When it comes to CrossFit and functional fitness you should never get too caught up in just one aspect of your training. If you neglect some parts of your training just to "get" another part, you're doing yourself a disservice. With that being said, it's hard for CrossFitters to deny the mystique and aura surrounding the muscle-up. Chelsea McKinney of Carl Paoli's Freestyle Connection walks you through the S.M.A.R.T. way of getting and improving your muscle-up at no cost to the rest of your training.
There are many functional movements in the fitness world, but not many are as flashy and fun as the muscle-up. For most people, pull-ups and ring dips are hard enough, so having to combine the pushing and pulling mechanics with the instability of the rings makes the muscle-up the “holy grail” of movements. It is rare to see someone get a muscle-up on their first try, or even their second or third. This is a movement that requires diligent practice, determination, and lots of patience!
“Having to combine the pushing and pulling mechanics with the instability of the rings makes the muscle-up the ‘holy grail’ of movements.”
The muscle-up is a great test of all 10 general physical skills, as defined by CrossFit. You must have the movement strength (strength, stamina, endurance, flexibility/mobility), the skill (balance, accuracy, agility, coordination) to be able to apply the strength, and the power and speed to bring it all together.
There are three positions in every movement: start, transition, and finish. The start position is the shape you are in before performing the movement. In this case, the start is when you are hanging below the rings with your arms fully extended. The transition is the shape/shapes you pass through within the movement. In the muscle-up this would be pulling yourself up and over the rings. This is typically the point where things get weird. The finish position is the shape you end up in. The finish position for the muscle-up is a support position on top of the rings with the arms fully extended and, if you care about movement, with the shoulders externally rotated.
I could cover all of the points of performance and walk you through the muscle-up step by step but, in all honesty, getting a muscle-up, or any movement for that matter, comes down to how dedicated you are to achieving that goal. Are you willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears that come along with getting your first muscle-up? Do you have a game plan? Have you laid out action steps that you will take daily to help you achieve your goal? Goal setting will be a very useful tool in getting your muscle-up.
“Getting a muscle-up, or any movement for that matter, comes down to how dedicated you are to achieving that goal.”
First off, let’s figure out if your goal is a S.M.A.R.T. goal. S.M.A.R.T goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound. The movement is specific: Muscle-Up. It is measurable: 1 muscle up. Is it attainable? Do you have the movement strength necessary, i.e. can you do a pull up and a ring dip? If not, that does not mean you will never get a muscle-up, it just means you may need to take a step back and build a stronger movement foundation before jumping ahead to more complex movements like the muscle-up. Is it relevant? Do you constantly have to scale workouts because you cannot perform the movement? Lastly, we need to put a specific date on when you will get your muscle-up. You could choose something like an upcoming competition, the CrossFit Open, your birthday, etc.
Now that you have set your goal, it is important to set some action steps. The first thing I would recommend doing is purchasing a pair of rings and a band. The band is a great tool to use to nail down the transition. If you have your own equipment, you don’t have to rely on the gym and you have no excuse to skip muscle-up practice. I got my first muscle-up on a pair of plastic rings hooked up to a basketball goal at an elementary school in my neighborhood.
Once you have all the necessary equipment, you need to decide how much time/week you are going to dedicate to muscle-up practice. Are you able to set aside 20-30 minutes 3-5 times per week to focus specifically on your muscle-up? If you are diligent with your practice, you will see continual progress. Practicing once a month probably won’t cut it.
“Always remember to stay positive! 99% of the game is mental toughness.”
Lastly, always remember to stay positive! I know this is easier said than done, but letting frustration bring you down won’t get you anywhere. 99% of the game is mental toughness, and if you are putting in the work day in and day out, trust that you are progressing closer and closer to your goal!
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”—Peter F. Drucker
About the Author:
Chelsea McKinney is the founder of TAGymnastics (Technically Applied Gymnastics). TAG’s mission is to increase body awareness and teach athletes how to move safely and efficiently through all functional movements, and have fun doing it! Chelsea is currently a CrossFit Level 2 certified trainer and is excited to be a part of the Freestyle Connection team!
Chris Spealler is not only a CrossFit legend, but he's arguably the best bodyweight specialist to ever compete at the CrossFit Games. Watching him fly through muscle ups or handstand walk his way past the competition was truly amazing and inspiring to watch.
With over a decade of CrossFit experience as both a coach and athlete, and with 6 Games appearances, Chris Spealler has racked up a wealth of knowledge on proper movement and technique.