No pull-ups all the way to Ring muscle up!
The progression to a muscle up
I wanted to write a blog post to go over the progression I used to get Alysia from 0 strict pull-ups to a ring muscle up.
*Hint: It took more than a year to get here.
I hear so many people say they want to do a ring muscle up and I see very few people doing what is needed to get there. It may be lack of knowledge, or patience. What I see most athletes doing is jumping on the rings, swinging around, and trying muscle ups. What they should be doing is breaking the movement up and working on each piece individually.
Trying to do a muscle up without understanding each individual piece is like trying to understand a book by reading random pages a few times a year. You might catch a few ideas, but understanding the big picture would be impossible.
It goes even further than understanding each piece, you also have to perform each piece proficiently.
How we got started:
When Alysia and I started things were very slow. We performed lots of banded pull-ups, single arm rows, lat pull downs, ring rows, and more. Most of these were tempo and we did this ALL THE TIME! (At least once a week during personal training, and if Alysia was feeling good 2 other times throughout the week on her own.)
Goal #1 was to get her upper body stronger and start preparing her ligaments and tendons to take on heavy load. (The muscle up becomes more dangerous if your shoulders, elbows, and wrists are not ready for such a dynamic movement.)
Easiest way to transition:
Something I see overlooked so often is false grip. Not that people don't know what it is but people don't work on it.
Goal #2 was to add in false grip strength and flexibility work while continuing to work on pulling. (Pulling and pressing strength are a big key to success here.)
Some false grip work we did was: false grip stretch on rings, false grip ring rows, false grip pull-ups, false grip holds, forearm curls, farmer carries, plate pinch carries, and more!
Alysia's job was to stretch and do false grip holds daily on the rings and bar. She loved these so much she even cried performing them. No joke, they aren't fun or comfortable.
If you can master holding a solid false grip, you are one step closer to a ring muscle up!
Be the kid you used to be:
How did you learn to the do the monkey bars? Did you go to the gym and do accessory work to get close? Did you hire a coach to get you there? Probably not, you just tried and failed A LOT!
You know what else you did? You played a lot.
If you want to get better at anything you have to play. You don't necessarily need to try to do muscle ups, but play on the rings. Get familiar with them. Try every movement you can think of on them.
The more you understand how your body moves around the rings, the easier it will be to make changes when you're on them.
Goal #3 for Alysia was to play on the rings, often. Do pull-ups on the ring, kip on the rings, swing around, do toes through ring, try one-arm holds, try to hold a false grip, just play on them!
Have you ever seen someone fall through the rings and it scares the sh%t out of you (and them as they see their life flash before their eyes.)?
Well lets work on this little thing called stability!
If you cannot support yourself at the top (or bottom) of the rings for at least 30 seconds what makes you think hurling your body at maximum speed in an effort to catch in that position will be successful?
*Hint: It won't. You probably will just get hurt or be unsuccessful.
I tell my athletes all the time, "Get comfortable in the position you will finish in." For example: If you can barely do an overhead squat and your bottom position in garbage, what makes you think you will catch a PR (personal record) in the bottom while moving at 100% effort? That my friends would be luck and only luck. You probably won't be able to replicate it.
SO... let's get comfortable in finishing position. We can do this be performing top rings holds, bottom ring holds, Russian dips, box dips, deficit push ups, ring push ups, quadruped crawls, ring dips, transition work and more!
Goal #4 was to hold the top of the ring position, directly into the bottom ring hold, and right into a ring dip. This took quite a while. Dipping out of a deep dip position is tough after a static hold. We got here eventually, but we failed often.
Understanding the movement:
At this point I think we all know that strength does not equal anything in technique oriented movements. Typically if your technique is not great, no matter your strength, you are not getting far. The same goes for muscle ups. If you do not know where your body is supposed to be in space and time. You're screwed.
The hardest part of a muscle up is the transition. Alysia and I did every transition drill in the book and stuck with our favorites after a few months.
At first it was heavily banded and just getting our shoulders, wrists, and elbows, ready to take on the load. As we started understanding the transition we got to practice them with almost 100% body weight. We used: bands under our legs, legs on floor, jumping transitions, jolly jumpers, assisted transitions, feet elevated, strict muscle up with assistance, and more!
Goal #5 was to understand the transition and become comfortable enough to perform them on the rings assisted.
The secret stuff:
There is no magic formula for any one person. The key was to work on a goal and once that started feeling comfortable you add in another while continuing to practice the others. For example, leading up to Alysia's successful muscle up, we were still doing weighted pull-ups, ring pull-ups, and trying to get as strong as possible.
Alysia worked on all of these goals 2-3 times a week for over a year. She tore her hands quite a bit throughout the processes.
I think we can agree by watching her dance after her very first muscle up that it was worth all the pain. Sweat, blood, and tears (lots of tears) went into this.
The only way you'll get here is if you're willing to Put In Work.
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