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The Bar Muscle Up

By Fred Dyck, Fitness Manager, YWCA Fitness on 25th

Another advanced exercise sure to impress any gym enthusiast is the muscle up. Whether performed on the rings or with a straight bar, the muscle up is an advanced move requiring power from multiple areas of the body as well as proper form & technique. Completion of the bar muscle up requires the person to travel from a hanging position on the straight bar to one where you are holding yourself up on the bar. This is a difficult activity but, for those with a good strength to body weight ratio, not impossible.

If you want to see a smooth example of the bar muscle up, watch for YWCA member Eric MacDougall. Eric has been perfecting his bar muscle up over the past few months and has got to the point where he can complete a solid number of repetitions with smooth effort. Eric typically visits the weight room around lunch time through the weekdays and is featured in the pictures for this blog. Picture 4, above, shows Eric at the top of the bar muscle up. For our gym, you must watch you do not bonk your head on the beam above this bar.

My suggestion for anyone thinking about this activity as a goal is two-fold: First, take a look and consider the exercises listed below as part of a progression to learning the bar muscle up. These steps will help you work on the components of the muscle up and help build the requisite power aspects to potentially complete one or more than one. Second, even if you never get to the point of actually completing a muscle up, the exercises below can be part of a healthy strength and power program and therefore something to consider as part of your workout routine.

Here are five exercises to consider in support of developing a complete full bar muscle up:

  1. Strict pull ups: For the purpose of developing a muscle up, your strict pull up goal is to raise your body to the height where your xiphoid process (see picture 3 where Eric is pulled up over the bar) is even with the bar. This is a difficult range to get to and is a worthwhile strength goal in itself. Many people who successfully complete pull ups actually do not raise this high. Use the assisted machine or jumping pull ups as progressions to support your development of this goal.
  2. Core strength: To complete the bar muscle up, one must have a strong core. The hollow rocker, superman rocker and the L-Sit pull up are all good exercises to consider. We also have our Core Plus class Monday, Wednesday and Friday’s at 4:45 pm. Attend any of these classes to support your core development.
  3. Dips: Once a person is above the bar, you must complete the movement of a full muscle up by completing the dip movement. So it stands to reason, practicing dips is part of developing the triceps strength for the bar muscle up.
  4. The Kipping Pull Up: Popularized by our friends in the Crossfit community, the kipping pull up is a skill movement that requires timing. The hollow rocker and superman rocker mentioned above are good basic movements that are part of the kipping motion. Once you begin to attempt the full bar muscle up, you will need some of the power aspects of the kip pull up to generate the momentum to travel above the bar.
  5. Box Bar Muscle Ups: This movement gets you close the full bar muscle up. Place the appropriate level box under the bar and jump off of the box to complete the Box to Bar Muscle up. As a progression, you may need to have a fairly high or tall box initially but then reduce the level of the box as you improve and gain strength and confidence in the movement. In picture 1 and picture 2 you can see Eric starting from a chair and progressing to the full muscle up.

The Cheat Muscle Up: For some, a person may be able to complete the bar muscle up but only by getting one arm over the bar before the other. Eric can do a full true muscle up but as an example, he completed the cheating version in picture 5. You can see here he has managed to get his left arm above the bar before the right. Nothing wrong with this as a progression to the full muscle up.

The web has numerous sources of information on a bar muscle up progression. The one listed below is a reasonable option for you to look for further reading and study.

http://breakingmuscle.com/bodyweight/proper-foundations-a-5-step-progression-to-the-bar-muscle-up

A Definition of Power: “the ability to exert maximum muscular contraction instantly in an explosive burst of movements. The two components of power are strength and speed.” Source: BrianMac Sports Coach.