Muscle Up Progression Guide by CrossFit Games Athlete

Are you struggling to get your first Muscle Up? This post will guide you through step-by-step Muscle Up progression with drills and programming to get you your first ring MU written by CrossFit Games Competitor Chris Stroud. I spent 6 years as an instructor at CrossFit One World in the Bay Area. During that time I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of clients in our classes over the years. We also hosted dozens of seminars and I was able to observe and talk to those people as well. In that time, I had the opportunity to pick up a thing or two on the Muscle Up Progression.\

I learned so much in that time and one of the themes I observed is this. Many people know how to progress with barbell training because it’s intuitive and linear. Less is know how to progress all the way up to a muscle-up. This is especially true for beginner athletes who have never been on the rings and are still building up basic upper body strength with pull-ups, push-ups, and dips.

The purpose of this guide and the RX Gymnastics Program program is to help people progress through bodyweight movements as intuitively as they would with barbell movements.

Do you offer other progressions?

I do! This post is part of a five-part series that covers the foundational bodyweight movements. You can access up to Level 1 in any of the blog posts. The full programs contain levels 1-5 for each of the gymnastic exercises. Additionally, there are movement videos, weekly templates, and a progress tracker to help you along the way.

Intro to the Muscle Up Progression Guide

How does someone move from zero to 10 ring muscle ups in a systematic progression? The standard response of a trainer who tries to solve this problem is to teach skills first. Show an athlete false grip. Show them how to kip. Then have them attempt muscle-ups till they get it.

That is too ambiguous for my liking. It assumed that that technique is the primary driver to get people to do muscle-ups. I believe that conquering muscle ups is first and foremost about strength development. Once you have the muscle-up specific strength, then a more significant focus on a technique should be developed. The muscle-up is a simple movement. Strength development is generally going to take longer than technique development.

When it comes to the Muscle Up, an athlete needs to have baseline strength first. In my progression programs that have Muscle Ups, I don’t start training towards an MU until the trainee can perform chest to bar strict pull-ups and also strict ring dips.

Why would anyone attempt a muscle up without that baseline? Strength first. Then skill when it comes to MU progressions is my rule of thumb.

What are muscle-ups?

If you’re here, I bet you already know! To make sure everyone is on the same page though, let’s do a quick review.

A muscle-up is when you hang from an apparatus, pull yourself up so that you are on the apparatus, and then extend your arms until they are straight. The apparatus, most of the time, will be gymnastics rings or a pull-up bar.

The Muscle Up mimics being able to get your body up on something. This could be a tree branch or rock or an elephant! For our purposes though we’ll stick to rings and pull-up bars.

Here is a demonstration of me performing kipping muscle-ups on the rings.


Here is another muscle up example except for this time it is on the pull-up bars.


The Level Up Method

The muscle-up progression uses my Level Up method. The Level Up method is a framework to organize each of the RX  programs using Periodization.

There are five levels for each movement in the Level Up Method. Each level has its own goal to move to the next level. Each level is designed and programmed to fit the needs of athletes within that level. Once someone graduates to a new level, the programming is then adjusted to help to reach the goal of the next level.

For the Muscle Up, here are the 5 levels that I have my athletes work through.

How to get started with the Muscle Up Progression Guide?

It is simple to get started on the muscle-up progressions. There are five levels below. Each level has a Current Ability section.

First, you should locate your current ability. Let’s say that you cannot do a ring muscle-up right now. That means you start right at level 1. In addition, in order to start level 1, you should be able to do the following:

  • 5-10 Strict Pull-Ups
  • 5-10 String ring dips
  • Ability to do kipping pull-ups

Can you do that? Great! Then you would be able to start at level 1. If not, I would suggest working through level 3 for ring dips and pull-ups on the RX Gymnastics Program first.

Level 1: Muscle Up Progression

This level is dedicated to Muscle Up Progression drills. Specifically the false grip and the transition between the top of the pull and the bottom of the dip. You should be able to perform 5 strict pull-ups and 5 strict ring dips before starting this level. 

Unlike all other levels where there is a clear goal, this one is amorphous. I want you to build confidence with the transition and false grip. For some, you may just go through this cycle once. For others, that may mean the cycle four to eight times.

You should go through this cycle at least twice. Even if you feel like it’s a waste of time.

  • Prerequisite: Level 3 pull-ups and Level 3 Ring Dips complete. This means you can do 5 perfect/strict pull-ups and ring dips.
  • Move to Level 2 Muscle-Up when: Build strength with the false grip, become efficient at chest-to-ring kipping false grip pull-ups, and practice ring turn-over.
  • Notes: This level has a heavy emphasis on building strength in the transitional phase between the pull and bottom of the dip. I suggest cycling through this 3-6 times before going to level 2 muscle-up even if after 1 cycle you feel comfortable.
  • Suggested scale during WOD’s: Jumping muscle-ups.
ANYTIME5-10 minutes practice of false grip kipping ring pull-ups. 3 x 5 false grip ring rows at highest incline possible. 5-10 minutes practice of strict false grip ring pull-ups in hollow rock position. Go as high as possible.
ANYTIME20-30 reps of proximal ring wrist rotations with as little leg assistance as possible. 10×1 jumping up to a ring dip at lowest possible height. 5×5 muscle-up transitions from toes.





Level 2: Muscle Up Progression

Did you heed my warning and go through the level 1 cycle at least twice? No? Go back. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.

By now you should be familiar with the transition and false grip. In level 2 we are going to get you your first kipping ring muscle up!

The main tool in our arsenal to do this will be jumping muscle-ups. You can see those in the muscle-up progression movement library.

Once you get your first muscle-up I want you to send me an email! I love getting those. It’s an exciting moment in your Cross-Training progressions to be apart of the MU club.

With that said, you won’t move to level 3 the second you get a MU. It’s very common for someone to get a MU and then not be able to replicate it the same day or for a few days. Don’t worry. That’s normal.

If that does happen to you all you need to do is continue through the programming in level 2. It will click. Trust me. Once it does you’ll be able to knock one out any day of the week. That’s when you move to level 3.

Prerequisite: Feel comfortable with false grip and the transition from the pull to the bottom of the dip. Be sure you did the level 1 muscle-up cycle 3-6 times.

  • Current ability: 0 ring kipping muscle-ups. Comfortable with the transition and false grip
  • Move to Level 3 Muscle-Up when: 1 ring muscle-up any day of the week. Do not move to phase 3 when you get your first muscle-up! Wait till you can do it with 100% certainty all the time. I’ve seen many people over the years who get a muscle-up and cannot replicate it for weeks.
  • Notes: When you do get your first muscle-up try to get as many as possible within the next 30 minutes, later on, that day if possible, and each time you go into the gym for the next week. Your goal is to get the movement down by practicing as much as possible.
  • Suggested scale during WOD’s: Jumping muscle-ups.

The programming for this Level is in the Gymnastics Program.

Level 3: Muscle Up Progression

Congrats on making it this far! In Level 3 you should have a solid kipping muscle-up on the rings.

In level 3 we have three areas of intent focus.

First, we will be learning the technique for stringing together ring muscle-ups. If you completed level 3 pull-ups with me this will be very similar. We break down the kipping motion part-by-part and practice them. Once we have all the pieces we then put them together into one fluid motion. The result will be the ability to string them together.

Second, with will work on capacity building. This only means specific strength needed to do more reps.

Third, we’ll introduce the bar muscle-up. The bar MU is actually a little harder than rings because it requires more strength on the pull. The reason being is you need to pull your body around the bar whereas with rings there is a gap that your body goes through.

  • Current ability: 1 kipping ring muscle-up any day of the week.
  • Move to Level 4 Muscle Up when: 5 kipping ring muscle-ups unbroken and 1 bar muscle-up.
  • Objective: Stringing kipping ring muscle-ups together and a bar muscle-up.

The programming for this Level is in the Gymnastics Program.

Level 4: Muscle Up Progression

ow we are rolling! By now you should feel comfortable popping up on the rings and busting out some muscle-ups. Your friends are scratching their heads wondering how you are progressing so quickly.

In level 4 we build on top of what we already know. We want to string together more muscle-ups on both rings and bar. Additionally, we want to start learning how to do a strict muscle-up. Strict muscle-ups are a fantastic strength builder even if they don’t show up in WOD programming much.

Like with strict pull-ups, the more strict muscle-ups you can do the more kipping muscle-ups you can do.

In level 4 you’ll notice we have two microcycles. The way you handle that is to complete the first one and then the second one.

  • Current ability: 5 kipping ring muscle-ups unbroken and 1 bar muscle-up.
  • Move to Level 5 Muscle Up when: 8 women/ 12 men kipping ring muscle-ups, able to string together bar muscle-ups, and 1 strict ring muscle-up.
  • Objective: Muscle-up capacity that will translate into decreasing your time for the “30 Muscle Ups for time” workout.

The programming for this Level is in the Gymnastics Program.

Level 5:Muscle Up Progression

Wow, here we are at the last level. Does that mean once you hit your goal capacity you can just stop? No, not really. Remember, the singular goal of the RX Gymnastics program is to get you to RX WOD’s. By this point, you are either there or almost there. If a WOD has 30 MU’s you might be able to do it but it may take a while.

Where you take it from here is totally up to you and your ambitions. If you want to RX most WOD’s that come up, you will just need to cycle through the MU progressions below a few times a month to maintain. Something along the lines of completing a Microcycle every ~2-3 weeks would do it.

If you have competition ambitions, it’s time to start thinking about custom programming based on your needs.

  • Current ability: 8 women/ 12 men kipping ring muscle-ups, able to string together bar muscle-ups, and 1 strict ring muscle-up.
  • Goal: 12 women/ 18 men kipping ring muscle-ups and 7 women/ 10 men strict ring muscle-ups.
  • Objective:  The singular goal of the RX Gymnastics program is to get you to RX WOD’s. By this point, you have likely reached that point and this cycle is to help you keep progressing onward with the Muscle Up. The focus moving forward will be being able to do high rep muscle-ups while fatigued.