Calisthenics Muscle Up Workout

The Minimalist Guide To A Muscle Up For Beginners

The red pill.

You signed up for the e-mail list and jumped down the rabbit hole of body weight workouts.

Maybe you even went the extra mile and actually read through the free ebook to make sure you didn’t miss any killer routines.

Then you were smart enough to find the 6 month plan and maybe you were motivated enough to actually follow the six month plan.

But after the first 5 months you feel like you should be able to do that first muscle up.

And you just can’t figure out why you are still stuck at 0 muscle ups EVER.


Every training you anxiously jump on the bar and try to pull yourself up as hard as you can, hoping that today will finally be the ‘day on which you achieved your first muscle up’.

But every training is a letdown. Still one or two centimeters short (And let’s be honest – it’s probably five if you don’t cheat yourself).

The truth is, you are forgetting to take the right steps and there is too much information out there – but not any more.

Stop focusing on strength alone and start focusing on skill too. When you combine both…

You go from 0 to 1.



The 4 Basic Exercises For Your First Muscle Up



If you break down a muscle up it essentially consists of 4 parts:


1) The shoulder activation

2) The explosive chest high pull up

3) The transition

4) The straight bar dip


Contrary to what most people think, a muscle up is just as much a skill element as it is a strength element.

If you are able to properly execute these four moves, you have both the skill and strength for a muscle up.

From that point it’s just a matter of putting those four things together.



The Shoulder Activation For The Muscle Up



Main goal: Creating momentum


1) Grab the bar with an overhand grip

2) Get into a passive hang

3) Move your chest forward while contracting your abs and glutes, which means your arms are behind your head and you form a slightly arched back

4) Explosively push yourself away from the bar, in the end position you will have a hollow back shape

5) Keep your arms as straight as possible and squeeze the bar with your hands


Note: This is a very technical part of the muscle up, generating the right amount of forward and subsequently backward momentum, will make it much easier to get into a muscle up.

You don’t want to swing like a complete monkey as you see happening in crossfit, but you want to activate your shoulders to set yourself up for an explosive pull.



The Explosive Chest To Bar Pull Up



Main goal: Strength for the pulling motion until the transition


1) Grab the bar with an overhand grip

2) Retract your shoulder blades

3) Explosively pull yourself up by contracting your biceps while moving your elbows inwards as much as possible

4) Touch the bar with your chest

5) While you are doing this you can start developing a sense on how you should activate your shoulders



The Straight Bar Dip For Muscle Up Strength



Main goal: Strength for the pushing motion after the transition


1) Look for a lower bar which will allow you to easily adopt a locked elbow position on top of the bar

2) Slowly go down into a dip

3) Touch the bar with your chest

4) Explosively push yourself up



 The Muscle Up Transition



Main goal: Developing the skill to transition from pulling to pushing


1) Find a lower bar which allows you to jump into a muscle up

2) Grab the bar with an overhand grip

3) Use your jumping momentum to propel you into a full muscle up

4) Focus on the transition, on how it feels and on what position you need to move your wrists, elbows and upper body

5) Completely lock your elbows when you are at the highest point

6) Go down again, through the exact same motions, focus on the skill


Note: The reason why big and strong guys are unable to do a muscle up, is not because they lack the strength, but because they lack the skill.

It’s similar to doing a 150 kilo overhead press, but not being able to do a handstand push up.

It’s not necessarily because you aren’t strong enough, but because you haven’t developed any skill element.

This is one of the main reasons why calisthenics is superior to most regular gym workouts a.k.a the bicep curls, because in addition to developing strength, you also develop skills.

With a muscle up this should not be underestimated.



Extra: The Eccentric Muscle Up



Main goal: Strength and muscle up skill


1) Find a bar which allows you to jump into the muscle up

2) Slowly go down into a straight bar dip

3) From a straight bar dip go down into the transition

4) From the transition go down into a pull up eccentric


Note: This variation of a muscle up should only be done if you are skilled and strong enough for all the above exercises, but need that final little push and pull ;).

Eccentrics are an extremely useful part of any exercise in which you have the skill, but are still missing some strength.

The load your muscles can take eccentrically is significantly higher than concentrically (50-70% more), meaning a higher stimuli for growth and adaptation.

Be smart about it however, because the chances of injury also increase especially if your execution is lacking.



The Muscle Up Routine


By now you might be wondering what a full minimalistic routine would look like.

With all these exercises choose quality over quantity.

Rather do 2 good ones instead of 5 bad ones.

A lack of quality in these exercises will be magnified 10 fold in the full muscle up.


1) 60 seconds of shoulder activation

2) 5 explosive pull ups

3) 5 straight bar dips

4) 60 seconds of transitioning

Optionally: 5 eccentrics


Repeat for 5 sets with 60-90 seconds of rest between sets.

This routine purely focuses on developing muscle up strength and skill and not so much on mass.

If you are really keen on building mass, read the Guide To Repetitions For Strength, Mass And Endurance and change your repetitions and sets based upon that information.



Don’t Let That First Muscle Up Slip Out Of Your Sight


Do you know that place called ‘youtube’ where everyone seems to be able to do muscle ups?

It’s where most people watch some people do what most people wish they could.

So stop wishing and start working. Stop watching and start becoming. Stop hoping and start doing.


Do you remember the guy who never did anything remarkable?

Neither does anyone else.

That’s why you decided to take the red pill.


Instead of being ‘an average Joe’, never to be heard of again, you were determined to let your actions speak.

Preparing yourself for that day, when you find yourself above the bar through your own strength and perseverance.

On that day you do something remarkable.

Because on that day, you go from 0 to 1.


Beast mode ON!




13 thoughts on “The Minimalist Guide To A Muscle Up For Beginners

  1. Do you know any ways to do straight bar dips at home? There is only one park that I have found in my town (jacksonville, FL) that has the necessary equipment, but it is 30 minute drive from my house and work.

  2. Very awesome muscle-up tutorial! I would like to incorporate this into my workout week. Would it be acceptable to utilize this rather than the “hunt for muscle-up” routine in the six month plan? Or would you recommend programming it differently? Thank you very much for all the excellent information you provide!!

    1. Hey Kevin,

      Thanks for the comment, much appreciated.

      Definitely acceptable, it really depends on what you are aiming for at this point. From personal experience, this is a very ‘effective way to get there’.

      I’ll update the 6 month plan, with this routine, haven’t been able to do it yet.

      So definitely worth adding this routine to your programming 3 days a week on top of your full body routine. Experiment however, it all depends on how your body reacts and what works best for your individual needs.

      If you have any other question, feel free to ask!

      Beast mode ON!

  3. Hi,
    I have one comment fot guys from germany. I have just moved to bad honnef ( close to bonn) where there isnt any calinesthic place in reachable distance. But when i looked around me i found some playgraund where i can train. Funny is like children try to repeat what do you do.

    No excuse and to be creative

    1. Hey Martin,

      Haha, thanks for sharing this.

      I know, kids try without ‘their ego’ attached to things. And the funny thing is that they usually are much better at it than grown ups :P. In Groningen we actually had a small group of 5 year olds joining us for every training session.

      Keep up the good work.

      Beast mode ON!

  4. Hey dude! Could you please tell how long will it take me to do my first muscle-up, if I follow this programme?

      1. Thanks for the answer, Rich

        Well, let’s say I’ve already started doing it as you’ve described – five sets 3 times a week (have been doing that for a week so far). Plus I work with free weights in the gym 4 times a week.

        I’m already capable of doing a kipping muscle-up (with a REALLY good kip and a false grip, more like cross-fit style). But I want to do it in a more strict way.

        It’s just the guy who wrote the programme for that kipping musle-up, stated that it’ll take 12 weeks, and in my case it took exactly that time. I thought that perhaps you could also give some indication, if possible.

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