4 Drills To Unlock Strict Muscle Up | Gymless Fitness

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The strict muscle-up is one of the holy grail skills in calisthenics. This movement is no easy task, as it requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength and flexibility to pull, transition, and push up to get on top of the bar. The key component to a strict muscle-up is lower body tension. 

If you’re not yet able to do a muscle-up, I suggest you check out this complete muscle-up tutorial where I break down the requirements and progressions to unlock this skill. But if you’ve already made headway in your muscle-up progression, here are four simple and effective strict muscle-up drills to take your abilities to the next level.

Requirement For a Strict Muscle Up

First, you will need strong pulling and pushing strength. If you find strict pull-ups and dips difficult, it should be your priority to work towards developing these two fundamentals before aiming for strict muscle-ups.

You should be able to do at least 5 strict chest-to-bar pull-ups, where your upper chest comes in contact with the bar no further below than your collarbone. If you’re stuck at this phase, check out our pull-ups tutorial to build the foundational strength for a muscle-up.

Then, you need to make sure you have strong dips. You should be confident doing at least 5 strict straight bar dips. Having a strong dip will help with the transition to get on top of the bar. This dips tutorial will provide you with some tips and a training plan to strengthen your pushing phase.

A muscle-up is considered an advanced-level skill in the eyes of many. When you train to obtain this skill, you’d train the calisthenics fundamentals which are your pull-ups, dips, and push-ups. A 2022 study concludes that after 16 weeks of training calisthenics consists of 3-5 sessions a week. They observed a significant reduction in visceral fat, fasting glucose, and fasting insulin, which intervenes with diabetes.  

Important Cues for a Strict Muscle Up

Just like everything in fitness, knowing the right cues and techniques will allow you to perform each rep more effectively. You’ll have a better understanding of movement paths and the muscle activated. 

When I tell my students to squeeze their glutes hard, they can grasp the strict muscle-up. This is the main cue. Of course, there are other factors that you need to take into consideration, here are four important cues for a strict muscle up

  • Core tight – This ensures upper body tension and unison during the muscle-up.
  • Glutes tight – Lower body tension is key to moving your body up as a single unit.  When the upperbody is engaged and the lower body disengaged the transition will be uncorrelated and the movement will be rugged.
  • Feet together – When your feet are together your lower muscles are engaged in comparison to when they are not. Lower body tension can help the fluidity in the muscle-up.
  • Fast wrist rotation during the transition – Rotate your wrists forward before your lower chest clears the bar. Some may say that a false grip is needed, but it is not necessary as long as you can rotate your wrists quickly.

Strict Muscle Up Progressions

In this section, you will work on all components of a strict muscle-up: pull, transition, push, and body tension. There are four drills that I’d like you to do in this particular order, they will help you to exponentially develop your power and endurance. 

Remember the important cue? Squeeze your glutes. This means that for every single drill you must squeeze your glutes and always refer back to the important cues that we’ve covered to remind yourself of the techniques. 

#1 – Box Muscle Ups

The box muscle-up drill is designed to reduce the overreliance on kipping your legs. Keep your feet together, legs straight, and don’t bend the knees. As you get stronger you will kip less and use more upper body strength to do a strict muscle-up.

  1. Place a plyometric box approximately 3-4 feet in front of you. 
  2. Hang from the bar.
  3. Do a gentle pendulum swing to initiate the movement for the muscle-up. 
  4. Squeeze your glutes, core, and keep your feet together and pull up. 
  5. Quickly rotate your wrists forward before your lower chest clears the bar (it might be worth chalking up so that your hands can rotate fast).
  6. Swiftly transition from a pull into an explosive dip. 
  7. Repeat this between 2–5 reps for 4 sets. Gradually move the box closer to you as you get used to this drill. 

#2 – Chest-to-bar pull-ups + Explosive Straight Bar Dips

This drill will increase your pull and push explosive power and train you to get used to having lower body tension throughout the movement. It will be a superset of the chest-to-bar pull-ups and explosive straight-bar dips. Remember to look back at the cues.

Men’s Health agrees that chest-to-bar pull-ups and straight bar dips are necessary components for the bar muscle-up. Master these two exercises and you’ll fly through your muscle ups with ease. 

  1. Hang from the bar. 
  2. Squeeze your glutes, and core, and keep them together. Exhale as you explosively pull up to touch your upper chest to the bar. You can use a resistance band if you do not yet have enough explosive strength. 
  3. Return to a dead hang position (inhale as you do this) and repeat between 3-6 reps.
  4. Immediately jump on top of a straight bar and descend at a count of 2 seconds. Keep your glutes and core tight. 
  5. Explosively extend your arms as fast as you can. 
  6. Repeat this between 4-8 reps. 
  7. Do this superset for 4 sets. 

#3 – Weighted Pull-Ups

Weighted pull-ups will increase the intensity which helps tremendously with the explosive pulling power needed for the strict muscle-up. It helps to recruit your back muscles to develop mind and body connections. When you take the weight off, you’d feel almost weightless. 

One of my favorite pieces of equipment for calisthenics is a weighted vest. Personally, I use my Kensui Weighted Vest when I do weighted calisthenics. I recommend you check out my Kensui Vest Review to see if this vest is right for you.  

Ideally, you’d want to start with a weight that is approximately 30% of your body weight and gradually increase it over time.

  1. Hang from a bar while wearing a weighted vest or a weighted belt. Squeeze your glutes and core.
  2. Pull up until your chin clears the bar.
  3. Lower down to the starting position. Lock your arms out at the bottom to ensure a full range of motion.
  4. Repeat this between 3-6 reps for 4 sets. 

#4 – Pull-Ups + Isometrics 

This is a superset of pull-ups and isometrics pull-ups. Isometrics is an underrated training method because it is associated with a “beginner’s level” exercise. But when you superset this with pull-ups, it will further increase your muscular endurance in your forearms, core, and lats due to longer time under tension.

  1. Hang from the bar while squeezing your glutes, and core, and have your feet together. 
  2. Pull up until your chin clears the bar.
  3. Lower down to the starting position. Lock your arms out at the bottom to ensure a full range of motion.
  4. Repeat this between 6-12 reps.
  5. On the last rep, perform an isometric hold with your chin above the bar for 5 seconds. 
  6. Followed by an isometric hold with your head just below the bar for 5 seconds.
  7. Followed by a 5-second dead hang. 
  8. Repeat this for 4 sets.
  9. Apply progressive overload by increasing the isometric hold time up to 10 seconds.

Ready for Strict Muscle Ups?

Try out these four drills to fill in your gaps and you’ll have strict muscle-ups in no time. Remember to keep your glutes tight as this is the key to a strict muscle-up. This is a tough skill, and you may encounter plateaus in your progress because progress is not linear

But when you work on these progressions consistently, you’ll be rewarded with a strict muscle-up. Do all four drills 2-3 times a week and then your gains will start piling up!. 

Looking for more strict muscle-up help? Check out this blog: 4 Calisthenics Exercises To Build a Big Back. It will help you condition your back, biceps, and forearm muscles for the muscle-up.

Our online coaching program offers a personalized plan that tailors each progression according to your strength and regularly applies progressive overload to ensure that you are advancing in your strict muscle-up journey. Register for online coaching here. We look forward to meeting you!


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