Most Crossfitters look at the muscle up as the holy grail of movements, and while it is an advanced skill for the average Joe, athletes always tend to make it much harder than what it should be. I myself am by no means a formal gymnastic and guarantee that at one point I too was standing, staring up at the rings wondering what magical force would put me over the hump. While it is true that the usual problem is one does not posses the required strength to acquire a muscle up at this time in their crossfit journey, but for that other group of people that has the strength but just can’t seem to get their first muscle up, this is for you.
There are two common flaws that I see over and over from beginners trying to get a muscle up. The first is always in their swing. This is usually the familiar scenario, the athlete jumps on the rings and secures their grip, starts to take a few large swings where their feet are almost level with the rings and then a big breath, huge kick, big pull and …… comes back down not able to generate enough force to clear the rings. The issue isn’t that the athlete isn’t strong or powerful enough but they are using their body inefficiently. The problem is that they’re leading with their hips instead of their toes. This may sound weird because it’s a foreign movement but if I told you to throw a punch but lead with your elbow instead of your fist you would immediately know it was wrong and look at me like I was an idiot. However, coaches will say use your hips and that usually translates into an athlete leading with their hips which in turn makes them very hard to use.
*Photo from Colin Geraghty Instagram of Crossfit Millford
As you can see from the image above the one on the left is leading with the hips and what you see from most beginners. The image on the right is leading with the toes and the more efficient way to use your swing. The main reason is that if you wanted to fire your hips to get up over the rings, out of the above images, which position seems better for firing your hips? So from now on when you’re on the rings think drive with my toes forward and drive my heels backward in your swing. This will keep your body in that wonderfully tight bow and hollow position.
Fix your grip
The second and less common issue I see in beginners is their grip. This is not an article that I’m going to go over false vs neutral but will say you should use a combination of the two that Dave Durante calls the neutral false grip. This is not a true false grip but your knuckles should be pointed more forward than up in order to get your wrists as high as possible, creating the same effect as a true false grip. Secondly, and possible the most important is don’t death grip the rings. Now it sounds simple, but have you ever seen that person trying attempt after attempt and getting more than enough height to be over the rings but for some reason just can’t seem to land it. The usual culprit is their grip. They are squeezing the rings so tight that their hand can not roll over the top of the rings in order to transition into a dip position. This of course is an easy fix once identified by having the athlete do some banded muscle up progressions with actively letting go of the rings more than normal to get comfortable with the feel of the movement. Now on a side note many people will tie a band between rings but I prefer to set up rings on the rig pull up bar as well as a band on the pull up bar between them. This allows for the rings to move freely instead of the band keeping them pinned to the athletes sides and the band will still assist the athlete during the transition.
What does this mean for you
For all of those athletes out there that feel like their strength is there but just can seem to get that first muscle up, go ahead and video yourself during your next attempt. This way it’s easy to see where the fault is. I’m not concerned with the movement looking perfect and neither should you, yet. However, if you do have the strength chances are one of these issues is like gravity pulling you back down but once you switch up your swing and lighten up your grip then you’ll be knocking out muscle ups like you’re getting paid for it.