Fundamental Differences | Rings vs. Bar
First, let me say Ring and Bar Muscle Ups share many fundamental similarities and are probably more alike than different. Both require a great amount of strength and skill to execute successful, especially when under fatigue. Strength is always context dependent, and in this case it’s about muscle-ups in mixed-modal settings.
Although, Bar Muscle Ups & Ring Muscle Ups have a lot in common they have some fundamental differences (in fact 6) that need to be understood in order to become proficient in each. These differences are why there are many people who can do bar muscle-ups but not ring muscle ups or vise versa. Learning these differences is the first step towards mastery in both movements.
Difference #1: Moving vs. Fixed Equipment
It may sound obvious, but many athletes overlook the significance of grasping moving objects (rings) versus a stationary object (bar). This is the biggest difference and its implications ripple through all the other six differences. Some athletes find that they are able to kip harder on the fixed bar so they have an easier time with bar muscle ups, while others find that having the ability to move your body weight straight up and down while having the objects move around you is easier. Who finds what easier, in my experience, is a matter of athlete-specific strengths and weaknesses.
The most important concept to grasp from this first difference is that in the ring muscle up your center of mass (CoM) moves straight up and down while with the bar muscle up it moves both horizontally and vertically in space. In other words, since you can move the rings out of your way, it is possible for your CoM to move straight up and straight back down. If you tried to do this with a bar muscle up you would run yourself straight into the bar (duh, it’s a fixed object). Therefore, you must move your body weight out around the bar and then back on top when in support.
Rings: You move them around you.
Bar: You move around it.
Difference #2: The Mount
The mount is the name for jumping up and grabbing the rings or bar. One of the biggest differences between good Functional Fitness athletes and great ones is their ability to create consistency in their movement patterns, from the set-up to the execution. Great lifters have a pre-lift routine that helps create this consistency. For muscle-ups, this means mounting exactly the same every single set. Think of it as aiming a gun…everything from setup to execution should be drilled exactly the same, allowing you to remove thinking and create robotic precision.
When mounting for the ring muscle up, you want to start almost directly under the rings. This will prevent forward and backward travel of your CoM. Remember, in the ring muscle up you want to your CoM to move straight up and straight down, no back and forth. When mounting the bar muscle up, you want to start about a foot or a foot and a half back from the bar. Jumping from here into a hollow body position, will generate a controlled swing, the the pendulum of a grandfather clock. The swing is your CoM moving forward and backward. Remember, during the bar muscle up this horizontal action is your friend. Often people who fail bar muscle ups never generated this forward and backward momentum so they are unable to every get around and ultimately on top of the bar.
Difference #3: Kip Cadence
The kip on the bar is much different than the rings. When you kip on rings they move opposite of your lower body. Think, about how your hands and feet will always be opposites…when your feet are forward your hands and the rings are back, and when your feet are behind your hands and the rings are in front. These opposing actions slows down the kip considerably, making it feel much slower and deliberate. Often less experiences athletes rush the kip of the ring muscle up and fail to take advantage transfer of momentum. Since the bar muscle up takes places on a fixed object, its kip becomes much tighter and faster. Athletes who have done lots of kipping pull-ups and chest-to-bar pull-ups often find a similar feel with the bar muscle up. This is one of the reason many Functional Fitness athletes hit a bar muscle up before a ring muscle up.
Rings: Slower, Longer Kip
Bar: Faster, Tighter Kip
Difference #4: Momentum Transfer
The entire point of generating a solid kip (horizontal action) is so that it can transfer into a vertical action, making your pull easier. This transfer of momentum is what creates a moment of weightlessness. (Like the top of the pirate ship amusement park ride) However, since the kips in the bar and ring muscle up are different is also means the ideal way to transfer momentum is also different. In the ring muscle up, the focus needs to be generating a big foot sweep at the apex of the swing and then then stopping your feet in an instant. This abrupt stop creates a whip-like action. Think about cracking a whip…the crack comes from the pull back action that happens…a swift stop in momentum. Therefore, for ring muscle ups a helpful visual can be kicking a soccer ball. Pretend there is a soccer ball slightly in front of your set of rings and you are trying to kick it. This will create the long kip followed by a sharp transfer of momentum (the “kick”), propelling you up and over the rings.
In the bar muscle up, the fixed environment allows for a continuous ability to push down on the bar. The transition is a bit less dramatic than the rings for the upper body so the lower body has to do some extra work. For the bar muscle up, once the momentum has begun to transfer vertically a knee pump is added to gain height in the catch. If done correctly, it makes the dip in the bar muscle up significantly muted. Simply think about pumping the knees up to your chest and pushing them away to create more momentum. (The leg action is similar to kipping a ring dip.)
Rings: Think “Soccer Ball Kick”
Bar: Think “Knee Pump”
Difference #5: Stability & Dip Depth
In general, the catch of the bar muscle up is much higher than the ring muscle up. If you watch Games athletes, most will catch ring muscle ups in the bottom of the ring dip and press all the way out from the bottom while in bar muscle ups they will only need to press out the last few inches because they catch so high. This distinction matters mostly for people who lack strength and stability in the ring dip. I’ve seen many athletes assume they can do ring muscle ups because they can do parallel bar dips. However, the stability on the rings is completely different. Even very strong people have issues with rings because of their inability to stabilize them. Often this inability to stabilize in females comes from a lack of pec strength. Even if you are a person who can do ring dips, check your dip depth. Remember, when you catch a ring muscle up, you very low in your dip, almost between the rings, not on top. Lastly, to those people who struggle to catch high in a bar muscle up. Think about pulling with straight arms until you can see the bar in front of you. Then glue your hips to the bar with as little arm bent as possible. The less your arms bend, the more height you will get on your muscle up.
Rings: Deep Dip, Long Press
Bar: Shallow Dip, Short Press
Want to improve turnover speed and strength? The Russian Dip is a favorite of mine.
Difference #6: Support Position & Sustainability
Just like how the dip is less stable in the ring muscle up, the same is true for the support position (lockout). Support on the rings is a very active position, while an athlete’s hips can prop on the bar allowing for a much more relaxed position. This means that it is an acceptable option to rest at the top of a bar muscle up because you can set your body weight on the bar for a few breaths while doing your best to relax. It is nearly impossible to do this with a ring muscle up so it isn’t a good option to stop in support of the ring muscle up…you are better off moving through reps or resting on the ground.
This difference in support position means the bar muscle up is more sustainable than the ring version in large unbroken sets. Many Games athletes can do 30 unbroken bar muscle ups while none (or very few) can do 30 unbroken ring muscle ups (2018 Games event 30 RMU FT). The cycle speed of bar muscle ups in a short workout will be slightly faster than ring muscle ups, but in most workouts cycle speeds are fairly similar because athlete’s begin rest in support on the bar muscle up while they can’t rest during the ring muscle ups.
That being said… individual differences, strength and weaknesses, will determine whether you are more proficient and have greater capacity at bar muscle ups versus ring muscle ups.
Rings: Unable to Rest in Support Due to Instability
Bar: Able to Rest in Support Due to High Stability
Build Positional Strength with Ring Support & Dip Isometric Holds…
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Related: Stop “Blowing Up” From Pull-ups