Skills Training

STOP Doing Muscle Ups

Written by Jack

It’s amazing how long 6 minutes can last…

In front of a crowd in the hundreds. Friends and family watching via FloElite live stream. I stubbornly tried again and again to knock out even one measly Muscle Up.

It never happened. Finally the timecap kicked in and I could shuffle off the floor and lick my wounds.

It was the final event of the 2016 Atlas Games. The workout was…


I took my sweet time on the first set of snatches. You see, I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen once I got to the rings…

This is a story familiar to almost everyone who “has” their Muscle Up…

I got my first one in September of 2016. It was an ugly, squirming, awkward thing, but I loved it and came down off the rings wriggling with excitement.

Over the next few weeks I managed a few more here and there. Mostly I missed a lot of attempts. Some were better than others. But…

I “had” my Muscle Up!


I “lost” my Muscle Up…

WTF… Where did it go? I thought after I got my first one that they would just keep getting easier and better!

If you’re like most folks, and you have your Muscle Up, you’ve probably experienced the exact same frustration. If not… congrats… you’re one of the gifted few! 🙂

If you don’t have your MU yet. Take heart. Because I’m about to tell you how to skip all the heartache. It’s easy. Just…

STOP trying to get a Muscle Up

Think about it this way. If you were just learning to Snatch and I started you off at 185lbs would it make sense? Even if you had the raw strength to make that weight, would you be able to?

Of course not, right? The Snatch is a high-skill explosive movement that takes a ton of practice to get proficient. Your MU is no different…

It’s a ballistic skill that requires highly tuned timing and coordination to pull it off. Yet most coaches just throw you on the rings and tell you to pull hard and “do the biggest sit up you’ve ever done.”

No skill development. No accessory exercises. No progressions. Just throw yourself into it and hope for the best.

If you’re strong enough or explosive enough, every now and then the stars will align and you’ll manage to get yourself over the rings and then shakily struggle up to the extended support position.

However it’s always going to be hit and miss. And since you’re a Masters athlete, it’s probably going to hurt your shoulders and sap your nervous system.

And you never seem to get any better, because there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You’re stoked when it works. You’re bummed when it doesn’t. And you have no idea WHY either way!…

Which brings us back to my story, walking out onto the competition floor for that final workout at the Atlas Games. It had been over a month since I’d “lost” my MU. Yet a small part of me hoped the adrenaline might miraculously propel me over the rings and help me get at least a few reps.

Alas no. I was left standing out there on the competition floor, refusing to quit while praying for the time to run out on the workout.

When I was finally free to skulk off the floor I made an important decision.

I vowed to QUIT attempting Muscle Ups.

Don’t get me wrong. I still wanted to master the king of all Crossfit skills. However I was no longer willing to throw random effort at the problem and get random results.

I decided to get a coach. And as chance would have it, on a trip to Barbados I had met a guy at the Box there who was a former gymnast and who had competed at the Olympics and the World Championships. He’d given me some great tips and we’d exchanged contact info. So I got ahold of him.

I figured with his help I’d be knocking out muscle ups in a matter of weeks. (If not days…)

Turns out… it was MONTHS before he even allowed me to TRY a Muscle Up…

And in hindsight it was, hands down, the FASTEST way for me to master such a high-skill movement.

For months we did drills. Ring Swings. Ring Pulls. Ring Swing Rocks. Ring Pull Ups. Ring To Chest Pull Ups. Strict MU Negatives. And the list goes on.

I actually got my STRICT MU before my kipping MU.

And then finally. After 6 months of skills and drills he decided it was time to put everything together. Within 10 minutes of attempting my first Muscle Up in half a year, I linked together 3 pretty decent reps!

I could hardly believe it. I was over the moon.

A couple days later I was at the Box with another Masters athlete. Around the same time that I had hit my first wonky muscle up way back in September, he had got his first one too.

I watched him struggle that day… 9 months later… and not hit a single rep. And that’s when it hit me that the slow and steady path of skill development may seem like it’s taking a hell of a long time, but it’s the fastest way to mastery.

Be careful though. Because there’s one more trap…

You see, I got greedy. I wanted more and more MUs. And I wanted them now. Guess what…

I LOST my MU… again!…

I spent an entire session attempting one MU after another. Not one went over the rings. And all I got for my trouble was a really sore shoulder and a negative attitude.

No wonder I wasn’t hitting any though… It was as if I finally hit that 185lb Snatch, and got so excited that I was trying to hit it again every day without rest. Duh!

So I fessed up to my coach and got back on the program. Within 2 weeks he had me knocking out the MUs again.

You can’t learn heavy Olympic lifts overnight. And even once you do, you can’t hit them every day. The same is true for your Muscle Up. Respect it. Take the time to develop your strength and your skills. Learn the timing and coordination. And then when you’re ready…

Put it all together. Enjoy the feeling of a smooth and graceful Muscle Up. And then take your time. Let yourself recover between sessions. Keep refining your skills. And enjoy the process. 🙂

If you want to try the same progression my coach Shane used with me, I asked him to put it together into a short document. It’s simple to follow and it works. Once it’s finished he’ll be giving it away free. Make sure you “Like” the Facebook page if you want a copy. I’ll post a notice there when it is ready…

About the author


My grandfather gave me my start in fitness. He said he just wanted to keep me out of trouble. But he shaped the person and the coach I am today. Sport quickly became the center of my life.

I competed in Laser Class sailing at an international level, as well as skiing, football, hockey and more. My first coaching passion was alpine skiing where I spent 20 years as a coach, instructor and ski school director.

But my greatest passion has always been helping people get fit. I’ve devoted my life to study and intense personal practice. I’m a firm believer in practicing what I preach, and in testing my theories on myself. I’m obsessed with the world of health, fitness and nutrition.

Then a few years back I stumbled — grudgingly — on Crossfit. To be honest I started out as a “hater” who believed the negative hype. But after giving it a try, I became increasingly hooked. I dabbled for a couple years, and then in the Spring of 2016 I really started taking it seriously.

I now consider myself a Crossfit Masters Athlete. I’m immersed in it completely. And I want to share my journey here at Smooth Is Fast.

NCSA-CPT, NCCP 3, CSIA Lvl 4 Course Conductor, CSCF 3,
Biosignature Certified, MAT Lower Body Certified, AKC Certified Coach

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