In many ways the ring muscle up has become the Holy Grail of CrossFit. New athletes in the gym might even see it as something mythical that only the best of the best could ever accomplish.
While it may come easily for some, for many athletes it takes weeks, months, sometimes even years to complete their first successful muscle up. When I see athletes struggle with this movement (and when I find myself struggling), it is never for lack of effort! With a movement like the ring muscle up, I often need to help my athletes work smarter, not harder.
Here are some tips for perfecting the ring muscle up. I will be focusing on the kipping muscle up since this is most common and useful in workouts; however, one should also work on developing the strength and body control for a strict muscle so that they don’t jump onto the high rings unprepared.
The swing is designed to create momentum and ultimately conserve the energy of the arms so that there is less pulling necessary to reach the height of the rings.
Unfortunately, the kip swing is where many athletes set themselves up for failure. In order to generate enough power to translate into upward momentum the athlete needs a tight body position to create a strong swing.
To work on this swing, grab onto the rings and with legs together, toes pointed, butt squeezed initiate the swing from the shoulders. Using your lats, push down on the rings in the front and the back of the swing. Keep the tightest body position possible and do not allow for any breaks in the leg, hip or trunk. Any break is a loss of power and will cause more work down the line.
Hips to Rings
Knowing that we need to go from below the rings to up above them, our arms want to help to do their part. What often happens is that, much like with Olympic lifting, athletes begin to pull with their arms prematurely and end up killing the momentum that they were just creating. After you’ve developed a strong kip swing the way to lift yourself higher is with your lats pushing down on the rings, not your arms pulling your body up.
One drill of pulling your hips to the rings is a way of building off of the kip swing but without trying to turnover on top of the rings yet. Let the momentum of the swing carry you up as high as possible and in the brief moment of weightlessness at the top of the swing, you must continue pressing down with your lats and only then allow your arms to pull you a bit higher until your are able to reach your hips to the rings.
Your body position should still be strong with no breaks and you should be oriented as such that your head is above the height of the rings and you are able to look down at your toes just below the horizon. If when practicing this you feel your arms having to pull a great deal then you must either wait longer before beginning to pull or you need to work on creating a stronger swing.
You can also work on this drill with a spotter helping you maintain a solid position. Have a friend stand on a box to the side of the rings and as you swing behind the rings they can place a hand under your hamstring and your back and give a slight lift to help you reach your hips to the rings.
If you can consistently pull your hips to the rings with little effort than you are high enough to transition over the top of the rings. What I see happen to many athletes who are still learning is rather than ending on top of the rings they end up just squeaking through at the same height as the ring.
This is less than ideal because at best you catch in the bottom of a very low dip, which is both an added strain on your shoulders and a lot of added work to try to press yourself out to finish. More likely, you won’t be able to complete the transition and you will fall through the rings.
Building off of the kip swing and the lats pulling the hips up high, a fast transition involves keeping the rings close to the body, driving the elbows back quickly, and doing a fast sit-up with the torso. When the tight body position breaks to do the sit-up, you must then drop the legs down as a counter balance that sends the rest of the body up.
Completing the muscle up means finishing with a lock out at the top of the dip. While it often feels like the toughest part of the muscle up is making it through the transition and getting on top of the rings, don’t stop yourself there. I see a lot of athletes freeze in the bottom of the dip, regroup and then kip and press out of the dip.
Don’t kill your momentum by stopping! You just generated all of this power sending you up above the rings, keep going up all the way to the top of the dip. This may take some practice but start teaching yourself to continue the movement all the way to the end rather than adding a roadblock and forcing yourself to reinitiate at the bottom of the dip.
As with anything we do, once we get 1 we want 100. Stringing muscle ups together involves not just stamina but also coordination. A lot of it is about timing it correctly and finding your rhythm.
You must push away from above the rings (whether at the top or bottom of the dip is up to the individual) and immediately regain a tight body position and find the same kip swing from the initial muscle up. A great drill to practice this is do 1 muscle up and push away into 3 tight body ring swings.
Good luck in your muscle up quest! While it can be one of the more challenging moves to master in CrossFit it can also be one of the most fun to perfect. When you’re frustrated or tired, go back to the basics of a tight body position (you can even practice on the floor in hollow/arch holds).
Don’t start pulling harder with your arms, start swinging stronger with your whole body. It may take time, but your hard work will pay off and you’ll be seeing things from a much higher vantage point from on top of the rings.