How to do a muscle-up

Despite considering myself fairly ‘fit’, I’ve always held this exercise on a pedestal. A very high one at that.

Although muscle ups now form part of my training regime, two years ago I saw it as a skill that is only reserved for Olympic gymnasts or people that possess Herculean strength. (I do not claim to possess either..!)


I decided to make it my goal to master the muscle up, the first road block was: where do I start?


I tried many times, arms flailing wildly, scrambling to try and push and pull my way up the rings without success and only very sore trapezius, triceps and biceps as a result. It was the transitional section of the move that perplexed me!

So in order to save you some time (and energy), here are the three pivotal things that helped me execute the muscle-up.


1. Maintaining tension through the core using the dish shape

it is very important to make sure that you are solid and stable by maintaining tension throughout the move utilising the dish shape. This enables you to transfer strength without any energy leaking from the body.


2. Keeping the rings close to the body

Because the rings are not fixed in position they will want to start drifting away from you when you start applying any downwards force. As soon as the rings start to move away from the body the more challenging it will become to execute the move.


3. Ensuring shoulder blades were down and back as I initiated the pull up

This made sure that the correct muscle were engaged throughout the movement and that other muscles were not having to compensate or do extra unnecessary work which lead lead to tweaks and sore necks for example   


I also found that making sure the fundamental movement patterns were refined along with drills focusing on the transitional section of the move. This was important for me to be able to progress through the plateaus I was experiencing. The cherry on top was having a knowledgeable eye to guide me through the process and spot the areas that required more work.


If you are experiencing issues with any of the above or would like to start training for muscle ups, I am hosting a Muscle-up workshop on 11th February. This workshop will be helpful for those who:

  • Have hit a plateau with their muscle-up training

  • Can’t seem to transition into the top of the movement

  • Have spent too long flailing wildly on the rings

In 90-minutes I am going to coach you through every single stage of the movement from start to finish so you can master it yourselves.

Sunday 11th February

How to exercise more efficiently

It is possible to train intelligently, by definition there must also be un-intelligent training. As in any arena, an un-intelligent approach is characterised by rushed or impetuous decisions, an absence of enquiry or understanding about the current knowledge on the topic and this approach may manifest as a lack of ability to execute actions in line with a true representation of reality, leading to potential misjudgements, misfortune and a reliance on luck rather than judgement. 

An educated and therefore arguably more intelligent method of training will more reliably prevail over a mis-informed or uninformed training approach because of our ability to predict the impact a chosen training approach will have on not just our bodies but every aspect of our lives. This gives us control over our body and training programme, leading to greater understanding and enjoyment in the nuances of training.


Why intelligent training?

Basing an educated approach to training on the philosophy that you have one body for the rest of your life, that mind and body are intrinsically connected and therefore any pain or ill fortune that our bodies suffer our minds must also suffer. It is prudent then to train with a level of self care that is more likely to result in long term health and wellbeing. 

Paradoxically our bodies are both fragile and strong, an unintelligent approach utilising little preparation before engaging in a training programme or involving little theoretical or experiential knowledge about the fundamentals of how the human body functions and adapts will put us at greater risk of finding out how bodies can be fragile. The opposite however, combining a deep understanding of how the body functions and using a measured approach, is much more likely to allow us to enjoy the benefits of sustainable training whilst navigating around niggles and injuries. 

Some will see an intelligent approach as a soft approach, however mistaking self care for the relinquishing of results, is in itself a mistake. Using the scientific method and research to guide decisions around training styles will help us avoid unnecessary trial and error and lead us towards applying the minimal effective dose. This approach actually increases the speed at which we can bring about a desired outcome more quickly than the ‘shoot in the dark’ estimates of unintelligent training. 


Based on this philosophy, there are four pillars of intelligent training:


1. A critical eye.

A critical eye is best developed by filming and watching your movement in the mirror. The advantage of this method is that you are able to match up how a movement looks with how it feels. Filming is best done from the front and from the side, this way you can see if anything is out of position or if there are asymmetries that could potentially cause discomfort should they reappear constantly through your training. Videos allow you to monitor changes to the way you move over time as a reference tool to look back at the way you used to move. 


2. Joint preparation.

Joint preparations is a combination of mobility exercises and activation drills. Mobility allows us to control a greater range of movement and is best developed through the use of stretching and complex movement skills. Done well it helps balance tension throughout the body to avoid excessive tightness and promotes efficient movement patterns. A mobile body will be less likely to suffer discomfort from musculoskeletal dysfunction. 

Activation drills are comprised of isometric and movement drills designed to increase the feedback the brain receives from muscles in order to develop the connection between brain and body. When done well, muscles will ‘feel’ active and we will be more able to tense individual muscles or muscle groups, putting us in control of how our bodies produce certain movements.  


3. Variation.

Variation is a key component of any well designed exercise programme, it helps prevent overuse injuries by varying movement patterns and spreading fatigue and training load across the body and across the programme. Another advantage to variation is that it keeps the programme mentally stimulating and avoids tedium. If good body awareness and joint preparation are combined properly then the range of exercises available to us will be larger, a larger exercise repertoire will broaden the range of skills we can develop and lead to a more capable and robust body, more resistant to injury and pain. Variation can be variation of exercises and/or variation within exercises, this is true to of load and rest etc. A good programme therefore will have different exercises and also different variations of those exercises.


4. Specificity.

Specificity is the fourth pillar and focuses our training by manipulating variables such as load, rest, volume, intensity etc to bring about different outcomes. We may want to get stronger, we may like to get bigger and build muscle, despite some overlap there are different training styles that are more likely to bring about each goal. So although movement patterns can be ubiquitous the style of those patterns needs to be specific to a training outcome, for instance if you want to get stronger then it is beneficial to lift heavy weights, for aerobic capacity however (the ability to maintain a high heart rate for prolonged periods) it is not vital to lift heavy. 

Why you should strength train

Strength training can often be a misunderstood training modality, and for this reason many people will often avoid it all together. In truth, strength training should be an integral part of any long term training programme for a multitude of reasons. Here’s why.


1. It is the mother of all attributes

It can be argued that strength training is the mother of all attributes. The quality of strength underpins many athletic biomotors. Studies have shown that if you want to increase speed, power, agility to name a few you are best served getting strong first.

Think of filling a bucket full of water. If you wish to fill the bucket with more water you need a bigger bucket. Strength training makes your bucket bigger. It will lay the foundation in order to train other biomotors more effectively.



Footage from our Strength Training Class online tutorials

2. It’s a skill

Strength training is not just about throwing around the biggest weights possible. In order to train strength effectively you need to be able to figure out how to apply force in terms of the movement and the muscle action. This could be concentric vs eccentric muscle actions, fast vs slow movements, range of motion of the movement, stability and load types.

On that point load doesn't have to be exclusive to barbells. Your own bodyweight is a load type. The skills and strength required to squat heavy and handstand will be vastly different. Just because handstands don’t require heavy loads does not mean they don’t require strength.


3. It exposes “weak” spots

When performing lifts with heavy loads things change, issues that may have never been found can be unearthed. You can only be as strong in a full range of motion as you are at the weakest point of your lift. In order to progress it forces you to address any issues.

This could be improving mobility to hit greater ranges of motion, increasing stability through the core and peripheral bracing methods or developing under developed muscles in order to increase strength potential.



Footage from our Strength Training Class online tutorials

4. Body composition

When you stall with your body composition goals, a course of strength training could be the answer. Increasing your top end strength will have a knock on effect down the chain. It will allow you to lift greater load at higher reps. This will allow you to increase the volume of your workouts which is proven to increase muscle gain over time.    

Whether you are a beginner in strength training or consider yourself more experienced, the benefits of getting stronger are applicable to everyone.