Level-Up: 4 Pro Tips to Improve Your Muscle-Up

Level-Up: 4 Pro Tips to Improve Your Muscle-Up

Welcome to Level-Up. In this Spartan Fit franchise, we’ll bring you how-to progressive guides to mastering advanced movements so you can level-up your fitness. First up: the muscle-up.  

Executing the muscle-up will train your body to get up and over walls in Spartan races (or in survival situations), but that’s far from the only reason to master it. It’s also a total-body exercise that builds coordination, strength, and power. 

If that sounds great and you’re ready to get started, beware that the skill does not come overnight.

Related: 3 Ways to Start Doing More Pull-Ups

“It’s a rapid, fast movement that’s explosive, but also requires coordinated activation of a bunch of different muscle groups,” Spartan Pro Rebecca Hammond says. 

But, with a little extra discipline and commitment to the process, it’ll become like second nature.

“Break it down and take it step-by-step,” Hammond says.

Here's your how-to muscle-up guide, plus the common pitfalls to avoid. 

Muscle-Up Progression Guide for Spartan Athletes

Muscle-Up Progression

Step 1: Perfect your pull-ups.

Ten is your magic number.

“If you can do 10 pull-ups, you should have enough strength to do a muscle-up,” Hammond says. 

You might be inclined to burn through reps daily, but that would be a mistake: “If you do pull-ups every day you might not build [strength] as fast as you would if you had a few rest days in between,” she says.

But, once a week isn’t going to cut it. The sweet spot, then, is two to three days per week. 

Hammond’s prescription: Do three to five sets of pull-ups for as many reps as possible with 60 seconds rest. Total beginner? No problem. Start with dead hangs, assisted pull-ups, and or inverted rows.

Common pitfall:

Flaring your elbows. When you tuck your elbows in, your core will naturally tense and your lats engage. That makes you much more efficient when executing the pull-up — and the muscle-up. 

Related: Why Doing a Daily Dead Hang Can Save Your Life

Step 2: Master the assist. 

Once you’ve reached the strength minimum for the muscle-up, you’ll need to be able to nail the transition from pulling your body weight up to the bar to getting over it. 

Hammond recommends an “assist” to teach your body how to execute the transition. Place a block or box under a bar to give yourself a literal leg up. Then, jump up and in one fluid motion, pull yourself up and over the bar.

“This exercise will help you with the coordination for getting your body weight from below the bar to above it,” Hammond says. 

In addition to continuing your pull-ups, practice a few sets and reps of the assist several times per week. 

Common pitfall:

If you struggle with that last couple of inches at the top of the movement, you might have weak triceps. Work in a couple sets of triceps dips a few days per week. 

Muscle-Up Progression

Step 3: Strengthen your swing.  

The key to an effective swing is a hollow body position (or braced core).

“You want to form a C-shape,” she explains. 

To cement the feeling in your brain before you try it on the bar, practice 3 to 5 sets of hollow body holds on the floor several times per week. 

Common pitfall:

If you’re trying to literally muscle your way up, you’re going to struggle. The key is using momentum. It’s similar to a kipping pull-up, but slightly modified, Hammond says.

“As you swing your body, your feet come forward, then go back as you simultaneously pull yourself over the bar,” she explains.

Step 4: Flow it all together.

Once you’ve got the strength and the skill-based components down, bring it all together. As you initiate the swing, tense your core, and imagine slamming a med ball on the floor with your arms as you explode upward.

Related: Do This Simple Postural Test to Quickly Correct Your Running Form

“It might feel a little scary because you're moving fast and you're going high up and then getting your body over a bar, but eventually it all clicks,” Hammond says.

And remember, always go for quality repetitions. The minute form breaks down, it’s time to call it quits. 

Common pitfall:

Losing confidence. To pull this one off, you need 100% faith in your strength and ability. Try visualizing yourself doing it perfectly a few times before you make the first physical attempt.  

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