Abs & Core Pull Ups

The Baby Muscle Up — First Step Towards ULTIMATE Upper Body Strength

Written by shapeshifter

Our ongoing pull up series is proving to be immensly popular — and we’re not even close to being done! In case you missed our previous posts, check out… Pull Up Technique, Assisted Pull Ups, Traveling Pull Ups and Pull Up Bar Specs. Along the way, we’ve had a few requests to see a post on the ULTIMATE upper body exercise, the Muscle Up. So we turned to our gymnastics guru, Ryan Hurst, for the final word on this impressive upper body strength building move.

The Muscle Up.  The name in itself just sounds cool, and brings up an image of pure, hard-core strength.  The actual move is no less cool and is without a doubt an exercise that most strength and power trainees strive to accomplish.


While I absolutely think that the Muscle Up is a great movement, it really should be seen a yet another arrow in our quiver that allows us to get from under the bar to above the bar for other even cooler moves!

If you have never been able to achieve the muscle up (or its not as solid as you’d like), or even if you have never attempted one, you’ll love this tutorial.  I work with so many people who just jump right in and think that “muscling” their way through the muscle up is the way to go.  In reality the best way to achieve the Muscle Up and do it well requires baby steps…

The Baby Muscle Up

If you really want to get the Muscle Up as fast and as efficiently as possible, you need the…
Baby Muscle Up.

The BMU (Baby Muscle Up) will allow you to focus on technique and the key components necessary for the full Muscle Up.  Those components are as follows:

  • Grip
  • Shoulder to Hand Relationship
  • Upward Drive

Go ahead and try a regular pull up.  Now, keeping your grip the same try and do a Muscle Up.  I think you see that it is nearly impossible to perform a Muscle Up with a standard grip.  That is why we must change our grip by placing our thumb over the bar, and bring our wrists closer towards the bar.  This is called the “false grip”.  This grip position allows you to get your shoulders up and over your hands. If you are unable to get your shoulders up over your hands you will never be able to push yourself over the bar.

In addition to these points, you can lessen the intensity of the exercise by using a bar set lower to the ground, then you can focus on these three points with less frustration.

Start off with a bar that is about chest height.  Place your feet under and slightly forward of the bar. With thumbs over the top of the bar, pull yourself up and bring your wrists up and as close to the bar as possible.  At the same time, drive your shoulders up and over your hands.  Lastly,  push down into the bar to complete the Baby Muscle Up.

In the beginning, you may have to use your legs and that’s why we are start with a low bar.   Once you feel comfortable with this movement, move on to a higher bar and use less leg strength.  Always focus on pulling strongly with your arms and back to get your shoulders up over your hands.

Rather than focus on cranking out tons of reps, work on performing your reps for quality and control each and every time.  Quality over quantity always wins out in the end.

Perform the BMU before your current workout routine for 3 sets of 5 reps (a max of 3 times a week).  This is a strength move for low reps, and if you focus on incremental progression using a low bar, this shouldn’t interfere with your current exercise plan.  In fact, I’m sure it will help your strength building efforts quite a bit.

Work on the Baby Muscle Up diligently and before you know it you’ll nail the full Muscle Up!

If you have any questions for Ryan (Hurst), leave them in the comments. We’ll see if he can drop by and answer them. We won’t try to twist his arm though (or at least Adam won’t — Murdock might try…), since he’s a total judo whiz and can tie people up in knots before they can whisper “uncle.”

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  • Y’all need to be careful with any pull-up exercises, which were a regular part of my exercise routine until, a few years back, I ripped a left biceps tendon on rep 7 of a 15 rep set. There was good news and bad news about the tear. The good news was that it was at a site at which surgical repair would not be necessary. The bad news was that the medical recommendation was that I do no more pull-ups ever again in life, unless I wanted to risk a tear that would mandate surgical repair; the surgical repair, I was informed, would be unlikely in any event to restore the affected biceps to anything like full strength. So watch out.

  • Re: “BMU” – it would have been more effective if your “entire” body, head to toe was in sight to be able to view the complete move. The video cut off the lower body so you could not see your leg and feet placement/movement.

  • I’ve been interested in the muscle up since the time I saw it performed by the Bartendaz and Barstarrs groups (those guys are INSANE). I’m grateful that you and Nick Nilsson posted exercises for this. Definitely trying these soon!

  • Thanks for the videos. I think the baby muscle ups will really help people get stronger and transition to the muscle. I think muscle ups on the rings are easier than on a bar. Anyone else out there think so? Regardless, this exercise will really humble you in the beginning!

  • Yep, muscle ups are definitely easier on the rings because of the ‘play’ in the rings. But if you keep up with the BMU you’ll get em on the bar as well.

    As for the feet placement, I thought that I mentioned in the video to keep them shoulder-width apart under and slight forward of the bar. If not, my apologies. Hope this helps!


    -Ryan Hurst

  • Conway……..people die every day in the shower! So…..what’s your point? Anyone could say anything about every exercise under the sun, leaving us without a thing to do but lie on our backs in bed and never get up! Wait…..that’s what you do when YER done dead!

  • Erik, my point is that not all exercise is always good for you, and that some of the exercises that are touted can come back to bite you in the butt. As for your comment that people die in the shower every day, well, that’s true, but that by no means is a reason to subject yourself to practices that have a certain likelihood of damaging you and, ultimately, of limiting, rather than ehhancing, your physical abilities.

  • Yes Conway, but you stated that one should be wary of “all pull-up exercises”, lest an injury occur.Why the pull-up and not every other exercise as they can all potentially hurt you.

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