Here’s How To Train To Master Your First Strict Bar Muscle-Up

Your step-by-step plan to some serious skills.


Wanita Nicol |

The muscle-up is a boss move. Even if you’ve only ever seen the kipping version (common in CrossFit, involves a lot of swinging) you probably think it’s bordering on superhuman. Well, a strict bar muscle-up is even more impressive. Because there’s no swinging involved, there’s no momentum to help get you above the bar… it’s all you, baby. You and the badass core and pulling strength you’ll build with this programme, designed for MH by pros Tim and Jacko from the School of Calisthenics. We caught up with them on their recent trip to Cape Town and got the low-down. If you want to master the muscle-up, this is the way.

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Watch the video tutorial…

1/ Build A Hard Core

You may think the muscle-up is all about your upper body, but you actually need to harness the power of the full muscular chain that connects your upper and lower halves. That means working on your core.

Master This Move: Hollow-Body Rock

Lying on your back, bring your knees up to your chest and reach your arms up to the ceiling. From here, straighten and lower your legs as far as you can, stopping when they’re extended but not touching the floor. Simultaneously extend your arms back along your ears and lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Keep your lower back sucked into the floor at all times – no arching. Your body should form a bowl shape. This is a hollow-body hold. Maintaining that hollow-body position, use your abs to rock back and forth. Stop when you lose form.

Related: Transform your body with this calisthenics power plan. 

2/ Nail The Body Position

In the muscle-up, the starting point is so important,” says Jacko. “You want to get the right alignment and body position, using what you did in the hollow-body hold and rock.” Getting into the right set-up position is important for being able to clear the bar.

Master This Move: Box Step-Offs

Position a box just behind the bar. Stand on it so you can easily reach the bar and grab hold. As you step off the box, ensure that your core is braced, your ribcage is down, your shoulders are engaged and down – no bunching up around your ears – and your toes are extended towards the ground, so your body forms an angle. Imagine you’re a surfboard leaning against a wall.

JUST FOR YOU: How to build muscle to develop the perfect pull-up

3/ Get Explosive

To get a muscle-up, you need to get your body high enough above the bar to be able to push down and extend your arms. “You want to get the bar at least to sternum height,” says Jacko. Once you can do that, the tough part is pretty much done. “If you’re strong enough to get your chest above the bar, the dip usually takes care of itself,” says Tim. “The hardest part is getting above the bar.”

Master This Move: High Pull

Hanging from a bar, get into your set position (see step 2 above) and quickly pull the bar to your chest, keeping your core braced. The key to this move is that you need to move fast and explosively – it should all be one fluid movement. If you can’t do more than one rep, let go of the bar and rest between reps to maintain your form. If you can’t do even one rep, practise with a resistance band, using a lighter and lighter band as you get stronger.

Related: You can totally master the clapping pull-up. Here’s how.

4/ Work On Your Coords

The muscle-up requires some coordination: You need to move very quickly from hanging on a bar to set position to high pull to straight bar dip. And you mustn’t lose your core control at any time. Sjoe.

Master This Move: Banded Muscle-Up

Loop a resistance band around the bar and step into it with both feet as you hang from the bar. Get into your set position and do a high pull (see step 3 above). As your chest clears the bar, tip forward so your chest is now leaning over the bar. From here, press through your hands to extend your arms. Reverse the movement back to start. Make sure you maintain that tight core throughout. Like with the high pull, use a lighter band as you get stronger.

Related: 6 yoga poses to improve your sex life. Yes, really.

5/ A Guy Walks Up To A Bar… And Does A Muscle-Up Like A Boss

Once you have the banded muscle-up waxed, it’s time to lose the training wheels. Use the principles you’ve already mastered and do exactly what you did using the band, but this time minus the assist. You got it? Awesome! Keep practising. As with any callisthenics move, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Consider this your licence to show off your new superpower at every opportunity.

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