Bar Muscle Up – A Reference Guide

Recommended Volume and Strength Movements as Prerequisite:
Rope Climbs
Pull Ups
Chest to Bar Pull Ups
Legless Rope Climbs
Knee to Elbow
Strict Knee to Elbow

Bar Dips
Ring Dips
Weighted Dips

Banded Pull Apparts
Bent Barbell Rows
Negative Levers
Scales for the Bar MU:
Vertical Box Bar Muscle up
Kipping Box Bar Muscle Up
Seated Kipping Banded Bar Muscle Up
Seated Strict Banded Bar Muscle Up
Banded Bar Muscle Up
Bar Muscle Up Progression:
Progression of difficulty of Rx Movement
Kipping Bar Muscle Up
Strict Bar Muscle Up
Straight Arm Strict Bar MU

          When approaching the Bar Muscle Up for the first time you must first be willing to separate metcon volume and strength training from skill work and practice.

          The former is where your are able to get in a lot of volume at the lower skill levels i.e. Pull ups and chest to bar, weighted pull ups, rope climbs, legless rope climbs, strict and weighted dips, etc… All things that will greatly benefit you when you are trying to learn the muscle up, whether it be the bar or ring. However if you haven’t learned the muscle up, I don’t recommend performing the earlier scales of the movement (See above)  in metcons unless you can perform the former base skills at volume, and as prescribed. I.e. a moderate volume of unbroken chest to bar pull ups without bands, unassisted ring dips, etc… scaling yourself down so you can do 1 bar muscle up a round for 5 rounds is not as good for you as work out that requires 5 rounds of chest to bar at 15 reps. One is a way better stimulus for growth, the other should be saved for skill work for the time being, and later introduced into metcons.

          That being said we can still work on the bar muscle up and it’s scales even if we don’t have all the prerequisite skill sets. Every little bit will help, and we should work on developing a good motor pattern as soon as possible. But it would be a mistake to think that doing seated kipping banded Bar Muscle Ups in metcons would be better when you can barely string more then 2-3 chest to bar together.  Save the lower skill sets for metcons and dedicated strength pieces in order to develop capacity and save the higher skill work for concentrated skill pieces where our overarching goal is purely virtuosity, and not time or reps, or any other distraction.

          But I said we could still work on bar muscle up progress, regardless of where you’re at. So let’s look at the progression of the Bar Muscle Up from the bottom up and we’ll be able to see how one can progress regardless of where you are in your path. It’s important to note that everything we do in earlier rounds should have carry over into the next piece. So anything you choose to slack on in the earlier rounds will only punish you more and more with each preceding round. So fair warning.

Vertical Box Bar Muscle Up (Click Image):

Set Up:

          Set up like you would for any jumping pull up, except this time you’re on a box or you’ve set an adjustable bar to a height that makes it easy for you to jump on top of the bar, then press out. You can increase the height as time goes by, but for now, this is where we will hammer in certain body positions that will be used in every preceding version.

Gymnastic Hook Grip:

          Put your thumbs around the bar and pinch down you index finger! Just like the barbell hook grip (Pinching your thumb in that case) I don’t care if you like it or not. Do it! It’s both a safety and skill development requirement. I’ve seen my fair share of athletes fly right off the bar due to not using their thumbs, putting some out for weeks. The ONLY reason gymnasts don’t do it is because they are using bars that are 2-3 times as thick. That’s completely different than what we’re dealing with. Use you thumbs, and pinch your index finger. End of discussion.


          Just like the first few times you used the hook grip, this will not feel comfortable at first. The goal is to get the pinky as far over the bar as possible. This position needs to be learned, and the strength developed to hold it in order to achieve the higher levels of this movement and beyond. And what better place to start than at the beginning when pressure is low.

          Once you have made it to the top of the bar and are getting ready to come down, slightly curl the wrists to set the false grip then drop down. Develop this motor pattern now while it’s easy.

Tight Hollow

          There is a tremendous tendency with the newbie, due to lack of body awareness and core strength, to not hold a tight hollow and instead kick and squirm their way to the top. This is how you fail in the long run.


Example (Broken lower body)


(Broken lower and upper body = poor kip and chicken wing do to lack of stability in the rhomboids)

Set Up:

          Coming full circle, bring your feet to the edge of the box, just slightly in front of the bar, drop down till arms are at extension and shoulders are stacked in line with the bar. At this point, your core should be flexed hard and your legs and feet pinched together as hard as possible. Tight is light! Loose is dead weight.

          If you’re having a hard time holding yourself to this. Go back to your gymnastic kip, and place something between your feet, and if possible, your knees. Keep them pinched! Then come back to the bar muscle up setup and hold yourself to the same standard.

Turn over:

Two things are happening here:
1. Shoulder blades stay pinned

2. Internal rotation “Elbows rise as the shoulders rise”.


Let’s look at these in order:


  1. From the set up, when your arms are at extension, your shoulder blades should be glued together, and at no point should they come apart. Develop the motor pattern now. Failing to do so will result in the dreaded “chicken wing”.

    As soon as you initiate the pull with the lats, you should immediately start to internally rotate at the shoulders. This will result in elbows rising at the same time as the shoulders placing you in the perfect position for your receiving position of the bar.

    For the press out shoulder blades should still be pinched, aggressively maintained hollow hasn’t changed either, and shoulders in front of the bar.

    Once you press out, re-establish your false grip as discussed above and lower the base of your chest back to the bar still holding your hollow, then push yourself away from the bar and drop back down to the reset position on the box. It should be a mirror image of how you started. If done correctly you’ll feel yourself almost want to lead into a small arch when you land. If you simply drop down with no push away you won’t feel this.    

No False Grip = Poor connection to the bar and greater likelihood of ripping palms due to excess friction

Resetting your false grip just BEFORE descending = Greater connection and reduced friction on the palm

Kipping Box Bar Muscle Up & Spotting

          All of the above is applied. Nothing has changed, because everything should transfer over. Right? Now we’re just going to add kip.

(Click Image)

          Start with your initial set up. Come into an arch, leading with the shoulders, then rock back and jump into your hollow, elbows rising at the same time as the shoulders. When you drop back down let yourself lead into the arch. When you get comfortable with this, start trying to cycle.

Straight arm vs Bent Arm.

          Straight arm is the golden standard of gymnastic strength training. So it needs to be understood that this will not be developed overnight. But is achievable. It will just take concentrated effort and time. So up to this point we have performed a the bent arm version of the bar muscle Up. the straight arm version can be practiced at these earlier stages as well. To get a feel for what this should feel like, take a PCV bar and two bands of your choosing and set yourself up as follows:

          From a kneeling position, your feet should be extended, butt resting on your heels, and the pull up bar lined up with your ankles or just slightly behind them. Grab onto the bar like you would for a bar muscle up and pin the shoulder blades, tuck your rib cage, and lock your elbows out. From here, press down on the bar. You should feel your lats doing all the work. If they come unpinned you will feel your pecs do all the work.

          With this in mind, returning to the straight arm version of the box bar muscle up, transfer this over the kipping, boxed bar muscle up. This is much easier said than done, but as I’ve said before, this is the best time to develop these motor patterns, when the stress is low.


Seated Kipping Banded Bar Muscle Up

          Once you have set up the bar (See video), face away from the bar and sit down on the band.
Grab onto the bar as you would at any other time in this progression, and sit in a pseudo front lever position. Aggressive hollow, and pinning of the shoulders.

          Drive the hips down and straight up into your arch pulling with the lats at the same time and immediate start to turn the elbows over. As soon as you come into your arch, you MUST snap back into your hollow in order to turn over.  

         The first rep is the hardest. So don’t beat yourself up to hard.


Seated Strict Banded Bar Muscle Up Video (Click Image)


          Same as above, but in this case it is purely upper body strength, and core contraction. And in this case you hold your hollow the whole time.


Banded Bar Muscle Up (Click Image)


         Now we get to put things together. We’ve got all the pieces. Set up your band like you would for any other banded pull up.

From the top down:
Hook Grip and False Grip
Shoulders blades are pinned back and down
Lats on
Tight hollow
Feet and knees pinched together (NOT crossed!!!!)
Toes pointed

          Initiate with a several kips, getting stronger and stronger with each one, then transfer to the bar muscle up, making sure to concentrate on making the elbows rise at the same time as the shoulders. Descent is no different than the boxed version. Set your grip, lower yourself, push away and lead with your shoulders into the arch. As soon as your shoulders have reached their peak, snap back into your hollow and transition into another bar muscle up.  

Knee Drive Kip “Double Kip” (Click Image):

          This is quite simply the addition of a second kip into the Bar MU. Just as you would kip on a ring dip (More in another write up), the same applies here. In a ring dip, as soon as you press down with your arm, you drive your knees up to create upward momentum. In the Bar MU, this does not have to be exaggerated. A quick and shallow upward drive of the knees (Think knee jerk), should be enough to create more vertical drive and assist you over the bar.  

Strict Bar MU (Click Image):

          Everything we have covered applies at this point. We’re just removing the kip. The importance of practicing the false grip up to this point can not be overstated. And without it, you simply can not perform the strict Bar MU. From a hollow position, flexed as hard as you can, and performing the most aggressive false grip that you can, initiate a fast pull, starting your turn over immediately. It really is that simple. But the stretch require to get to that point is simply something I can’t teach, and will come with more pull ups, more false grip work, and more practice, practice, practice!


Your Action Steps:

1 – For the month of July and August try to practice some of these scales in your post or pre-workout skill work.

2 – Stuck and looking to get further, faster? Book a free goal setting session with me. Being that I am the newest coach here, I’d love to be able to meet more of you and share a few moments seeing how I can help you! Or we could just go get coffee..Email me at [email protected] and I will gladly set up a time to connect!

Start here

Book a free intro today so we can learn all about you, your goals and how we can help you reach them
Free Intro