4 Progressions to Perfect the Ring Muscle Up Transition
The trickiest of all the aspects of the muscle up is the transition. This is the point at which your centre of gravity switches from below the rings to above the rings. If you can achieve a good number of reps (10+) with strict pull ups and dips on the rings then you are already strong enough to do a muscle up.
The reason the you can't achieve a muscle up currently is because your body isn't accustomed to this very specific movement of the transition between pull up and dip and you need to understand the technique that is required.
For the muscle up the ring thickness of 1.25 inches is optimal for holding a false grip but not all rings are made to this specification. Check out my guide for my favourite gymnastic rings for muscles ups on amazon.
The technique for the transition
Before I go through the progressions it is absolutely imperative that you understand the technique. This can save you a lot of time and frustration when it comes mastering the transition.
All the pull ups and dip training in the world won't help you achieve the muscle up if you do not understand or are unable to implement the technique required for the transition.
The first thing to be aware of for the transition is to keep your elbows tucked close to your sides as you reach the top of the pull up. The closer the elbows are to the body the more centred and stable you will be throughout the movement.
If your elbows are out too wide then it will be hard to maintain control of the rings and even harder to shift your shoulders forward so you can move into the dip position.
Also take note of the hand placement. I am pulling the rings into my chest and not out by my shoulders like a wide grip pull up. This is again to keep myself stable and coordinated as I move into the transition. If you pull too wide and the rings are out by your shoulder, your elbows will naturally flare out to compensate for the increased instability and your this will make the transition much harder then it needs to be.
This photo is a freeze frame from a video of myself about to enter the transition phase of the muscle up, so at that moment I am at the very top of the pull up. Notice how high the pull up is with the bottom of the rings and my hands half way down my chest. This is much higher then a conventional pull up where your chin just reaches over the bar for a full rep. A higher pull is key to entering the muscle up transition phase and makes it a lot easier.
The next point to be aware of is that your elbows, shoulders and the outside of the rings should all fall into roughly a straight line (with your hands close in to your chest). This is for two reasons
To avoid joint discomfort
To remain stable as you enter the transition.
If everything is in a line then the movement will flow much easier. You will be able to shift your elbows back and your shoulders forward to comfortably get yourself in a position at the bottom of the dip.
Notice how the straps are hung shoulder width apart. This is the optimal spacing for your rings to hang for both performance and for joint health. When you hang your rings over a bar like this it is very easy to adjust the rings to the right place as you can just slide the straps along to the appropriate distance.
If your rings are hung on a fixed point (i.e. bolted into a ceiling) or secured in place in some way then it is very important that they are spaced correctly. Do not try to train on rings that are too wide and think you can get away with it, as this will pull at your elbow joint and its likely this will lead to injury further down the road.
If your hands are to your chest, your elbows are tight to your body and your rings are spaced correctly, then everything is in the right order to develop your muscle up transition.
The next point of technique that needs highlighting is how to best shift your body weight during the change from pull up to dip.
For beginners I think the best way to perform a muscle up is to maintain an L-sit position for the pulling phase of the movement.
Whilst initially this may seem like it would be more difficult, an L-sit actually helps tremendously to move from top of the pull up to the bottom of the dip.
If you watch the video to the right → Then you will see how the L-sit is maintained at almost a 90 degree angle for the majority of the pull up with the legs straight out in front. As soon as I hit the very top of the pull up I drop my legs down and I thrust my shoulders froward so I cant get to a dip position. The legs out in front of me act as a counter balance to the upper body. As you lower the legs just as you start the transition motion you are more inclined to be able to lean forward and get into a position to complete the transition successfully and ending up at the bottom of a deep dip .
This is an immensely useful tip as it really helps bridge the gap of the pull up and dip and gives you an idea of the motion and weight shift required in order to complete a successful muscle up.
Now that we have covered the technique and understood the precise movements that make the transition possible it is time to look at the progressive steps that you can train in order to achieve the muscle up.
Progression #1 Modified pull ups
If you are reading this it is safe to assume you are able to do a good number of pull ups on the rings. Pull ups are obviously an integral part of the muscle up. However a regular pull up where your chin comes over the bar has its limitations when training for the muscle up.
Instead what we need to do is to train a modified pull up that resembles the pulling motion required for the first phase of the muscle up right before you start the transition. To do this, we have to adopt the false grip and practice pull ups with full range of motion in order to condition our grip strength so that our hands do not slip at any point either at the top or bottom position of the pull up.
Make false grip pull ups on the ring the only pull ups you do, when concentrating on muscle up training. It won't take you long to get used to this position this hand position if you are consistent. Explaining, the false grip is a article all of its own so for more on how to master the false grip look here
The false grip ultimately negates the need for momentum in the transition phase, as you do not have have to switch your grip from underhand to overhand mid movement to accommodate the change for the pull up to dip.
There are a couple of things that are important with false grip pull ups.
As explained earlier as part of the technique, make sure when your drilling pull ups, that your elbows remain tight to your torso. The closer your hands and elbows are to your centre, the more stable you will be.
Target pulling the rings inwards and about halfway down your chest. If you can, try to hold the position at the top of the pull. This drill is designed so that you get stronger and more familiar with the upper range of motion that's required in the pulling phase of the muscle up. The stronger and more stable you are at this point the easier the transition will be.
If you can build strength throughout the range of motion, with the rings reaching low down on your chest when you pull up, then the transition simply becomes a matter of shifting your shoulders forward, your elbows back behind you and dropping your legs from the l-sit to a position where they are directly beneath you in order to reach the bottom of the dip.
Progression #2 Deep dips
Mastering deep dips with a full range of motion are essential for the muscle up transition. This is because, when you move transition from the pull up into transition you are moving upwards into the very bottom of a dip.
This requires you to be strong in the very bottom of the dips range of motion. Therefore the only way to train for a the dip in the context of ring muscle up training is to go nice and low in the dip and make sure you are strong through out the exercise.
Its important to stress that training dips with partial reps or restricted form will not help you with your muscle up transition. You have to make sure that you can push yourself up even when your arms a past a 90 degree horizontal angle.
This screen grab shows the exact moment where the transition phase ends and the dip phase begins.The shoulders are shifted forwards and the elbows are back behind the body. Note the angle of the arms here. As you can see this is an exceptionally deep dip where the arms go way past 90 degrees to approximately a 120 angle.
This is a much larger range of motion then people typically train when they are executing dips.
For a successful muscle up, your dips should be as strong at this depth as they are all the way up to the support hold.
If you only dip to 90 degrees then you will only become significantly stronger in a partial rep range. Therefore it is unlikely you will have the strength and coordination to push out from a really deep dip that's needed for a strict muscle up.
Deeper dips on the rings where your hand come up to your chest and your arms are well past 90 degrees, mimic the motion pattern used in the muscle up. Therefore when you are training this progression it is important to train this way to familiarise yourself with the position and ensure you are strong throughout the range of motion.
With muscle up training quality of reps is always better then quantity.
For this reason I am reluctant to give a specific amount of reps to train for. If you set the goal number of reps to high it is likely that you will compromise on form by doing partial reps in order to get there.
A high rep orientated goal is counter productive so instead set a goal of doing deep ring dips where your arms go past a 90 degree angle and do the exercise slowly. Emphasise the whole range of motion and do controlled reps that focus on attaining strength at all points of the dip, from the bottom all the way to support hold.
Reps and sets are irrelevant at this stage so just concentrate on building a proficiency with deep dips and don't worry about numbers.
I would train this progression once or maybe twice a week depending on your capacity for recovery. Any more then this is likely to be over training and your progress and gains will plateau. Make sure any soreness has alleviated before your next deep rings workout.
Progression #3 Assisted band muscle up
With the previous two progressions you will have developed the strength and learnt the technique that is require for the muscle up. Deep dips and high pull ups stand you in good stead to achieve the transition.
To get a realistic sense of how the transition feels I always recommend using a resistance band to help assist you through the transition.
This drill bridges the gap between your modified pull ups and the deep dips.
The band provides just enough assistance so that you can comfortable complete a muscle up transition and get an accurate sense of the movement.
Reps of assisted band muscle ups teaches your body the correct movement pattern and the correct shoulder and elbow movement for the transition.
Start with a thicker band that has a higher tension. The primary purpose of this is to get used to the technique first and then, as you build the required strength and confidence, you can progress to a thinner band with less tension and less assistance.
If you already have good high pull ups and deep dip strength then this drill will be more about getting familiar with the weight shift and coordination of the transition.
Again reps and sets aren't a priority here. Whenever you are training a skill the mantra is always quality of movement over quantity.
As this is a very specific transition drill that also has assistance, fatigue may not set in as quickly as it did when training the first two progressions so you can you will be able to do two quality training sessions with this movement per week without risking over training.
Do the drill for several reps and stop before fatigue sets in as this may lead to a compromised form. Take breaks in between sets and reps if required to fully recover to fully reap the benefits of the exercise.
Progression #4 Eccentric or reverse muscle up
This is the single most effective drill to nail the ring muscle up transition. The eccentric muscle up is essentially a muscle up in reverse. You start at the top in hold with your arms staight and do the negative portion of the dip followed a slow transition and then lower it down from the pull up position.
Preferably you should stand on a chair or a box and walk into hold when you are practising for reps rather then jump like in the demonstration in the video. → → →
As you can see I try to control the movement all the way down, going as slow as possible. Muscles can tolerate a higher load in the lowering phase (muscle lengthening under tension) of a lift then in a concentric phase (muscles shortening or contracting).
So a reverse, lowering movement is easier then the lifting part of the muscle up, but there is enough tension to stimulate the increase in strength to get you over the line.
Also, by just training the eccentric part of the muscle up we are not tiring our selves out, in the work out which means we can get in plenty of reps before fatigue.
Therefore you can build the specific strength of the muscle up and establish the correct movement pattern at the same time.
Eccentric exercises are always the most effective way to build the strength to complete a new calisthenics movement.
The key for unlocking the muscle up is to emphasis the transition whilst lowering yourself down, going as slow as you can tolerate. Take long breaks between reps as the goal of this progression is not to build muscle but gain strength and drill technique.
Its with this exercise that you can really put into practice all the technique you have learnt, by keeping you elbows in close to your body and the rings pull in toward your chest, simultaneously training the coordination and mobility as well as strength.
Once you have become comfortable with the eccentric the muscle up will be yours. All you have to do is to go for it. Its okay on your first attempts to explosively pull up and aggressively shift your shoulders forward in the transition.
You may have to use some physicality to bridge the gap on your first muscle ups but after that comes confidence and elation of achieving this tricky skill and the technique can become established
The key to unlocking your first muscle up is to break down the technique into its constituent parts.
Modified pull ups
Drilling the transition
With hard work and consistency you can work your way through the progressions and achieve your first muscle up in less then 6 months. The transition is always the hardest part so if you focus your efforts on this portion then the muscle up quickly seems like it is more attainable.
The muscle up is as much about technique as it is strength so as long as you keep this in mind, concentrating on body positioning a different points of the movement then muscle up success will be yours!
If you need any more advice please feel free to comment down below and I will reply.
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