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How To Do A Bar Muscle Up – The PT’s Quick Guide

Muscle-ups are a powerful display of upper body strength that most athletes and CrossFit trainees aspire to master. This dramatic combination of a pull-up and a dip works all of the upper body muscle groups, namely the chest, abs, back, and arms. Variations for this exercise also exist, depending on the mastery of the movement and strength of the one performing the muscle-ups.

But what exactly goes on in a basic bar muscle-up? How do you do a bar muscle-up and what are the tips to master this advanced strength training exercise successfully?

In this article, we will tackle the basic bar muscle-up and what it takes to build the strength necessary to perform this feat of upper body strength and skill.

What Is A Muscle-Up?

A muscle-up is a form of advanced strength training that combines a pull-up with a dip. In a basic bar muscle-up, you start with your arms extended overhead and your hands gripping the bar using the overhand pull-up position.

You pull up your entire body using a higher momentum than the usual pull-up, and when the bar is about the level of your upper chest, you quickly flex your wrists to bring your forearms above the bar. After this, you lean your body slightly forwards and activate your chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles to straighten your elbows. A muscle-up is complete when the bar is at the level of your waist, and your elbows are straightened.

Bar vs. Gymnastics Rings

On the question whether an athlete should start learning muscle-ups on a bar or gymnastics rings, Robbie Hudson, editor-in-chief of BOXROX, says that it may vary from athlete to athlete, but the majority is of the opinion that it is easier to perform muscle-ups on gymnastics rings as rings can move freely and can also be maneuvered into a favorable position to catch the swing.

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Have strong shoulders? Then you might want to give the gymnastics rings a try.

On the other hand, gymnastics rings also lack the stability of the bar, and the shoulders have to do more stability work during the catch and dip phase of the maneuver. However, bar muscle-ups will require more strength especially in pulling as compared to muscle-ups on gymnastics rings. If you have a strong pull, then the bar might be a good fit for your first muscle-up.

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You may want to try both but only after proper training and with a qualified coach watching out for you as improper technique and lack of prior training might result in injury.

What Muscles Are Used In A Bar Muscle-Up?

To successfully perform a muscle-up on a bar, you must first build strength and develop these muscles:

  • Upper and lower trapezius muscles
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Rotator cuff muscles (composed of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis muscles)

Not only are these muscles important to successfully pull off a bar muscle-up, but they will also prevent injury to the rotator cuff muscles themselves and the other muscles of the back.

What Exercises Are Required To Learn The Muscle-Up?

Because muscle-ups are an advanced strength training exercise, proper training and strength building are required to avoid injuries. CrossFit trainer and coach, Amber Larsen, advises the mastery of the following in this exact order before proceeding to muscle-ups:

  • Strict pull-ups are an absolute necessity in learning how to do a bar muscle-up and one of its most essential components.
  • Core strength must be developed to successfully pull off a bar muscle-up, especially in the explosion, wherein the body is propelled explosively upward by your upper body strength and the momentum gained from a kick.
  • Kipping pull-ups are more about skill than strength. Mastery of kipping pull-ups will build good positional body awareness, so you will be more aware of how your body is moving in space.
  • Chest-to-bar pull-ups are personally recommended by Larsen, although this may vary with other trainers. For Larsen, the athlete is only ready when he or she can pull up to the area of xiphoid process, which is located in the lower part of the sternum.
  • Box-bar muscle-ups will give athletes the muscle memory necessary to perform the actual bar muscle-up from the ground. In this last step in the progression to the bar muscle-up, the height of the box must be low enough so that the athletes can properly use their strength to pull up and press out on the bar muscle up.

According to Larsen, these are the proper foundations needed to build enough strength and skill on the way to a proper muscle-up without risking injury.

Likewise, Simon Kaltwasser, assistant editor of BOXROX, advises against practicing muscle-ups without mastering strict pull-ups first. “If you don’t have a strict pull up yet, then a Bar Muscle Up will be more than difficult to accomplish,” Kaltwasser says in his article on moving your way up to your first muscle-up.

How To Do A Bar Muscle-Up

Now that you have mastered the proper foundation necessary to progress to a bar muscle-up, you must also learn the proper sequence of steps to successfully pull off this advanced exercise.

To get a better idea of how to do a basic muscle-up on a bar, here is a short video

The Steps To The Basic Bar Muscle-Up

1. Swing

The bar muscle-up starts with the position of arms overhead with the hands gripping the bar in an overhand pull-up position. You can do this with a dead hang position but Kaltwasser advises those new to bar muscle-ups to bend the elbows slightly as starting from the dead hang position can be extremely difficult.

2. Explosion

This is the most exciting part of the muscle-up when the body shoots off from the ground, propelled by an explosive burst of strength from the upper body. This is also the hardest part to master and precisely why you need a good foundation and core strength to pull this off.

You can start by pulling your knees up to your abdomen, which gets them into the position they are supposed to be at the end of the pull-up, then simultaneously kick up and pull up, using the momentum to hoist your body above the bar.

The pull-up is meant to focus on getting your body above the bar, and the kicking will help you in achieving the momentum to do so.

3. Push

This is the part of the bar muscle-up that is equivalent to the dip.

The best technique for this is to forcefully lean the body forward into a dip position when the bar is at least at the level of the navel and ideally the level of the hips. A tip is to allow the feet to swing back underneath the body to assist in the lean through to get the body to an upright support. Straighten or extend the elbows to complete the muscle-up.

4. Repeat

The successful completion of your first muscle-up might be quite exciting, but the step that follows right after it will help you perform more muscle-ups than just one.

After the completion of the muscle-up by extending the elbows, drop down from off the bar smoothly in reverse of the way you got up. Merely dropping down will cause you to lose any momentum. To avoid this, drop a little behind the bar.

Tips On Doing Bar Muscle-Ups

1. Jumping And Swinging Your Way Through

Heather Hippensteel advises to stand behind the bar for approximately two feet and jump into a kipping swing to give your body the momentum it needs to boost you up over the bar. She also emphasizes to keep the body and the limbs in a tight position.

2. Avoid Swinging Wildly
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You might think that the more swing, the more momentum to boost you over the bar, right? Simon Kaltwasser advises against this and encourages athletes to keep the swing minimal-just enough to raise you into the muscle-up without ruining your form. You can also wear suitable weight lifting gloves to protect your hands during your workout.

3. Patience Is A Virtue!
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Muscle-ups are an advanced strength training exercise. Anything worth having is not always easy, so Robbie Hudson advises athletes to hang on and keep training. It might take you anywhere from weeks to months to properly pull off a bar muscle-up, but the most important part is to keep training and keep trying.

4. Lastly, Have Fun!
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While you must be serious in training, it is important that you are also having fun to prevent disenchantment and burnout. As long as you enjoy your training, it becomes less of a burden to you and gives your morale an added boost every time!


Muscle-ups are particularly hard and require training before even attempting to do one, and even then, your first tries might not be successful at all. With the stability of the bar, there are some who consider it easier than doing muscle-ups on gymnastics rings, although you will need more strength to be able to pull yourself up and over the bar but the exhilaration will all be worth it.

Keep in mind the basics of the maneuver as the bar muscle-up requires both strength and skill to complete.

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial on how to do muscle-ups on a bar. If you have any comments or tips on how to do a bar muscle-up, don’t hesitate to leave your comments below!

Also, don’t forget to share this article with your family and friends to help them on their road to fitness!

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About the Author Mike R.Bowen

I am Mike R.Bowen, founder of Fitness On The Weekend dot Com and my aim is to help busy people find time for fitness. We will give you actionable advice on how you can keep fit and healthy even on those busy days!

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