Some exercises just look awesome.
We’ve all seen someone show off a move that takes unbelievable balance, concentration, and strength, appearing to bend the laws of physics and defy gravity. These are what we’re calling Hero moves, the high-level maneuvers that you’ve watched slack-jawed on Instagram but never imagined you’d be able to pull off yourself.
Good news: With the right plan, you can learn exactly what it takes to master these Hero moves. CrossFit coach and former USA National Gymnastics champ David Durante is confident that he can help you master the strict bar muscleup, which he calls “the highest-level version of any pull” you can attempt. After you follow his progressions and put in a ton of work, you’ll be able to show off your upper body strength and coordination too.
Importantly, this is not a CrossFit-style kipping muscleup. Your focus here will be on perfect form, not speed and volume to finish a WOD. Keep that in mind as you approach your practice if you decide to give this a shot.
If you haven’t been doing your normal pullups, the muscleup probably won’t be for you. “If you have a weak pullup, if you can only do chin over the bar pullups or eyeline to pole, it’s going to be very difficult to actually achieve the eventual movement,” Durante says. Before you jump into the following drills, make sure you can reel off 7 to 10 strict chest to bar pullups first. To get better at at those, check out these tips.
First up, you’ll need to master the false grip, a slight angle of the wrist between the forearm and palm that will create the mechanical advantage needed to pull yourself into strict muscle up position. To get there, you’ll need to work through the following drills:
Wrist Warmup 1
Weighted Wrist Curl
2 sets of 10 reps in each direction
Wrist Warmup 2
False Grip Ball Hold
2 rounds of 10 second holds in each hand
Your shoulders will also be challenged during the strict muscleup. Make sure to get them ready for action, too.
Shoulder Warmup 1
2 sets of 7 to 10 reps
Shoulder Warmup 2
Weighted Shoulder Circle
5 reps backwards and forwards for each arm
What you don’t want your muscleup to look like (L) vs. perfect form (R)
While these drills might just seem like simplified versions of the full movement, you’ll be building important patterns for your brain to follow later on.
“Movement pattern within gymnastics skills is one of the key components to being able to do these soundly, safely, and with good technique,” says Durante. “Anytime we can take some of the strength out and we can focus completely on the movement pattern and better ranges of motion, it’s going to give your body a better understanding of how to do it naturally without you having to think about a thousand cues at the same time.”
Activation Drill 1
Banded Turnover Drill
2 sets of 10 reps
Activation Drill 2
Straight Bar Pushup
2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps
Now that you’re warmed up, you’re ready for the progressions.
2 sets of 3 to 5 reps
2 sets of 3 to 5 reps
5 to 7 rounds of 10 second negatives
2 to 3 sets of 5 to 7 reps
4 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps
Once you’ve mastered each of these progressions, you’ll be ready for the real thing.
When to Do the Strict Bar Muscleup
When you’re working up to the full movement, Durante recommends working on the pull and push work two to three times per week. Once you become more comfortable with the movements, work on the progressions three to four sessions per week—just make sure that you don’t overtax yourself with daily sessions. “I definitely want you to have a rest day between your training sessions to make sure your body is fully recovered before you get into another session,” Durante adds. Once you nail the movement pattern, only bust it out a few times a month.
That said, Hero moves are a great way to show off your hard work and athleticism—so if you can pull off the strict bar muscleup, don’t be shy! Share your skills with us (@menshealthmag) and Durante (@davedurante), and experiment with the places you pull off the move.
If you want to learn other Hero moves, check out our explainers on the Pistol Squat above, along with Superman Pushups and the L-Sit. The world can never have too many heroes.
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