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Are Muscle Ups Impressive

Are Muscle Ups TRULY Impressive or Just Gym Hype?

The muscle up is a skill that is highly admired in the calisthenics community.

Being able to do one signifies that you’ve put in a significant amount of time and effort doing body weight training. 

I decided to touch on this topic because I noticed a trend of people saying the muscle up is a relatively easy move to do. 

That’s pretty wild to hear, considering the effort and progression required to do the muscle up movement.

People make the argument that they were able to muscle up at age 15, but first of all, it was most likely with crappy form, and I think it’s pretty obvious that lifting and throwing your body around at that age is easy.

So, we can’t base this topic on just that lens. This question requires the perspective of the general public across all ages. 

I think day by day the goalpost for what is considered ‘impressive’ is shifted farther away. 

Key Takeaway: Muscle-ups take lots of time and effort for the average person to learn. So yes, they are indeed impressive. Read on for an in-depth explanation of what makes this movement so impressive. 

What is a Muscle Up?

A muscle up According to Wikipedia, “is an advanced strength training exercise in the domain of calisthenics.”

So, technically, if you can do one, then you’re on your way to becoming advanced. The muscle up movement is a combination of an explosive pull up and a dip.

If you can do an explosive pull-up, which very few people can, then you’re on your way to mastering the muscle-up. 

Being lean also makes pull up exercises easier. Check out: The Guide to Cutting

Muscle ups calisthenics

Muscle-ups Presence in Fitness Culture

Muscle ups became mainstream in the early 2010s. Call me young, but the first person I saw do a muscle up was Chris Heria. 

Since that era, the muscle up has become a pinnacle, a point that unlocks the next set of even more difficult bodyweight exercise movements. 

When you master a clean, strict, and sexy-looking muscle-up, you join a new group of fitness elites because you’ve just learned a skill that less than 99% of people can do. 

If we’re talking about the swinging, keeping, unattractive, beginner-looking muscle-up, however, that’s a bit more common, and that’s where this topic gets misconstrued. 

Most people who say they can do one are actually doing it wrong and un-sexy, like this: (If that’s you, don’t worry; everyone starts somewhere, so great job!)  

Kipping muscle ups

So why does it still count? 

I believe if you can’t do an exercise with proper form, then it doesn’t count, and if the sloppy form doesn’t count, then the movement becomes much more impressive. 

Check out: How to Build THE Aesthetic Masculine Physique

Man doing muscle ups

Execution Difficulty: Here’s What it Takes to Do a Proper Muscle-up

Before we dive into the muscle up breakdown, I want to give you a brief story of how long it took me to learn the muscle-up. 

Story Time

When I was 22, in the year 2022, I decided I wanted to learn the muscle-up. No fancy plans, just a personal challenge to break through the limits and conquer the elusive muscle-up.

At this point, I hadn’t really trained any form of pull-ups. 

So, I started, and on my first try, I could only do two measly wide-grip pull-ups. Pitiful, I know. 

Two pull-ups weren’t enough training for a day, so I had to add sets of lat pulldowns to develop more strength in my back and lats. 

The idea of transitioning into a muscle-up seemed like a distant dream, but I saw progress in my pull-ups. 

After about 2 months, I was able to do 6 clean wide grip pull-ups, and after 3 more months, I hit 10 full range of motion wide grip pull-ups, and then I started training for muscle-ups. It took me an extra 2 months to finally hit my first un-sexy muscle up.” 

I don’t want to make this article about me, so I’ll cut it short: I, a 22-year-old with zero experience doing pull-ups, was able to finally do a kipping muscle-up after 7 months of training. 

Anything that takes the average person months to learn is impressive. 

Now let’s break down the progression and technique required to do a muscle-up: 

Progressions to Master the Muscle Up

Let’s outline all the steps and requirements needed before attempting the muscle-up: 

Beginner requirements

  • You need to develop solid grip strength: If you can’t hang long enough to do 10 pull-ups, you obviously cannot progress. Bodyweight exercises like dead hangs are great for grip strength.
  • Chin above the bar pull-ups: You need to be able to perform a solid set of 10–15 of these pull-ups with good form before progressing.
  • Dip strength: You need to be able to perform a set of 8–10 controlled dips (chest to bar) on parallel bars before attempting muscle-ups.

Transition Exercises

  • Deep Pull-Ups: This is where you progress from wide-grip chin-ups to pulling higher, bringing your chest towards the bar to mimic the muscle-up motion.
  • Explosive Pull-Ups: You need to practice explosive pull-ups, aiming to pull yourself up as fast as possible. You need explosiveness for muscle-ups.
  • Proper grip form: You need to transition to a false grip (thumbs above the bar) and rotate your wrist to initiate the dip movement.
  • Hip Swing: You have to practice the hip swing motion, timing on when to pull up during the swing is essential.
  • Negative Muscle-Ups: This is when you practice jumping into the muscle-up position from a bench and focusing on a slow, controlled descent. 
  • Kipping Pull-Ups: The last step before learning a proper muscle up. This is what most people actually do when they say they can do a pull-up.

Can you skip some of these steps? Sure, but this outline alone proves why the muscle-up is an impressive achievement.

However, within the calisthenic space itself, the muscle up isn’t viewed as a “legendary movement” due to the sheer number of even crazier workouts.

But it does open the gates to even more impressive workouts. 

Related: How to Go from 0 to 10 Pull Ups Quicker (How I did it)

Muscles Targeted in Muscle Ups

So, we’ve cleared up the question of muscle-up impressiveness. Now, check out the specific muscle groups engaged during each phase of the muscle up:

Explosive Pull-Up Phase

  • Targets the latissimus dorsi (Lats) for the pulling motion.
  • Engages the biceps and forearms for grip strength.

Transition Phase

  • Activates the chest and triceps as the body transitions from the pull-up to the dip.
  • Involves the core muscles for stabilization during swinging, hanging, and lifting movements.

Dip Phase

  • Hits the triceps for the pushing motion.
  • Engages the chest muscles for the completion of the muscle up.

Understanding the muscles that come into play throughout each phase may help you identify muscle points to train and strengthen, making you even better at muscle ups.

Check out: How to Identify Muscle Imbalances

How do Muscle-ups Contribute to Overall Strength?

Woman doing pull ups

Check out how mastering muscle ups contributes to more complete strength development, going beyond isolation exercises.

Upper Body Strength

  • Enhances strength in the shoulders, back, and arms.
  • Builds muscle endurance through the challenging sequence of pull-ups and dips.

Core Stability

  • Requires significant core engagement for stabilization during the transition phase.
  • Strengthens the abdominal muscles as they support the entire movement.

Grip Strength

  • Demands a strong grip during the pull-up phase, contributing to overall grip strength.
  • Improves forearm endurance through the entire muscle up sequence.

Muscle-ups aren’t just a back exercise; they’re more like a compound exercise that engages various muscles, which can increase overall upper body strength.

Check out: 7 Great Ways Jumping Pull Ups Can Benefit YOU

Muscle-ups Practicality in Real-Life Movements

You’ve spent all this time trying to learn a muscle up, so how does this help you? What makes it worth it? Check out how muscle ups translate in real life. Heck, it may even save your life someday. 

  • The muscle up mimics the motion of pulling oneself up over an obstacle. I think this is a crucial skill that everyone should aim to have. 
  • Translates to scenarios where climbing or lifting the body is required.
  • Enhances overall body coordination.
Faysal Tahir
Faysal Tahir
Articles: 74

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