How To Progress The Muscle Up in Three Phases

How To Progress The Muscle Up in Three Phases

Training Muscle Ups in Phases

In the functional fitness space, the Muscle-Up has become a sought after movement to progress for many individuals. The problem for most coaches is knowing how to progress the advanced skill in proper phases of training to ensure maximal expression is achieved. This article will explain how to use phases to progress the Muscle-Up effectively and safely.

What is a Muscle-Up? 

A Muscle-Up is a combination of a radial pull-up into a dip that results in a fully supported position over a set of rings or pull-up bar. 

The movement begins with a hold in the overhand pull-up position. From here the body is pulled by the arms in an explosive manner, and once the chest clears the bar or ring base the wrists are flexed bringing the forearms over the body at a vertical angle. The movement is complete once the arms are fully locked out and the bar or rings sit at the waist level. 

(Should your clients do muscle ups? Learn how to assess their abilities in this free course.)

What Muscles Are Targeted? 

This movement targets multiple muscle groupings in the back, shoulders, and arms. The primary pulling power comes from a combination of the latissimus dorsi and biceps. Once the pull mechanic is completed, the triceps and pectoralis major and minor provide the primary pushing power of the final dip motion. 

How To Progress The Muscle Up in Three Phases 

1) Base Phase 

A proper base phase will develop mechanical habits and consistency of rhythm. This is done through accumulating volume and building repetitions in non-fatigue settings. Over time, accompany the Muscle-Up with easy metabolic work. Use the structure of this phase to consistently assess limitations and fix mechanical deficiencies. 

Base Phase One Example: 

1 Muscle-Up x 10; rest until fully recovered

Base Phase Two Example:
  • EMOM 10: 2 Muscle-Up 
  • (Every minute on the minute x 10 Sets) 

Once the skill is has been developed and mechanical efficiency is achieved, add in metabolic components at a low intensity for slight fatigue exposure 

Base Phase Three Example:
  • 200m Very Easy Jog  
  • 3 Muscle-Up
  • 200m Walk Recovery
  • X 5 Sets 
Base Phase Four Example:
  • 3-2-1 
  • Muscle-Up
  • 15 Cal Fly Wheel Bike between each set 
  • X 5 Sets

In terms of rhythm and training in the base phase, volume simply means work and a lot of it. This phase will develop the skill and abilities, and improve the overall capacity of an individual. The frequency in volume will build the proper foundation and rhythm needed in further progression.

Keep in mind that the transitioning between phases is a slow process. The base phase does not end on Friday and on that following Monday, a tough phase begins. Base phases end and tough phases begin when the Muscle-Up is developed through mechanical proficiency, sustainability, and repeatability.

(Coach’s Resource: Learn how to organize phases into daily training programs in this free download.)

2) Tough Phase

The purpose of the tough phase is to give feedback on how well the base phase was performed. This phase will consist of introducing complementary and non-complementary movements while progressing metabolic intensity. 

Tough Phase One Example: 
  • 3 Min AMRAP @80, 85 and 90% 
  • 10 Cal Ski Erg 
  • 10 Kettlebell Swings
  • 5 Muscle-Up
  • Rest 90 Seconds 
  • x 3 Sets 
Tough Phase Two Example:
  • For Time:
  • 10-8-6-4-2
  • Muscle-Ups 
  • 350m Row between each set @90%

The last phase example is a key performance indicator (KPI). 

A KPI is a test of quantifiable measurement used to gauge a client’s overall long-term performance. 

The KPI below will identify two markers:

  1. Muscle endurance capacity
  2. Battery: the ability to recover between reps as fast as possible 
Tough Phase Three Example:
  • Test:
  • 30 Muscle-Ups For Time 
  • (max unbroken set upfront)

The accumulation of this phase will produce repeatable and sustainable intensive sessions. Tough phases should be extended out as long as required to complete volume with intensity and capacity. This phase will lead to observable levels of expression. 

3) Deload Phase

A proper deload phase allows for a full recovery following a tough phase. The combination of mechanical and metabolic stress acquired from the training requires rest in order to see compensation. Depending on the length of the base and tough phases, a deload phase can range from three to ten days. This is necessary for full recovery at the end of a specific focus plan or training. The goal here is not to have any losses in the Muscle-Up skill, but to allow the body and nervous system to fully recover from the continuous stress of training and adapt. 

Deload Phase Example:
  • 1 Skin the Cat x 5; Rest as Needed 
  • Into 
  • 1 Strict Muscle-Up x 5; Rest as Needed

With the proper phases of training, you can assure that the maximal expression of the Muscle-Up will be achieved.

If you want to enhance your program design skills for any movement and remove writer’s block you need a solid foundation of principles. The best place to start? The Coach’s Toolkit, our free course on principle-based fitness coaching. Start learning today.


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