While you may think you can watch a video on Instagram, walk into the gym, jump up onto the bar and simply ‘do’ a bar muscle up, you couldn’t be more wrong. Okay, okay, I get it. There are people who are strong enough and coordinated enough to fling themselves up there and do a BMU on a whim, but for most of us, bar muscle ups are a feat of strength, fitness, power, and most of all, practice. In this article, we’re going to get into the nitty gritty of bar muscle ups, including their benefits, how to do a bar muscle up, and BMU progressions, just in case you’re not quite there yet.
What Is A Bar Muscle Up
Believe it or not a bar muscle up is harder to do than a strict muscle up on the rings. Whether you’re doing CrossFit, calisthenics, or just getting more technical with your workouts, the bar muscle up can be an elusive and frustrating movement. In short, a bar muscle up takes someone from a hanging position on the bar to up and over the top of the bar in a full locked out position. This movement is mainly only seen in CF and calisthenics. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re in one of the two, and really looking to achieve your first BMU or a more efficient BMU. If you’re looking to become a more competitive athlete then this is definitely a gymnastics movement that you’re going to want to master with quality technique and practice to really gain an edge over your fellow competitors.
Bar Muscle Up Muscles Worked
Performing a bar muscle up requires you to swing, pull, push, and press. This movement incorporates the full body, and in doing so, recruits many muscles across the body from top to bottom. More specifically speaking, the muscles worked by the bar muscle up include the lats, traps, supra- and infraspinatus, theres minor, sub scaps, the core, and the erectors. Not to mention the muscles of the arms, such as the forearms, biceps, triceps, and your grip, but also in the lower body, your hip flexors. Instead of hammering BMU after BMU, it is recommended that you work on developing these muscles individually and building up to the full body movement so that you can recruit the strength and coordination when you need it most, that is, without chicken winging.
Example exercises to develop bar muscle up strength:
lat pull down
bent over rows
toe to bars
kipping C2B & Pull Ups
strict muscle ups
Bar Muscle Up Benefits
The bar muscle up doesn’t just present physical benefits but also competitive benefits to those looking to push their potential in competition.
By practicing proper mechanic of the bar muscle up you’re inherently going to build both strength and confidence on the high bar. In CrossFit, and even calisthenics, this is a must have when looking to do more technical movements or to progress further from scaled to RX and even into the elite RX divisions. Since this movement recruits a wide variety of muscles from the top of the back and shoulders down to the hip region, you’re going to be able to see this strength translate over into other movements such as thrusters, where you have to squat and press, as well as things like hand stand walks.
The explosiveness of the bar muscle up that is needed to generate force from being under the bar to getting on top of the bar is arguably the most complex part of the motion. Yes, you could argue that it is a feat of strength, but without momentum and power generation, your strength is just going to get you up and over without being something you can maintain long term, like in a workout. In generating more explosive power in the BMU, this skill will also double over into your other gymnastic movements in CrossFit such as toe to bars, chest to bars, pull ups, and even things like wall balls and hand stand push ups.
The bar muscle up in CrossFit requires a tight and controlled swing with a seriously powerful and strong press down throughout the entire skill. One of the biggest keys to this movement is tension, aka keeping the body in the proper and tight positioning throughout, so that you can recruit the correct muscles at the correct time. This not only supports your body’s weight, but harnesses the power and rest rid of the dreaded chicken wing. With coordination and skill, you’ll be able to connect what the upper body is doing with the help of the lower body so that you can feel the ‘snap’ into the hollow position, without the feet coming too high, elevating the trunk up and over the bar.
If you have poor mobility, you’re simply not going to be able to do this movement. Simple fact. The technique of the movement comes down to a few different pieces that rely on mobility more than you probably assume. Without being able to achieve the proper progression positions prior to putting together the whole movement, your body isn’t going to have the muscle memory to recruit when putting the whole thing together. From the hollow position, to pressing down and back on the bar, to wrist mobility and positioning over the top of the bar to get into the press position, you’re going to rely heavily on your wrist flexion, mobility in the shoulders and the lats, as well as the strength, power, and coordination mentioned previously.
How To Do A Bar Muscle Up
A common mistake when approaching the bar muscle up in CrossFit is starting the motion from a dead hang. Instead, using your body’s weight and momentum from the moment you hop onto the bar, you’re going to be able to generate quite a bit of force and momentum to get yourself into the hollow hold position. Start behind the bar, jump and grab the bar in a hollow body position, swing forward, letting your head drive past the shoulders, core engaged, and eyes forward. As your weight begins to load, come back, pressing away from the bar, initiating the initial kip position.
As you begin to come backwards and pass the bar, you’re going to want to start to push the bar away from you with straight arms, using that lat drive to generate power. This is what is going to generate your momentum from in front of the bar to behind it.
As you’re pressing behind the bar with straight arms, you’re going to want to bring the hips and the feet in front of you, generating that upward pull of the hips to the bar. As you bring the hips to the bar with the arms straight, this is where you flip the wrists up and over the bar, ideally getting the bar to the mid-core/hip region.
NOTE: this is where the chicken wing comes in. If you’re chicken winging, you need to stop, and no, we’re not kidding. At some point in your force generation you’re not generating the proper amount of force to get both sides up and over the bar. We recommend going back to your drills, breaking down your movement, until you’re able to get up and over the bar with both arms, not just one.
After your torso gets up and over the bar you’re going to need to complete the movement by pressing out of the dip. If a good pull happens and you’re over the bar well, you’re going to do less of a dip, and visa versa if you’re not over the bar well. With string hands on the bar, press up and out, so that the arms are in a fully extended position. From here, reset, and start over.
Bar Muscle Up Progressions
Similar to what we mentioned earlier about working up to the movement by building strength, power, and coordination, bar muscle up progressions aren’t really much different.
Starting with the bottom of the movement, here are some basic progressions that can assist you in being both confident and efficient when performing a bar muscle up movement:
Hollow Holds (on the ground)
lay on your back on the ground and get into a ‘banana like position’ with your hands overhead, shoulders off the ground, pressing the low back into the ground, and using the lower abs to raise and hold the legs off the ground.
Hollow Body Kips
jump on the bar and mimic the hollow hold that you had on the floor with this hollow body position. Use your shoulders and momentum to swing forward, letting the head come through and the feet/hips to go behind the body, then when your momentum starts to shift, press the bar away from you, getting into that hollow hold position, with the feet and hips slightly in front of you. This should be a tight and controlled position throughout.
Hips To Bar
Using the movement from the hollow body kips on the bar, this time as you press yourself away from the bar, get more power and try to bring the hips to the bar with straight arms, looking up at the bar or above the bar at the ceiling. Then, press away from the bar, coming back into the front position of the hollow body kip
Hands Over Bar Levers
This bar muscle up progression is going to help you work on getting your wrists up and over the bar to prepare for your transition. You’re going to perform the same hip-to-bar position, but this time, you’re going to give yourself a little ‘pop’ with the momentum, allowing your hands and wrists to slide over the top of the bar, taking your knuckle position from facing the ceiling, to over the front of the bar. You should feel a slight ‘weightlessness’ in this position and your grip is going to relax a little. Then, when your momentum starts to shift down, regrip the bar and go back into your kip
Get Over The Bar
The last bar muscle up progression is actually getting over the bar after your wrists turn over. So instead of staying under/behind the bar when your wrists turn over, use big hips to get up and over the bar. Think about pulling the bar to the stomach or hip area, then once over the bar, finish by pressing out of the position, locking out the arms, completing your bar muscle up progression work. Into the next rep you go!
Bar Muscle Ups: Takeaway
In short, the bar muscle up movement in CrossFit can be a make it or break it movement, especially when it comes to competition standards. However, with proper practice, strength, and coordination development (not to mention mobility), you can actually learn to master this movement in no time. However, make sure to not chicken wing over the bar, as this not only signals poor technique, but it can also set you up for a pretty severe injury (yikes). All in all, practice makes perfect. You got this!
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