterfly’ here.


**Both founders of Athlete Daily have followed Sean Lind’s gymnastics programming for several years—going from zero strict pull-ups to 15 unbroken and strict muscle ups—and we highly recommend it to athletes of all levels. If you’re looking to improve your bodyweight skills, check it out here. Sean’s gymnastics programming is also available through Hybrid Performance Method here.