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SLOW Bar & Ring Muscle Ups, Post Injury?

How I reclaimed (and bettered) the slow bar & ring muscle up after wrecking my left shoulder & bicep. This post is a sequel to my recent post: Relearning The Ring Muscle Up (My Humbling Story)

Muscle ups are undoubtedly one of the most popular goals I see in all of calisthenics and bodyweight training. This was the case in 2014 when I started writing online and it’s still the case now – if not even more so.

Maybe you’d just like a muscle up and you don’t care what kind? Rings or bar, fast or slow. I was the same. Before I got my first muscle ups I didn’t care how I did them, I just wanted to do them!

As it transpired, I got my first muscle up ever on a bar (hella kipped though) and my first ‘strict’ muscle up came on rings (no kipping) – but with a hella grind through that transition!

That was 2016 – 6 years ago now, which is crazy. And as you would expect, I’ve been on some journey between those glory days and these wise, humbled days. If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the last 18 months or so, you’ll be hard pushed to have not seen some reference to the issues I’ve had with my left bicep and shoulder.

The long and short of it is this: I had elbow pain that ran right through the belly of my bicep, up into the shoulder. This pain stopped me fully straightening and bending my elbow. So much so that my best elbow flexion was around 90 degrees!

This made anything involving loaded extension of the elbow (straight arm training, obviously, but even stretched hanging) painful and weak. It also made anything involving loaded flexion of the elbow (full bicep curls, chin/pull up top holds, muscle up transitions etc etc) even more painful and even more weak.

It sucked. It really did. And it lingered for ages. I constantly yo-yo’d between being really bad and somewhat ok at times. This ‘ok’ phase would give you false hope and you would want to push it a little, just for the miniscule amount of pride involved in being able to do something remotely close to what you used to be able to. But anytime I did this I’d end up right back to square one with almost identical symptoms; the arm just would not bend or straighten no matter what I did.

Muscle up machine to muscle up NOOB

In 2019 to early 2020 I considered myself a bit of a muscle up specialist. At least that’s what I’d have said then. Now I’d probably prefer the term ‘muscle up BOT’ as all I did really was live and breathe muscle ups. I even had friends more advanced than me in the calisthenics world call me a ‘muscle up specialist’. At the time it was like being crowned, whereas now it’s a title to avoid in my opinion but I’ll get to that later.

Point being, muscle ups were my thing. Weighted on rings or bar, strict with a straight body, explosive and even slow. Although slow muscle ups were never my forte I did manage to get somewhat proficient at them – at least on rings.

The bar was and is harder of course because it’s in the way, literally. As I always say: you need to pull higher on a bar muscle up and you need to navigate around the bar, versus navigating through the rings in the case of the ring muscle up.

You can see my first ever slow bar muscle up with the false grip below. I may have done one or two before it but they were always so scruffy and struggle-ridden, you could hardly count them.

It never felt natural to me despite some friends finding them easier than the conventional ‘fast’ muscle ups. And as we’re all prone to doing, I cooked up a narrative in my head to the effect of: ‘slow muscle ups are a party trick and doing them all the time would make you slow. Fast twitch muscle fibers are of the highest importance, so therefore slow muscle ups aren’t worth bothering about’.

That narrative lived a long time; 4 years to be more precise. Except recently I changed my mind, or you could say, my mind was changed.

Towards the end of 2021, I was sick to death of sucking compared to my former self. I could muscle up still but they weren’t as powerful and they were clunky in the transition; the elbows flared out and there was zero control through that elusive zone, where you lower from the bottom of the dip to a high pull up.

As for rings it was little different. The only way I could ring muscle up now was by accelerating as hard as possible and throwing my body around the rings – essentially a bar muscle up on rings. Any attempt I made to control the eccentric, like you would if you were using negatives to learn the move for the first time, would result in a drop straight through and I’d end up in a half hang (arms at 90 degrees).

Despite being able to hold the elbows parallel for time (and with weight added to me) at my ‘peak’.

Pausing on the negative in the transition, even with 28kg added! (circa mid 2019)

The height of disappointment was when I was at a meetup in a park and couldn’t even do ONE Russian/elbow dip! I’d just drop and my elbow would roll in. This SUCKED. That was May 2021…

A happy ending

I’m ELATED to share the following Instagram posts with you:

1) My first slow bar muscle up since the featured one in 2018…

2) My first slow ring muscle ups since 2019 (Including a WEIGHTED one!)…

You could have held me at gunpoint until I showed you either of these as little as 3-6 months ago, and I would have been a dead man.

Not. A. Chance. In. Hell.

On paper it seems far from miraculous – a guy who had these moves being able to do them again – but I never had them properly to begin with and they were worse than they are now, notably so.

So, with the story-telling out the way, it begs the question: how’s it done? What was so key in the reclamation of these moves?

Chin up/pull up top strength is the simple answer.

It seems obvious but it wasn’t to me, despite my years in the game. I’d spent countless sessions, hours and reps on fast hollow based muscle ups (anterior chain engaged; core dominant, chest dominant and much less back dominant), and this developed a faulty movement pattern where anytime I pulled vertically, I’d pull with those mechanics – aka the wrong mechanics unless you’re doing hollow muscle ups.

I touched on this somewhat in my post on relearning the ring muscle up but the sentiments are very similar. You need a strong depression and retraction of the scapula/shoulders to stand a chance of holding yourself high above the rings or bar. With the explosive bar muscle up you can propel yourself through this tricky zone; the zone where the main muscles are at their shortest and you’re at your weakest.

The practical approach

Much of the remedy here, for me at least, was raising my standards and dropping my ego. I had to totally rethink and approach how I performed pull ups and chin ups. I could do chest to bar chin ups and pull ups, sure, but they were always explosive and I certainly couldn’t get anywhere near pausing or holding at the top, with the chest touching the bar. I’d also hollow out my legs to assist the upward pull, exactly as you would in a hollow muscle up.

Similarly to what I touched upon in my post on relearning the ring muscle up, I had to find ways to mimic what I wanted to eventually be able to do, while still not yet being able to…

Much like the ring muscle up, I needed to get used to holding my chest against the bar. This requires a high pull up hold and a nasty amount of elbow flexion, scapula depression, and retraction.

As literally everyone knows by now, my elbow flexion is worse than most people’s. This makes the task here harder from the get go. It basically means I have to have my elbows MUCH further behind my body than someone who can rub their shoulder with their palm. In fancy terms, I’m at a mechanical disadvantage.

Having a strong false/over-grip helps as it shortens that already lengthened lever arm, and luckily my false grip is one of my strong suits. So false grip chest to bar holds were the starting point of my journey. To do this I had to step off the ground to a bar already at chest height. Pulling to it and holding still wasn’t possible.

To accompany these I did some bar muscle up negatives which were horrendous initially; I had to rest my chest on the bar and hang on for dear life, and as soon as my elbows would go below parallel with the floor, I’d fall almost to a 90 degree bent arm pull up hang. Where have we seen that before?

Sometimes too, I would do toe assisted (on a box) negatives and even reps where I would use my feet to assist me back over the transition (concentric strength). For the longest time it felt like I was getting nowhere with this; it would always feel heavy and I felt dead in the same zones no matter what I did, or how often I did it.

Instead of throwing it out at the first sign of slow progress, I kept trudging away, desperately trying to silence the voices in my head telling me I was wasting my time. What helped was keeping the hustle going on my top hold chin ups, on bar and rings. I’d alternate between the 2 each session and also cycled through different rep and set schemes, which also influenced the weights I’d use.

This built the strength in more or less the same muscles but in a friendlier grip position. The carryover was and certainly is there, but only if you apply it by practicing the overhand grip too, even if it means just stepping into it initially.

With time, patience and practice, eventually stepping into it will become pulling to the position from a dead hang and/or being able to press the bar down, while you rotate your elbows up – aka transitioning to the dip position.

It won’t be linear and can take time but it’s a venture well worth treading. I’ve even noticed carryover to the front lever from all the newfound scapula depression/retraction.

Your elbows may need time to adapt to the stress they’ll inevitably be under while trialling this approach. It’s easy to let the devil on your shoulder (the ego) whisper louder and louder, urging you to keep trying the slow muscle up instead of working on the components individually, making them stronger and stronger. You just have to fill your ears with cotton wool and bitch-slap that red horned figure off your shoulder.

Lastly, another positive influence on this road to recovering the slow muscle up was Sondre Berg’s app, The Movement Trybe – an app I’ve been using on and off this year, which has 1200+ exercise progressions, 40+ programs and 120+ workouts inside. But even more importantly than that, many of these programs are for specific skills – think muscle ups, handstand, levers, planche, one arm chin up etc.

The Movement Trybe app has a program aimed at the slow muscle up on the bar and on rings. Like so much of his app, this program has so many amazing gap bridging progressions, to keep you motivated when it seems impossible to jump from one progression to the next. Some were really helpful as there’s so many of them and they almost guide you nicely to the exact exercise that you personally, need to work on.

(Images from

It’s been another long winding road where the finishing line will probably never truly appear, but that’s ok. I’m enjoying getting better inch by inch, and I still can’t believe how many miles I’ve travelled since those miserable days in 2021, telling people I used to be able to do this and used to be able to do that.

At least now I can say, ‘I used to do it this way, lost it through injury, came back and realised there’s better ways to go about it. And they are ……’.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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