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How to Train for First Muscle Up?

56 y/o dude, 6ft, 175 lb. Never been a fitness guy in my whole life. I did pass the yearly fitness tests when I was in the army in the 80’s, but I struggled a bit. Hated it, and swore I’d never exercise again after I got out. So I did that. Alright, it was stupid, but damn what an easy program that was to follow. I stayed on that one a long, LONG time.

Well I decided to change my ways a few years ago and started hitting the gym off and on. Then a couple months ago I picked up a small home gym cable/plate weight machine. Have been working with that thing for a bit and a few weeks ago relized that I can actually do a chinup! Something I struggled hard with when I was going to the gym. So I’m pretty stoked about that. So far I have hit bests of two pullups or 6 chins, and have also done 3 chins with a 15 lb dumbbell between my feet. Resonably strict, little or no kipping.

So I’m thinking about next goals like should I work on doing 10, 20, 100… or one armed (lol)… and I thought how about a muscle up? Alright, let’s do that!

Obviously I’ve got a ways to go and I’ve tried to do some research but there’s so much info out there and it seems like a lot of it is conflicting so I thought I’d just ask about my personal old dude/beginner situation.

I assume pullups and dips are what I need to work on… maybe pressdowns too? But how often and how hard? Should I be doing a couple sets every day? Maybe get in like 25 -ups regardless of how many sets that may take? Or just do a couple sets on one day and rest a couple days or what? With added weight or?

Kinda clueless about where I need to try to go from here.

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@Cyrrex

I am honored by the referral, and will be sure to deposit the agreed 15% referral fee into your PayPal. Not sure I am the right guy for this, but I can come with a few pointers at least.

Hey man, quite the goal you are setting for yourself here, good on you.

Even though it is just a single excercise, I think there are a TON of little details we could focus (and over-focus) on, so I think it is best to keep it simple in the beginning. As you have already figured out, there are certain pre-requisites you probably have to pass before you should even bother in the attempt, but even those things are not very clear. There are a lot of opinions out there, and few or none of them ever helped me, because the people doing the exercises didn’t seem to know how they got where they did in the first place. Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way first: having a good strength to bodyweight ratio matters a lot here. At 6 feet and 175, you seem to already be in a pretty good bodyweight place for this. Your height will pose some extra challenges, but not like you can do anything about that.

But while strength is the foundation here, what you are really looking for is POWER. For the sake of this discussion, the difference between the two is that Power is about what you can do over time. In other words, doing it fast. More on this in a bit.

Also, Muscle Ups are a 3 Stage Rocket. The Pull, the Transition, the Dip. You have to learn all three, and probably also in that order. The good news is that if you manage the first two, the Dip is not going to be an issue. I am not saying you don’t need to train it, but chances are if you can get to that point, then it won’t be the thing stopping you. I have seen people fail that part of the movement, but in literally every case they were skinny kids who used a huge kipping motion and took advantage of low bodyweight to propel them into position in the first place. That ain’t you.

So if the Dip is stage 3, then the Transition is stage 2. You can also ignore that for now, it would be like trying to teach someone who has never seen a bike how to ride a bike over the internet. It is a technique and timing thing, and you cannot learn it until you are actually sitting on the bike. Or in this case, until your pulls are strong enough.

That leaves stage 1, the Pull. Like me, you have probably seen things like “be able to do 20 PUs and then you are strong enough”. Like it is some magic solution. But that is equating strength and endurance with POWER. You do not need to be able to do 20, 15 or even 10 PUs in order to be able to do a MU. What you DO need to be able to do, is a few Pull-ups with a ton of power. And sure, while the former will eventually help you do the latter, these are ultimately two different skills. It would be like the difference in pressing a dumbbell over your head 20 times compared to throwing a shot-put as far as you can just once. So this is what you are aiming for now: doing explosive pull-ups. There are going to be some videos out there on that subject too, but the basic gist of it is that you need to be able to pull yourself up with enough speed and force that you can (and will) literaly slam your chest into the bar. Or if you are using neutral grip, slamming your shoulders into the grips. We are talking near-bruising impact. If you can do that for 3 to 5 reps…then you can probably muster the force for an MU.

Now that said, how do you get there? Do it all and do it frequently. High reps sets for speed? Sure. Slow and controlled reps? Yep. High rep lightly weighted? Yep. Super heavey weighted for low reps? Yep. Isometric holds? Yep. All of these on the same day? Yep. Do some of these things on a day where I am just squatting or whatever? Yep. Your motto should be “I never met a bar I didn’t want to pull”. But no kipping at this stage. Kipping is just false power. It will have to come back in Stage 2, but only because we have no choice in the beginning.

So, do all kinds of pulling. Your goal is these explosive pullups, so test them frequently. Make sure whatever rig you are using is solid, because you should be smashing it. Preferably with traditional overhand grip, as that is the same motion you will use for the MU later.

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@Cyrrex wrote you a great reply. However, I’d ask, is your goal to do the muscle-up on rings or bars?

I’ve found that if one can pull-up/chin-up with 50% added bodyweight the raw potential to do a muscle-up using nothing but strength is certainly there (assuming one can also do a dip). This is not a pre-requisite, and can be substituted with technique.

Yeah, my write-up was assuming bar and not rings. That’s a different animal.

I would agree, but even say it is maybe more around 25-30%. But anyway, that is just raw potential as you say, you still have to be able to pull with power.

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I can do it on rings and not on bar… :confused:

I have done it before on rings, but my poor old shoulders don’t like it at all. Ultimately, it feels like a completely different skill.

Can’t believe this is 3 years old :frowning_face:

Wow, that is awesome! Thanks so much.

So if I’m getting this correctly, I’m basically looking at two primary points for right now.

  1. Do it a lot
  2. Be explosive

Other considerations, sure, but those look to be the biggies for the moment.

I’ll have to shore up that wobbly-ass bar I built this weekend. I can do that… Right now It’s suitable for slow strict pullups but I need to get a little crazy.

Yeah, shore that thing up when you can. In the meantime, probably have to work on variations with slow reps, including weighted reps.

I mostly also agree with the contents of the video above, the only thing I would contend with is that simply being able to 10 PUs and 10 Dips will get you there. I mean, it is a starting point. You still need to be able to move yourself fast…notice how in the video he is able to pull himself up past his chest and pull the bar towards the stomach? The requires quite a bit of power, so either you have to train that specifically, or just become amazing at pullups in general.

Anyway, don’t worry about the progression. Get to square one first.

Random quick search, but I came across this video which I think explains the explosive part of it quite well.

Plus, these guys are doing pure, clean MUs, so probably a better place to start.

Wow, that’s some good info to work with…

If I’m not just completely misunderstanding here… Seems like the muscle-up is more like jumping, where the pullup is more of a lift? And as such, practicing muscle-ups with a band seems like a better strategy for me than simply doing more pullups. I mean I want to do the pulls too but it’s kind of a different thing.

Lemme rig up a band tonight and see if I can’t do something crazy.
Pulls, chins, dips, and muscle-ups all on the menu with added weight or assistance as appropriate. First unassisted muscle-up this Summer I bet.

Also somewhat unrelated, but I’ve just about got to the point of being able to do pistol squats too. I can stand myself up off the floor with one foot only but my form is pretty wobbly. Getting better at keeping my foot out front, so that’s coming along too.

Like any of that means anything I guess, lol. But what the hell, I never did it before so it all feels like progress to me. Surely couldn’t have done any of it between 1995 and 2015 when I was almost 50 lbs heavier with a big ole gut!

I suppose you could look at it that way. Introducing the band is an okay idea, but remember the point is to build up the explosive speed. If you ONLY use the band, you will get exactly nowhere, because you will never learn to propel your entire bodyweight at the required speed. So do all the different varieties to help build strength and speed, and just make the band a part in that.

I did several with and without the band last night. Man, I’ve got SUCH a long way to go! lol.

I can get my two reps without the band, or with the band I can hit like 5. Maybe I could squeeze out another one but I’m getting pretty slow after 5 even with the band. wimpy wimpy, lol. But the cool thing with the band was that I was moving much faster and was able to get a light chest bump on the bar a few times. I also did some chins since I like them better and can do more of them unassisted.

I guess just keep at it, right? What exactly were you referring to as “square one”? Is that the 10 pulls and 10 dips?

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Yeah, that is what I meant. It just means you have the potential, but if you saw the video you understand now that you have to build in speed component. Like you have to develop some leg strength before you can dunk, but simply being strong in the legs alone won’t get you there. Same basic idea.

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