It’s a cold winter Saturday morning and I'm finishing off a workout at Primrose Hill in one of London's finest outdoor exercise areas. Out the corner of my eye I spot the founder of London Real, Mr Brian Rose.
Being a fan of the YouTube show, I introduce myself and ask him what he's working on.
"The muscle up,” he replies. I laugh.
"Oh. The dreaded muscle up, huh?” I reply.
The bar muscle up can end up being the bane of a man's life. For those of you that have never heard of it, the muscle up is a movement that gets you from being under a pull-up bar to being on top of it. Simple right? Well, apparently not as simple or as easy as it seems. It is in fact a movement exercise used by gymnasts on rings.
Mastering the Muscle-Up
To master it, let’s break it down from a functional point of view, with the main priority being to get you over that bar in one snappy movement.
The first thing Brian learnt when we started was a new pattern of movement. I’m talking about the A-to-B: under the bar to over the bar.
For now, I want to solely focus and refer to this movement as the ‘elbow press’.
The elbow press is ‘NOT A PULL’. I repeat, there is NO PULL in the transition stage of a bar muscle-up. Let’s try to forget pull-ups for the moment and just aim at getting over that bar.
Below I have broken down exactly what I taught Brian. If we can achieve movements number 1 and 2, we’ll be ready to take on the exercise.
Can I have a knuckle up grip on a bar? This means I can hang with all my knuckles over the bar, including the little finger, which is essential later for the transition.
Can I hold myself half way up in a overarm pull-up at this right angle? Notice that the elbow and shoulder joint are at a right angle.
Now I need to find some momentum.
Bring on the jump!
Firstly, I can jump to ‘movement 2’ (the half way pull up), which allows me to create a swing with my body. It's essential here to hold this right angle as my body is swinging. This will start to send the elbows skywards - that right there is my focus. Notice that I’m looking at my forearms as I swing.
As I’m swinging I don’t want to end up down here like below! In this image you can see that as I’ve swung back, I’ve lowered my body towards the ground. We could say that the distance between the shoulder and the wrist has lengthened.
In the same way, I don’t want to end up at the top of a pull-up. Below, I have shortened the gap between the shoulder and the wrist.
Lets take a look at what the top position will eventually look like…
What you’ll also notice is that the hand position has hardly moved. This is because we took the time to practice hanging and jumping into a strong knuckle up grip.
So, if the hand position hasn’t moved, what got me from A-B? Well, the rest of the body, the technique and the timing of the press. The timing here is critical and takes practice.
Lets look at some tricks to get you from A-to-B, B being on top of that bar:
i, The Hip Drive
Powering the hips towards the bar at the same time as the elbows upwards sends the whole body skywards.
ii, The Heel Kick
The timing of kicking the heels back and up can also help create some upward momentum to help those elbows. However, beware of arching through the lower back as you will lose power through the mid section.
The Strict Press
Starting from the top of a pull-up, press into the bar so your elbows start to head upwards. Notice I am looking at my forearms as I need to see these moving. See images above for start and end position.
Once you get this movement mastered, there are 2 ways to make the exercise stricter:
1. Slow the movement down.
2. Start from a hanging position with no jump
The most critical element and reason behind why Brian Rose nailed the bar muscle up was that he was patient and prioritised the new pattern of movement in the body. You should do this too.
For more ideas and movement patterns keep an eye on my Instagram page.
I wish you all the best of luck on your journey to getting over the bar. Long live the muscle up.