Are muscle ups overrated? As one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises out there, muscle-ups have gained a reputation as a badge of honor for fitness enthusiasts. But do they live up to the hype? Are they a good exercise to actually build up muscle and increase your strength? Or are they just a party trick to show off? In this article, we explore the pros and cons of muscle-ups, their potential risks, and alternative exercises that can provide similar or even better benefits.
What you will learn in this article:
How to do a muscle up
First you try to pull yourself high enough so that your upper body gets over the bar. This requires a lot of explosive pulling strength and also some technique, because you don’t pull yourself up in a straight line like in a regular pull up. Instead you do a curve like movement so that you are able to get into a dip position. To make this transition possible you also have to change your grip. At last you have to do the dip, so you push yourself up until your arms are straight. Some of these points make the muscle up a very hard exercise. At least when you do the strict version. So, let´s move on and analyze pro and cons to see if muscle ups are overrated.
Cons and risks of muscle ups
Downside 1: Are you strong enough?
The bar muscle up is no beginner move. You need a lot of pull strength and extacly this is one of it’s biggest problems. The muscle up is often promised as the holy grail of calisthenics, as a comprehensive exercise that trains your whole upper body. To be honest: Nothing could be further from the truth. The pull part is so much harder in comparison with the dip, that you will always fail because you are not able to pull yourself high enough or not high enough anymore and not because you can’t do any more dips.
Now you might say: “Ok then the muscle up is just a heavy pull focused exercise. I will use it to train my back”. Well a muscle up will train your lats, no doubt. But It’s not nearly as effective as any regular pull up or row movement. The reason is that when you do muscle ups you always have to stop your set because you can’t pull yourself high enough anymore. At this point you would still be able to do a couple of regular pull ups because they don’t require explosive strength and are less challenging in terms of technique. These missing reps could make a significant difference in terms of muscle development.
A solution for this would be a superset. So you start with muscle ups and finish the set with pull ups. We still suggest levers, rows and regular pull ups, for pure backwork and back muscle development, because these movements are not about explosive strength and are less technique demanding.
Downside 2: Where are my gains?
Another downside is that you already have to be good at muscle ups to achieve some kind of muscle gains. Doing 2-3 sloppy reps each set is not really effective if you want to build more muscle. So you first need a good technique and a lot of strength to benefit from muscle ups at all.
Downside 3: They are a bit selfish
The last downside is the insignificant carryover effect for other exercises. The so called carry over effect carries the benefits of an improvement of one exercise, over to another exercise. Handstand Push Ups are a great example. They can be used to build well trained delts because you can actually achieve muscle failure or go close to it. They also have a great strength carryover for exercises like planche and press to handstands. The muscle up on the other hand will primarily improve your muscle up and not much more.
Ring muscle ups: The better alternative?
Before we get to the benefits we want to talk about the ring muscle up, because in our experience it’s the better upper body compound exercise. While the bar muscle up is all about that high explosive pull up, the false grip ring muscle up offers a better balance between pull and push. It requires way lower pull strength and emphasizes the transition instead of skipping it with raw explosive pull power. Of course you also need to learn the false grip and the transition first. But for most people it’s way easier to learn that, than to meet the requirement of at least 12 clean pull ups, you need for a bar muscle up with halfway decent form.
Of course there are some exceptions. Sven for example was able to do bar muscle ups way before he could do ring muscle ups. The reason for that was that he was already pretty strong at pull ups when he started muscle up training, but never practiced the false grip. In the last couple of years we taught many people how to do the bar and ring muscle up. Most of them achieved their first ring muscle up pretty quickly after mastering the false grip and working on their transition for a couple of months or even weeks.
Benefits of muscle ups
Benefit 1: Personal satisfaction
The muscle up is great as a goal itself. To train for something that not everybody can do easily, requires dedication and consistency. Having a goal, sticking to and finally achieving it is something that will boost your confidence and overall well being.
Benefit 2: A boost to your explosiveness
Another benefit is the improvement of your coordination and explosive pull strength. A muscle up is a great athletic exercise to test your upper body abilities. If you’re already pretty advanced and you can do a lot of clean reps, the muscle up can also be used to build up muscle. But as mentioned before it’s not as good as heavy pull ups or rows.
Benefit 3: It is a good skill to achieve
A muscle up could also be a good goal, if you’re simply into Calisthenics and want to achieve skills or do combination sets on the bar. For exmaple: You do a Muscle Up on a monkey bar and press yourself into a Handstand at the top.
If you would love to master this skill but want to combine it with other exercises for a comprehensive workout, you can’t miss our Complete Calisthenics Program!
Muslce ups: Friends or foes?
So what’s the conclusion? Are muscle ups overrated or not? The muscle up is a great exercise, if explosive strength is one of your main goals. It’s also great as a goal itself. Being able to finally do a muscle up after months or even years of training is a great accomplishment. Nothing beats the feeling when you finally achieve it. If your main goal is to build muscle, improve your strength and have a great carryover effect for other exercises, the muscle up might not be the right exercise for you.
If you’re looking for a good compound upper body exercise we suggest the ring muscle up instead. Here you get a better mix between push and pull and you also strengthen specific muscles around your back you need for the transition.
Watch this video and learn more about muscle ups
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