Every year during the CrossFit Open we see videos of people getting their first ring muscle-up. If you are one of the people who have yet to accomplish a muscle-up, why wait until the Open to do it?

Barrett Danz of CrossFit Big Dane shares tips on how to get on top of the rings before 17.1.

“This is beyond simple. To be honest, in life the theory behind success is simple. It is the follow through that separates the average from the dedicated.”

The muscle up is in many ways the ultimate “made it” movement for CrossFitters. This is because it takes an amazing source of strength, power, coordination and body control just to do 1 single rep. There really isn’t many other movements like it. Plus, ya know, it looks dope as s**t!

There are sooo many “get your first muscle up” tutorials out there on the ole interwebs. To be honest, it’s getting a little annoying. Everybody wants this drill or that progression list when the reality is quite simple- you’re just not strong enough (YET)! For that reason, I am going to keep this super simple and lay out a black and white program for you to follow almost to the “T.” The cold hard fact of the matter is the muscle up requires just 2 things (2 big things):

  1. Develop the Skill
  2. Build the Strength

You build these two components to the benchmark that I will lay out below and I will guarantee you will have your first muscle up before (or in) the Open.

Let me preface with something. I said it was only 2 components, I DID NOT SA IT WOULD BE EASY. It won’t be for most of you. But that’s CrossFit and that’s life. Nothing dope in life comes easy. Let’s dive into it.

Developing the Skill

Performing a muscle up combines the pulling power of a super low chest to bar pull-up and pressing strength of a rock bottom ring dip while layering on bits of body control, coordination and serious core strength.  To even start thinking about performing this advanced movement we have to take steps to properly break this movement down into smaller steps.  

  1. The false grip
    1. Karate chop the ‘6 o’clock’ of the ring with your wrists then fold your hands over and give yourself ‘knucks’ so that your palm is on top of the ring.
  2. The Pull
    1. Practice simple ring rows while maintaining the ‘false grip’ throughout range of motion.  Exact sets and reps later.
  3. The Transition
    1. As you perform your ring rows with false grip aim to touch the rings to the bottom of your sternum.  This leads into the transition
    2. The actual transition and moving from the top of the deep ring row to the bottom of a ring dip
    3. As you get the rings to your sternum, you are going to think of ‘tracing’ your pec line as you pull your chest and shoulder in between the rings into the bottom of the ring dip.
  4. The Dip
    1. I’m not going to go over this whole movement.  Lots of other info to get through.  The main thing I can say is when you are practicing your ring dips, lower your center of gravity as low as you possibly can.  You should feel a normal stretch in the pecs (not crazy or excessive).  When you catch the muscle up (at least early on) you will be catching in the lowest, most rock bottom position of the ring dip.  So train it!

Building the Strength

This is the simplest in explanation, but easily the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of this whole article.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that because I go quick here that it is not important.

I’ll give you a quick example of 2 athletes:  

Athlete A has the skill aspect of the muscle up down pat.  He ‘gets’ how to do it in his sleep. He, however is not strong enough to even to a strict pullup.  Athlete A will never get a muscle up until he improves his strength.

Athlete B is not so great as the skill part.  He has it a little bit, but its off at times and inconsistent.  But, his strength is great.  He can perform 10 straight strict CTB pullups. Athlete B is going to get a muscle up well before Athlete A using just his strength alone.  It might not be pretty at first, but he can work with his coach and clean of the inefficiencies over time.

For the record, i’m not advocating for people to just jump on some rings and rally off so ugly ass MU attempts.  The point I’m making is that 99% of people are simply lack the raw pulling strength needed to get a MU.  That needs to be your top priority.

To build your strength for a muscle up work on the following;

  1. Strict CTB Pullups
    1. Do regular strict if you don’t have CTBs yet, you’ll get there.
    2. Get to the point where you can do at least 5+ UB
  2. Deep Ring Dips
    1. Go as low as you can, again 5+ UB
  3. Strict MU Transitions
    1. You can use a band to assist with these, but practice these strict.

The Program

Here we go. The raw program. Do this exact program at LEAST 3 days a week and by the Open (???? Weeks) you’ll be on top of those high rings.

  1. Strict CTB Pullups:
    Perform 1 max reps set then…
    Perform 1 max reps set of ring dips
    EMOTM x 10 minutes;
    Odd- Strict CTBs x 50% of max reps
    Even- Ring dips x 50% of max reps

***If you cannot perform at least 3+ reps of each yet do the following:

  • Accumulate 30 total reps of each movement (CTBs and ring dips)
  • Alternate movements each set so you are working on both at the same time.

**If you cannot do a strict pull up yet, you should be more focused on getting your first pullup than on muscle ups.

  1. Skill Drills;
    3 Sets of;
    Toe nail transition x 6 reps
    Pec tracing transiting x 10 reps

Again, this is beyond simple. To be honest, in life the theory behind success is simple. It is the follow through that separates the average from the dedicated. Success is all about consistency. If you can, do this MORE THAN 3 days per week, heck do it every day! Some days will be better than others, but by the end of February you will be a pull-up beast!

This program should only take you about 15 minutes to complete and can be done with minimal equipment. All of you will be able to get these drills done before a your next class starts. You need to do this a minimal of 3 times per week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Every week until the open. You got this, and of course, let us know how it goes.


Barrett Danz is the owner and founder of CrossFit Big Dane– located in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. He brings experience as a strength and conditioning and power lifting coach prior to starting CrossFit. He has been an athlete and an avid fitness fanatic his whole life and he truly enjoys helping others find new confidence through fitness.

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