Muscle Ups (WORTH IT OR NOT?)


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Muscle ups are often considered to be the best bodyweight exercise you can do if you want to build upper body muscle mass and size. I don’t really agree. The problem with this exercise is that it happens to be on the low reward, high risk end of your bodyweight exercise options. In this video, I show you how to perform a version of the muscle up but more importantly, discuss why you might not want to do them in the first place.

In order to perform this bodyweight exercise, you’ll want to understand what the movement is in the first place. The muscle up is a combination of a pullup and a bodyweight dip. In order to complete the move you have to have some prerequisite strength in both exercises. I recommend that you are able to do at least 10-15 strict (non-kipping) pullups and around 20 bodyweight dips before even trying it. In addition, you should be able to perform an explosive pullup (as shown in the video) which enables you to explosively get your chest up to the bar.

If you can do all of the above then you might be ready for a muscle up. I say might because there are some important joint considerations that must be made before even attempting this exercise. Most importantly, you need to determine the condition of your elbows and shoulders if you want to start doing muscle ups as part of your bodyweight training programs.

Many will find that this exercise hurts their medial elbow. They will develop a condition known as golfer’s elbow (or medial epicondylitis) from doing muscle ups. This is due to the fact that the wrist must forcefully flex in order to propel your body over the bar and position your hands on top of the bar in order to be able to complete the second half of the movement.

This rapid torque placed on the common flexors in the forearm can lead to an enormous amount of stress on the medial elbow. It may not hurt you the first time you do the exercise, but can lead to a slow tendonitis developing over time.

The second consideration is the health of your shoulder before performing the exercise. Again, due to the incredible amount of internal rotation needed at your glenohumeral joint, you can quickly damage your rotator cuff. If your acromion is of the type that it hangs into the shoulder joint space too far down (this is something you are born with), then you might be that much more prone to feeling the ill effects of this movement in your shoulder.

The exercise can be performed a bit less explosively and in a more controlled manner (in the way that a gymnast would perform it) but at that point, I feel as if concentrating on simply increasing the number of quality pullups you can do rather than adding onto the movement and decreasing that number in order to muscle ups, is the better option.

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