Why Your Clients Don't Have Muscle-Ups

Open workout 15.3 opened a can of worms for many athletes within the CrossFit community—you either had muscle-ups or you did not, in order to ‘get through’ the RX version of the workout.

Seven muscle-ups stood between many athletes and a set of 50 wall-balls, and greatly impacted the names on the Leaderboard—particularly for those not necessarily guaranteed a spot at Regionals, or simply competing in the Open to see where they measure up against thousands of other athletes worldwide.

“(This workout) will let us know who in the community who has muscle-ups (and who does not),” Dave Castro said at the 15.3 live announcement at CrossFit Chicago last week.

The question, then posed to you, coaches, is: Do your clients have muscle-ups?

Most commonly, the resounding answer is, for the majority, “Nope.”

The muscle-up in most training programs is seen as an elite skill, that you either have or you do not. And for those who do not, unfortunately, it is a movement that is rarely addressed in most general training programs—outside of seminars or goal-driven specific skill work.

For programmers and coaches, even if you are incorporating 5-10 minutes of skill work during class time, or occasionally plugging muscle-ups into the workout on a somewhat regular basis, are your athletes ‘getting it’?

Or, are they spending countless workouts and sessions completing seated, banded muscle-up transitions, or completing copious amounts of kipping pull-ups and banded dips (or other modifications) in effort to ‘get through the workout’, time and time again?

Open workout 15.3 may have further exposed a common weakness amongst most ‘every day’ athletes worldwide, but does this always have to be the case? Can your clients (even yourself) actually attain a muscle-up?

Absolutely—if, first and foremost, you understand the reasons behind why your clients don’t have muscle ups.

Here are several:

  • Not Strong Enough with Upper Pulling. Plain and simple, strict strength is needed for the initial pull. How do you attain this? An athlete or client must ‘have’ the ability to do multiple (not 1) pull-ups, weighted pull-ups, and even strict chest to bar pull ups.
  • Dips. Like pull-ups (strict), many clients’ triceps and bodyweight dips are not strong enough to ‘push out’ of the dip. While a person may be able to get over the rings and ‘figure something out’ at the top, in order to complete multiple reps in the air, an athlete must have the ability and strength to hit multiple ring dips.
  • Scapular strength. In the fitness realm, there’s often a lot of talk about scapular mobility and stability—but straight up scapular strength is necessary for muscle-ups. Scap strength allows the client to finish the pull for that last drive through the rings. A coach needs to see those scaps retracted for a better finish.
  • Poor mobility. It may seem like beating a dead horse, but mobility is crucial for any movement—especially muscle-ups. Lack of lat, pectoralis or deltoid mobility can tire or irritate somebody’s shoulders but in the context of this article that lack of mobility will keep them from actually hitting that muscle up because they may not be able to get their elbows back far enough to find a stable position over the rings (this is especially true for people who don’t generate enough power to catch themselves ‘high’ on the rings).
  • All in the wrist. False grip is not a new concept. However, if a client has a lack of forearm and/or wrist strength, as well as flexibility, he or she is going to struggle to maintain a false grip, specifically for strict reps.
  • Too heavy. This point may seem all too obvious, but a heavy load for a bodyweight movement, like muscle-ups, makes this movement extremely challenging. While one’s own strength to bodyweight ratio can get them pretty far, if you are carrying a great deal of extra weight it will be difficult to get over the rings., it’s tough to make up for it (specifically strict strength-wise).

What if the above listed components are not so much the issue? The client has strict strength for pull-ups and dips; or fair mobility and scapular strength? They aren’t too heavy?

Then, where do you begin?

It is only if these basic components are first addressed, that you can then begin to focus—and coach up—your clients’ technique—for both kipping and strict muscle-ups.

Here are a few ‘trouble areas’ or mistakes many clients often make when trying to ‘get’ the muscle-up that should be addressed:

  1. Momentum. They don’t find actual momentum in their kip. Their chest doesn’t go through forward to load the lats. They don’t get far enough behind the rings on the way back so that they can get full lat engagement and potential.
  1. Hip drive. They don’t get hip drive. While there are many highly efficient ways to get a muscle up, if a client isn’t particularly strong with the upper body, many times they need to “find” hip drive in order to get their bodies high enough to get over the rings.
  1. Ball up. They don’t snap through and, also, ball up their legs. This is an example where somebody may be ‘high enough’, but does not come through the rings all the way because their feet are too high. It is too difficult to get over the rings simply because their legs are in the way.
  1. Hands are too tight on a non-false grip. Without a false grip, one’s hands are generally too tight (non false grip) on the way through the rings. Consequently, the hands have to ‘get over’ the rings and if they are tight, they won’t make it.
  1. No kipping the dip. This is not as likely, but occasionally it has happened where the clients can get over the rings, but they do not kip the dip and consequently, can’t lock out

Knowing these necessary elements, as well as potential mistakes and holes in technique, you, as a coach, can be better equipped to help your clients gain victory in a skill that is truly a separator in competition and continued skill progression. Over the years, we have worked with countless athletes to individually address ‘problem areas’ in their own muscle-up attainment and strict strength, and help them attain the daunting muscle-up.

Tracy is one example. After working under the programming of Mike Lee, Tracy got her first muscle -up! Check her out here

Coach Mike Lee shared a sneak peak at her program this past year, targeted at enhancing her scapular and pull strength:


AD 5 min @ Z1
AD 30 sec @90%
AD 30 sec @50%
x 16

A. BS @30X1; 8@40%,7@50%, 6@60%, 5@70%; rest only the time it takes to change weights
B. Emom 6 min – BS x 1 (85% first 3 min, 90% second 3 min)
B1. Pendlay row @2112; 5-7 x 3; rest 90 sec (heavy)
B2. SA KB push press; 8-10/arm x 3; rest 90 sec
C. Emom 10 min – odd – Strict pull up x 3; even – Wtd. dip x 2 (tough)
2 rounds for time:
20 DB push press (35#)
3 TGU/arm
20 barbell press (70%)
3 TGU/arm
20 DB snatch


A. Snatch Deadlift @21X1; 8,6,4,2; rest 2-3 min (light wt., attn on lats/shoulders back, sustain position)
B. Snatch balance; 4,4,3,3; rest 2 min
C. Emom 8 min – HS high hang (blocks) x 2 (mod load/ speed under bar)
D. 4 sets – FW x 50m AHAP; rest 2 min

for time:
5 DL (175#)
12 ring push ups
12 ring rows
5 DL (175#)
9 ring push ups
9 ring rows
5 DL (175#)
7 ring push ups
7 ring rows


A. 5 Sets – Every 90 sec – BS @ 20X1; 6,6,6,6,6
B. KB arm bar x 30 sec; rest  as needed (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHVBrsysBUY)
C. 4 sets – 50m SA OH carry/arm; rest 1 min b/t arms
3 rounds @85%:
Row 500 Meters
20 Wall Balls (14#)
– SAME times per round, 10 sec or terminate
Rest 5 min
8 min amrap @85%:
10 Kettlebell Swings (1.5 pd)
8 bjsd (20″)
20m SA DB lunge – alt arms per set
– SAME times per round, 10 sec or terminate
Rest 5 min
3 rounds @85%:
AD 15 cals
10 GH sit ups
– SAME times per round, 10 sec or terminate



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Function 3/21/15

3000m Row
Rest 5-8 minutes btwn sets

-Break each row set into three, 1000m pieces where you progressively build from 70, 80, to 90% per 1000m

[tabby title=”Being”]

Being 3/21/15

Row 5k easy pace every 500m get off and do 30 single unders and 7 KBS you pick weight

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Will 3/21/15

RTW 30-40 min
GDS prep – WATCH open prep guide

A. BS – build to a toughish single in 5 sets
B. 6 sets – every 45 sec – Tng HPS x 2 – 65%
AD 20 sec HARD; rest walk 1:50 x 3
General, dynamic and specific prep
Open 15.4
AD 15 min cool down

[tabby title=”She”]

She 3/21/15

1 min bike
1 min FLR
1 min AD
1 min jog
1 min crawl
1 min row
1 min ski
x 6-8
– easy pace

Fitness Assessments for New Clients