We’ve seen guys getting their first ring muscle up in seriously impressive time frames! But how about the bar muscle up? Is there any way of quantifying how or near, or far, away from this incredibly coveted move you might be?
Delivering weekly calisthenics classes has taught me one thing: the bar muscle up is on everyone’s wish list. Even chicks think it’s cool and would love to do them.
Strangely enough, for such a theoretically simple move, the bar muscle up is actually a tough beast to tame and master.
Rings vs bar – an ancient contest!
The bar muscle up is harder than the ring muscle up in my opinion. Incase you actually needed clarification: I’m talking STRICT muscle ups for both varieties. The bar muscle up requires a higher pull than the ring muscle up, because with the rings you can begin the transition phase earlier, due to the rings being free to move around the body. You can roll the chest over/through the rings whereas with the bar you have to move around it.
Rings move around your body…….
And your body moves around the bar.
Hence I always target a ring muscle up first and then we look at bar muscle ups down the line with the clients I work with. It’s pretty rare to see someone nail a strict bar muscle up before a ring muscle up, although I have seen such mystical moments.
Usually it’s those without access to rings or who spent too much time as a kid in parks that fall into this category. The other type is the ‘false grip bitch’; these are folk who’ve tried false grip hanging/pulling once, got their wrists and forearms raped (as is normal) and gave up on the spot. Their poor little hands didn’t want to experience such a level of suffering ever again.
Defining a STRICT Bar muscle up
People have this debate over and over. Kipping vs strict muscle ups and the way to settle it is simple: kipping muscle ups are employing momentum to override/skip the lack of strength/hardest point in the movement – most often by driving the knees to the chest and/or excessively flexing and extending the hips during the reps.
Strict muscle ups are explosive pulls using no momentum from the hips or legs to boost the movement. One is a strength move, the other is a coordination move.
With that debate put to rest, just how strict do we have to be to get the seal of approval here?
While we can get complicated and obsess over the exacts of hip flexion and extension, the simple rule I have for qualifying a strict muscle up is whether the legs stay locked/straight at the knee or not.
When the knees are bent and drawn towards the chest, this generates serious inertia that makes the move light years easier! However, when the legs are kept straight you can only really get some aid from the closing of the hips (hip ‘piking’/legs lifting). Trust me, the difference is significant.
Ok, we could get fancier and start arguing about keeping the hips neutral and not letting them extend as you swing in front of the bar, along with how much we allow the shoulders to overflex, but the biggest thing is keeping the legs straight throughout.
Obviously it’s common to find the legs will lift up almost to an L-sit position when you first start doing strict muscle ups, but this can be eradicated and improved upon over time. I still count it as a strict muscle up.
Moves to get you there
EXPLOSIVE DEAD STOP PULL UP
The most important move and your best friend when gunning for the strict bar muscle up is the explosive dead stop pull up. This will build your raw pull power and velocity out the bottom. If you don’t have that, forget about those really straight elegant muscle ups you see on Instagram. You think those guys can’t pull the bar to their ribcage or hips when fully fresh and pulling as hard as they can?
The next move to get to know is the hollow pull up with the forward swing/arc technique.
Even the strictest muscle ups that look completely straight are an illusion. Even they are still moving AROUND the bar but to such a tiny extent you can’t really see it. This, like the leg lifting, can be perfected and tidied up over time. For now though, it’s important to get accustomed to the ‘pendulum’ like swing needed to pull around the bar.
How to do it:
It’s easiest learnt by stepping off a step to hang on a bar high enough you can hang completely dead without having to keep the legs piked. From there you need to keep the body hollow (posterior tilt of the pelvis) and get into a slight swing where you’re rocking back and forth under the bar. You don’t need to keep the scapula engaged as you do this, just hang.
Then you want to practice pulling at the end of the forward swing – right as the body is about to naturally move backwards. When timed right, this will send you up in a nice slight curve trajectory and you’ll get good height providing you’ve got a decent vertical pulling foundation.
How high you pull isn’t too important at first; the timing is more crucial. If you pull too late you’ll find as the body moves up, it also moves back, and even if you pull high enough to theoretically achieve a muscle up, you’ll be miles behind the bar anyway.
Get a generous back and forth swing going and practice keeping a tight body with the correct pelvis position. It will take some getting used to for the timing but when it clicks it will become automated. Remember: always pull right before/right as you’re naturally going backwards. Too early or too late will screw the mechanics of the movement up.
Sets of 3 are plenty here.
Straight bar/Russian Dips
When getting close to strict bar muscle ups rarely is it basic straight bar dip strength that will be holding you back. That said, I quite like using the straight bar dip for elbow conditioning and transition exposure at a manageable intensity.
Most people do their straight bar dips too shallow and the bar ends up touching their bellybutton. I always coach this move to the nipple line and sometimes even higher – you can even go under the bar while maintaining a false grip and transition back over and then dip out – appropriately named a ‘transition dip’.
The point is to get comfortable getting nice and low and really flexing the elbows. Even if you can’t get super low, start adding in bottom pauses where you’re not resting on the bar and instead, using your active strength to stay in place.
The Russian parallel bar dip is a great step up from the straight bar dip or regular parallel bar dip. It gives you a feel for the extreme flexion of the elbows needed during the transition of a muscle up. You also get a taste of the internal rotation of the shoulders, too.
These are tricky to get used to but are a very valuable tool in the toolbox for prepping the muscle up. The ultimate aim is to land the elbows on the bars as soft as possible, almost as if you’re hovering with the skin touching the bars but your weight still in your arms and shoulders.
So, how long until I’m in the strict club?!
Tough to specifically answer but you can expect it to take some months after your first ring muscle up. If you’re blessed with quite natural pulling power you may get it faster. Basically that’s what it’s most dependent on: how quick you gain the necessary power.
Side note: I have seen some get the slow bar muscle up before the more conventional explosive one. This is rare though and tends to be done by those with extra-terrestrial tricep and elbow strength. Basically, the transition strength carries them through.
In the video below you can see a YouTube chat I did on this topic. If you like those kind of discussions, feel free to subscribe as I plan on doing more of these over time!
Thanks for reading! How long did you take to get your bar muscle up, or are you still training for it?
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