Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and efficiency for Ring Muscle-Ups you must master its specific mobility, strength and skill demands: the three-headed monster every athlete must conquer. Let’s take on the monster one “head” at a time.
There are three key positions requiring mobility in the Ring Muscle-up.
1) Hanging: Grasping the rings while maintaining body alignment and being pain free
2) Arch Position: The aggressive kip needed for most people to get to the top of a ring muscle up requires a solid reverse “C” from head to toe. If the thoracic spine (upper back) and shoulders can’t open fully the athlete will make up the ground at the low back and rib cage.
3) Bottom of Ring Dip: The catch in the ring muscle-up is the most common place to miss a rep. Often a person with poor chest and shoulder flexibility (namely shoulder extension) won’t be able to pull through the transition of the muscle-up because they are working against their own body. If you are a person who finds pull-ups easy and chest-to-bars difficult this could be you.
Here are a few of my favorite stretches to improve your mobility for Ring Muscle-Ups:
• Elevated Cat Pose (Improving Hang / Arch)
• Banded Lat Stretch (Hanging / Arch)
• Seal Stretch (Improving Hang / Arch)
• Seated Bicep Stretch (Improving Ring Dip)
• Dip Stretch (Improving Ring Dip)
• Chest Stretch (Improving Ring Dip)
• Elbows in Rings Stretch (Improving Ring Dip)
In order to solidly hit the positions needed and be safe the following strength baselines are suggested:
1) 2-minute Dead Hang: [view video] This is largely a test for grip strength, you should not be falling off the rings.
2) 5 Strict Pull-ups: If you are attempting a ring muscle up without this prerequisite you are wasting your time and risking injury.
3) 5 Strict Ring Dips: Many people assume that because they can do several strict pull-ups they will be able to catch a dip and press out when they attempt a muscle-up. Don’t assume that you can do it without testing. Don’t guess…assess.
Shaky on top of the rings? Here is a video of my favorite complex: Ring Support + Slow Negative + Dip Hold
If you do not have all the Mobility and Strength requirements, time spent learning skill will be much less productive. Build the basics, then layer on top.
This is especially true with muscle-ups. I have seem many people wasting their valuable time in the gym attempting muscle-ups instead of working progressions and strength protocols to get them well on their way to stringing several muscle-ups in a set.
The biggest thing holding people back from mastering muscle-ups if they have 5 strict pull-ups and 5 strict dips is the kip and the transition.
Those are two pieces that must be practiced own their own and drilled until they are second nature.
Do drills and strength work a minimum of 2-3x/week. Unless you practice these skills often the ring muscle-up will never “click.” Put in the time. As you do here is what to focus on…
Step-by-Step Focal Points
(1) The Mount
First is getting onto the rings and generating a consistent kip. Your ring muscle-ups will never be consistent unless you know exactly how to mount the rings. There are two ways to quickly and easily mount the rings and begin to generate a kip.
The first is called “Hollow Jump.” Stand directly under the rings and jump up to them. As you leave the ground you will lean your shoulders slightly behind the rings and throw the feet in front. The line of your body should be in the hollow position with a long curve from head to toe generated via a tight core. As your body weight catches on the rings the momentum will shift and pull you into arch (the reverse “C”) where you are ready to start the kip.
The second method is called “The Cast Swing.” Anyone who has been fishing knows that a cast is simply a means to get the lure out into the water. It is often overlooked for fancier things, but it is often where things go wrong.
The same ideas apply in the ring muscle up for your feet. Once again you will start directly under the rings and jump up to them. Once you are in a dead hang, you will lift your feet up to your waist and then throw them as far in front of the rings as possible. This will initiate an aggressive swing and when learned to control it, a dynamic kip.
Here I show two ways to initiate a Ring Muscle-Up.
(2) The Kip
The kip on the rings is much different than the bar. While the bar is fixed, the rings move, making the kip slower and larger. The hands will move have the least amount of back and forth motion while the feet will have the most. As the body swings backward you pull back on the rings, opening up the shoulders and hitting the arch position. As the body swings forward you push down on the rings and squeeze your abs to create the hollow position. As your feet come forward think about kicking water on the surface of a pool and try to splash the person standing in front of you. This visual helps generate momentum by staying long in the apex of the kip. It also shoots a moment of weightlessness up the body to the hips allowing the pull to be much easier.
Movement Mistakes: Broken Lines when Kipping
The key to gaining speed and height through the pull in an effective transfer of momentum from the kip. The most common mistake with the kip that causes movement breaks down is having angles.
Think of the body as a garden hose. To work effective, there can be no kinks in it. As soon as there is an angle, power transfer is lost. Here is an excellent illustration of this concept.
Movement Mistakes: Kipping with Bent Arms
This error is especially common for athlete who use a false grip. The mistake is maintain a bent arm (even if ever so slight) throughout the kip. This can be due to shoulder mobility issues or it can be chalked up to bad movement pattern due to habit.
(3) The Pull
As you come into the end range of the hollow position you will begin to pull with straight arms towards the rings. In this moment your body should be horizontal with the floor. Knees, hips and shoulders should be almost completely flat. Often this shape gets skipped if a person does not close the angle of their shoulder through using the straight arm pull using their lats. Once that shoulder angle has closed and the body is horizontal you will row yourself towards the rings. It will look a ring row in midair during a slow-motion replay. As soon as your hips have risen towards the rings you will begin to transition.
(4) The Transition
The transition is moving from pulling to pressing. The idea is simple, but it is often the hardest part of the ring muscle up. As your momentum carries you toward the rings you must pull yourself into the bottom of a ring dip. Continue to press down on the rings until you are supported in the dip. The transition is often described as a big sit-up.
Since your feet are so high it often does mimic that feeling. If you are wearing a hoodie it should put the hood up. If you are wearing a hat it will often fly off. Think about how powerful that action must be. Try putting up your hood with no hands while standing on the ground to get a feel for how dynamic that action must be and also how prepared you will be for your next rock concert.
As you start the transition another important bit to focus on is your hand placement and elbow movement. Think about keeping your palms facing each other during the pull and pulling the rings towards the bottom of your sternum. Then you will slowly pull the rings to your armpits like you are trying to rip your shirt down the middle.
Your thumbs should trace lines around your pecks to your armpits. As this happens your elbows should go from pointed down to pointed up. That process happens at the same time as the “sit-up.” Obviously, there is a lot going on during this time so this whole process must happen with very little thought.
Do you have problems with the Transition? Here are three drills that helped me master the movement when I was first learning.
1) Low Ring Transition Drill: This is great for building coordination especially with your hands and where the need to trace the body.
2) Butt-Banded Transition Drill: This is great for building speed and timing through the middle of the muscle-up transition.
3) The Russian Dip: This is excellent for developing the strength that is needed for an aggressive turnover.
(5) The Dip
It is easy to spend so much time thinking about kipping mechanics, the pull and catching in the transition that people completely overlook the dip. It is common to see people strict dip out of the bottom of the rep, which is fine if you are looking to check ring muscle-up off your bucket list.
But if you truly want to build movement capacity you need to understand how to be efficient over many reps. This means kipping the dip as well.
After you transition and catch in the bottom of the dip, your feet are out in front of you with almost straight legs. In order to kip you must be able to open and close you hip dynamically. This requires your feet being directly underneath your hips.
Therefore, you have to be patient when you catch to wait for you feet to come underneath you before closing and then quickly opening your hip to make your lower body weightless.
During this time of lower body weightlessness is when you can easily press into the lockout above the rings.
Long vs. Short Straps | Which is Easier?
The length of the straps during ring muscle-ups changes the movement quite a bit.
First, longer straps are slightly slow down the kip, much like the pendulum of a big versus small clock. Even though both clocks are at the same cadence (1 second per swing) the bigger clock will be moving faster (velocity) at the end. The same is true for the rings.
Second, longer straps make the support position of the dip less stable. Athletes tend to be less shaky with shorter straps.
Overall, longer straps tend to make ring muscle-ups more challenging. This doesn’t mean you should always minimize strap length because if you plan on doing a competition somewhere other than the comfort of your home gym, you may not have the luxury of choosing strap length.
It comes down to what you are preparing for and what your goals are.
Movement Mistakes: Not Kipping the Dip
This usually happens as a result of timing errors, either being too early or too late in pressing into the dip. If the athlete presses too early (didn’t wait long enough) the feet are out in front of the body. If the athletes presses too late (waited too long) the feet are behind the body. I show the latter in this video because it is the more common or the two mistakes.
Need to build strength but can do ring dips? Here is a fantastic dipping exercise.
Having a hard time with kipping ring dips? Here is a video from MisFit Athletics.
(6) Cycling Reps
If you want to string reps together on ring muscle ups efficiently your finish to one muscle up must be an effective start to the next. If done correctly the next muscle-up should not be dramatically harder because you take advantage of the potential energy from being on top of the rings the previous rep.
Starting from the lockout of the ring dip, you will slightly lean your shoulders back and slightly put your feet in front of the rings. As soon as you hit this position you will allow yourself to fall. You will catch your body weight in the hollow position and the momentum will pull you through the kip into your arch where you can begin your next rep.
Doing high volume Muscle-Ups?
I use the Bear Komplex 3-Finger Carbon Grips and also recommend them to my athletes.
Movement Mistakes | Sloppy Cycling
Everyone starts out being sloppy when the learn to cycle multiple muscle-up reps, but the quicker you can learn to clean up inefficiencies, the more consecutive reps you will be able to complete.
The most common error with cycling reps is throwing the feet to far in front of the rings and the upper body too far behind. This means that your body isn’t in the right orientation to be pulled (via gravity) from your hollow back into arch once again.
This is a difficult concept to explain, so watch this video and try to pick up on some of the subtle things I do to save energy while cycling reps.
False Grip or Nah?
A false grip is a way to transition over the rings without having to adjust the grip. It allows for the athlete to continuously press down on the rings, from both when underneath (pull-up) and on top (dip) of the rings.
If a person wants to learn and become proficient at strict ring muscle-ups, he or she must master the false grip. The strict ring muscle-up requires actively pushing down on the rings the entire movement, including through the transition.
However, the kipping ring muscle-up is the most frequently tested variation in Functional Fitness and the method we are talking about here. So…is executing a false grip beneficial for building capacity in kipping ring muscle-ups?
When searching for the answer to that question, it is helpful to look what the most efficient CrossFit athletes are doing.
For example, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet is one of only a few elite athletes who uses a false grip while complete kipping ring muscle-ups. Far and away most elite competitors, Rich Froning, do not use a false grip when doing kipping ring muscle-ups.
For one, it is difficult to maintain a false grip while kipping aggressive.
Two, even athletes like Leblanc-Bazinet tend to keep their shoulder closed off (not fully opened into arch) when using the false grip.
Look at her shoulder angle versus Rich. The grip fatigue combined with a smaller kip get compounded over the many reps of a workout. For this reason, I recommend learning to do kipping muscle-ups without it.
This doesn’t mean have a completely straight wrist however…keep your wrist engaged with a neutral false grip (see image above) or what I call a pseudo false grip. This requires a much faster hands when moving through the transition, but ultimately makes the movement more sustainable and increases your capacity once learned.
If you do choose to use a false grip, especially if you are doing strict Ring Muscle-Ups, many athletes struggle to get into and maintain a false grip position. While sometimes this is a strength issues, it is often a mobility issue.
Many people aren’t able to have a 90 degree bent wrist while maintaining a closed hand. Below is a quick stretch to help point out mobility limitations, which also proves to be an excellent warm-up tool to prep for false grip work on the rings.
Again, the above discussion is in regards to kipping Ring Muscle-Ups. To complete strict Ring Muscle-Ups you will to develop a false grip. Here is what the strict version looks like…
Best RMU Drills
What are the Best Drills for Learning the Ring Muscle-Up?”
Before we jump into drills, let me take a moment to explain to you have people get their first muscle-up.
The next two drills hammer home to most important positions for the kip. Consider the next two videos to be Level I (easier) and Level II (more difficult).
The final two drills are about putting it all together. The use the assistance of bands to help you practice the exact skill of muscle-ups, even if you don’t have one yet. The first one really helps develop specific strength and the second is all about perfecting the kipping version.
The Perfect Warm-Up
Get all the systems in the body humming so you are ready to train. The goal is to take your body from a cold, likely stationary position to being literally warmed-up. Muscles are able to produce more force and joints are more resilient to impacts and torque. Basically you are ready to mobilize and hit a movement-specific warm-up.
5-15 Minutes of easy “cardio.” Here is an approximate example for a Functional Fitness Competitor. The intention should be to move with better positions each round, rather than trying to increase the pace. This is NOT a workout.
4 Steady Rounds
-8 Ring Rows
-8 Wall Ball
-8/6 Calorie Row
Claim the fundamental positions you will need for the workout / movement to come. In this case it’s Ring Muscle-Ups. Per the mobility requirements (above), we know we need to address the hollow and arch positions, mainly with overhead and dip mobility. I recommend choosing a favorite mobilization technique for each of those two target areas. I show you my two top picks below.
Note: I show both of these using a box. The box could very easily be replaced with a set of low rings set to the same height.
C) Movement Prep
Begin to piece together the actual movement you use during the workout. Break down the parts and slowly add layers until its all back together. Each movement has sub-skills and you will need them for this step. This will look different for each movement, as you can see in the Movement Library. Lucky you, I provided four of my favorites for Ring Muscle-Ups below.
D) Working Sets / Met-Con
Congratulations! You are ready to hit your workout!
Top Accessory Exercises
What are the exercises for building strength for Ring Muscle-Ups?”
Click on an exercise to see a demo video.
Straight Arm Pulling Strength (Lats, Shoulder Extension)
• Hip-to-Rings (a great drill if you lack a powerful hip and lat activation)
• Straight Arm Ring Row (a great skill transfer drill)
• Banded Lat Row (also great for deadlifts and Olympic lifting)
• Lat Activation Drill (A great drill for every gymnastics movement on the Pull-Up Bar)
• Ski Erg Sprints (a personal favorite lat / triceps exercise)
Bicep Strength Movements (Elbow Flexion)
Transition Speed & Strength
Is not having a Muscle-Up holding you back from success in the Sport of Fitness? Getting Your First Muscle-Up isn’t as far off as you might think. You just need a consistent plan, guidance on developing technique and access to a coach. Your First Muscle-Up provides all of these.
1) Gain the power you need through specific strength work.
2) Develop the technique you need through targeted skill work.
3) Own the fundamental positions & reveal capacity through movement prep & mobility.
4) Master the mental game of Muscle-Ups with exclusive weekly content or “homework.”
Also in the Movement Library: Pull-Ups & Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups