So You Want To Learn The Muscle Up

The muscle up is one of the most well known calisthenics exercises that many people struggle to unlock no matter how much time they put into their training. For some learning the muscle up takes a few months and other a few years. When it comes to learning the muscle up you need to learn the proper technique or else no matter how many pulling exercises you do you won’t be able to muscle up. We will walk you through the steps to unlocking your first muscle up and improving it overtime to be more strict.

The muscle up hits many different muscles in the upper body including the Latissimus dorsi (lats), Biceps, Shoulders, Pectoralis major (Chest), and Triceps.

Muscle Up Progression Prerequisites

While not mandatory we recommend first building your fitness level to be able to perform the following exercises before attempting these muscle up progressions.

  • 6 Strict Pull Ups
  • 6 Straight Bar Dips
  • 20 Second flexed arm hang

You can find all these exercises in our beginner calisthenics training guides.

Level 1: The Bar Muscle Up Grip / False Grip

To perform the bar muscle up you need to learn a different type of grip that. The bar false grip. To do the false grip grab the bar with a pronated grip and rotate your hand forward so your knuckles are over the bar making a sharp curve on your wrist between your hand and forearm. If this is your first time training the false grip it may feel awkward or painful so we recommend using a bar closer to the ground. Get comfortable enough to hold this grip in a dead hang position for 10 seconds before moving to the next muscle up progression.

Level 2: Jumping Muscle Ups

Start on a shoulder height bar and make a false grip. Lightly jump and pull yourself up into the top of the muscle up position and once you’ve reached the top push downward on the bar holding the straight arm position.  To progress, start with a lower bar and slowly increase its height until it is just out of reach for you to grab without jumping.

Typical Routine: 3 sets of 12 repetitions

Level 3: Muscle Up Negatives

Perform a jumping muscle up on the highest bar you can perform a jumping muscle up on. Slowly control the speed you fall back down into the false grip deadhang position making sure to keep your feet in front of you the entire time. If you fall back into a regular pronated grip try using a lower bar to support yourself at the bottom of the muscle up with your legs. The negative muscle up will teach your muscles each position of the muscle up and overtime allow you to unlock the full muscle up.

Typical Routine: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Level 4: Drawing the “C”

The reason many people get stuck after learning negative muscle ups is because they don’t have the right technique when pulling themselves up. Unlike a regular pull up where you are going straight up and down, muscle ups require you to draw a C shape with your body during the pulling motion of the exercise. Keeping your core engaged and legs forward engage your scapula during the initial pulling motion to push yourself backward away from the bar as you pull yourself up. Once your hands pass your shoulders pull yourself forward and lean forward like you’re doing a crunch. This will create the C-shape that is required to perform a muscle up. If you are having trouble use momentum to swing your legs forward in front of you. Once you begin to swing backward initiate the C shape pull. Use this motion for the next progressions.

Level 5: Band Assisted Muscle Ups

If you have access to resistance bands loop them over the bar and place the open end under your feet. Start using a band with a higher resistance to make the muscle up easier. Gradually lower the resistance until you are able to perform the muscle up without the help from a resistance band. Keep in mind that your elbows should never flair outward and you should never chicken wing 1 arm over the bar at a time. These mistakes can lead to injury. If you find yourself chicken winging or flairing your elbows outward practice more straight bar dips to build up your strength and stabilizer muscles.

Typical Routine: 3 sets of 8 repetitions

Level 6: Full Muscle Up

Congratulations on making it this far. You’re 1 rep away from unlocking your first muscle up. Let’s review the steps and proper form. Start with a false grip hanging position. If you need to swing to gain some momentum for the muscle up raise your knees and kick forward. Keeping your feet in front of you pull yourself up and backwards. Once your hands pass your shoulders lean forward and begin to push downward to reach the top of the muscle up. As you progress and build the strength and muscle memory for the movement you can eliminate the need to swing and eventually achieve a slow strict muscle up.


The muscle up does not require as much strength as many would believe. The biggest limiter on achieving the muscle up is having proper technique in both the grip and pulling motion. Once you have mastered the false grip and learn to move your body in the C-shape you will quickly unlock the muscle up. If you want to increase your pulling strength to make the muscle-up easier check out our pull up progressions.