3 Best Muscle-Up Progressions (Beginner Friendly Guide!)

Conquer the muscle-up by nailing these three progressi

The muscle-up is an advanced bodyweight movement that requires total-body coordination, stability, and strength.

In this article we will offer beginner lifters (and coaches) a few beginner-friendly muscle-up progressions that can be used to develop the necessary skills, technique, and strength for the muscle-up, as well as:

  • Should Beginners Do Muscle-Ups?
  • Muscles Worked by Muscle-Ups
  • Beginner Muscle-Up Progressions

Should Beginners Do Muscle Ups?

Muscle-ups are a highly touted bodyweight movement in the functional and competitive fitness world. The ability to do a muscle up, however, requires high amounts of upper body strength, shoulder stability, midline control, and body awareness.

When determining if you should be doing muscle up, you need to first ask yourself why it is you are trying to learn them. More importantly, coaches and lifters must also access if they are physically prepared to attempt muscle-up.

Beginner Muscle-Up Variations
Photo from Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Many beginners may be allured by the fluidity and grace of a perfect muscle-up, which then influences this population to simply jump onto the rings or bar with minimal training. This however, can pose a lot of concerns and issues that can often result in limited success and potential injury. Coach’s should refrain from placing beginners on rings to attempt muscle-ups until the lifter has shown adequate control, balance, and stability bodyweight prerequisites.

If you are a true beginner and are hoping to master the muscle-up,  you must first develop the foundational strength and bodyweight control necessary for such task. Mastering the below bodyweight exercises using our guides will help you to develop stronger muscles, improve joint stability, and ultimately allow you to have a smoother transition into the world of muscle ups.

Muscle Groups Worked – Muscle-Up

The muscle-up is a total body exercise that combines both and upper body pull and press, with additional core strength demands. Below are the primary muscles used in this movement.

Back

The back is used to perform the pulling phase of the muscle-up. The angles mimic both the pull-up and the row depending on the angle at which the muscle up is performed. A more ballistic, killing style muscle up mimics the horizontal row, while a more strict version mimics the pull-up.

Biceps and Triceps

The biceps and triceps are used to assist in the pull and push phase of the muscle up. Strong biceps can aid in the pulling movement while the triceps are used during the final stages of the muscle up to perform the dip.

Muscle-Up Muscles Worked
Muscle-Up Muscles Worked

Chest

The chest is used during the transition and lockout phase of the muscle-up, similarly to the dip movement. In addition, the chest eccentrically supports the back throughout the muscle-up.

Core Muscles

The core muscles work to support midline stability and control throughout the entire movement. The muscle up requires high amounts of pelvic, spinal, and total body stability as the lifter performs ballistic movement in an open-chained environment.

Glutes

The glutes must be isometrically contracted to aid in midline stability and body control. Additionally, the glutes work to powerfully extend the hips which aid in the kipping movement of the muscle-up.

3 Beginner Muscle Up Variations

Below are three (3) beginner muscle up variations beginners can use to increase strength, technique, and develop a deeper understanding of the movement.

Note, that the muscle up is a highly unique bodyweight/gymnastics movement, one that requires strength, body control, and mobility.

While the below exercises can be helpful in developing skill and/or necessary strength to perform muscle ups, lifters and coaches need to be sure to effectively progress and teach muscle up technique. Without proper progressions of muscle up progressions being taught, the below movements alone will likely not improve muscle up specific performance.

1. Band Assisted Muscle-Up

The band assisted muscle up is typically done using rings and a heavy resistance band. By attaching the band to the handles, you can create a seat on which the lifter/athlete can sit in as they support themselves in the tucked position. This variation, while not including the pull-up aspect of the muscle up helps to increase the skill and timing of the turnover phase of muscle up.

If someone wants to add in strength work they can also integrate pull-ups, ring rows, and dips. Note, that this variation is best used for skill and technique development rather than used within workouts (WODs).

2. TRX/Ring Row Muscle-Up

The TRX/ring muscle-up is a regressed version of fully suspended muscle-ups that entail a lifter to perform a ring row explosively, transition into the dip position and extend the arms.

This occurs in a more horizontal plane than the vertical muscle up, however can help increase back, arm, and pressing strength in many beginner lifters.

3. Ring Row and Dip Superset

When looking to swap an exercise in a WOD for muscles ups, many gyms and coaches will simply swap them for a pull-up or ring row. While these are aspects of the muscle up, they neglect the second part of the muscle up (the dip); undermining the actual strength and skill necessary tomorrow the movement.

If you pair these two movements together in a superset fashion, you can stress the same muscle groups as muscle-up. While some coaches and athletes may feel this superset will increase the time necessary to perform the reps when compared to the muscle up, it does! This is one way to try to even the playing field for lifters who can perform muscles up with those who cannot.

Want to Learn More About Advanced Bodyweight Training?

Looking to advance your technique and strength performing more advanced bodyweight movements? Take a look at our bodyweight training guides below!

Feature image from Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

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