Bar Muscle Ups. For roughly a year or so, just the mention of them had me (Kait) nearly running out the door of the gym.
But if you’re new to the movement, don’t let me scare you off. Before anything else, let’s break down the bar muscle up into what WODprep believes are six key parts.
- The hollow body position
- The extended (arch) position
- Scoop legs & lever back
- The hip pop
- Slide hands around the bar
- Fast sit-up & lockout arms
Seems easy enough, right?! Stick with me, and we’ll dive into each of these steps further.
Let me rewind really quick, and tell you a bit about myself. I’ve been at the sport of CrossFit® for about three years now and even had the opportunity to take the Level 1 course at the beginning of this year. One of the things that I have come to love so much about this style of working out is that there really is a never-ending supply of skills and movements to work on. So when I found myself getting a pretty good grip on kipping pull-ups, I asked myself, “what’s next?”.
I decided on the ever-elusive bar muscle up.
(Sidenote: WODprep doesn’t recommend attempting bar muscle ups until you can do at least a few strict pull-ups. Don’t have strict pull-ups yet? Check out our guide here.)
During the 2016 Open, I thought it would be my time to shine. When 16.3 was programmed with snatches and bar muscle ups, I was thoroughly convinced that with a little help from that ‘Open magic’ – I was going to grab my first one.
I didn’t. I walked away from that workout with two ripped hands and broken pride. To be really honest, I didn’t give bar muscle ups a shot for a long time after that.
Fast forward a year. Yes, you read that right, I didn’t really attempt bar muscle ups for almost a year after that. Too many athletes around me made it look easy, and I knew I was just going to find myself flailing up on the bar, trying to get over the top. No point in embarrassing myself, right?
(wrong – awful mindset to have, Kait!)
So when 17.2 was programmed this past year, I decided it was time to give it a go again. Except more tactically this time. I took a few days before the workout, watched every single video Ben has on bar muscle ups, and broke down the movement with my coaches at the gym.
I didn’t need the Open magic – I ended up getting 11 bar muscle ups total. They were singles of course, and they were pretty ugly, but I got them!
Now, enough of my bar muscle up saga, let’s talk strategy.
What did I learn? A lot of things, but most importantly I learned that you aren’t going to grasp a new skill very well if you go into it completely blind. Having coaching and general knowledge beforehand helps; whether that’s through videos or in-person.
If you’re thinking this upcoming Open is going to be your time to finally achieve a bar muscle up, NOW is the best time to start working on them (not a week before, like me) and learning the movement. Because while I was able to get my first during the Open, my form was pretty awful and I potentially could have injured myself.
And since I don’t want you to go in completely blind when it comes to bar muscle ups, below let’s walk through the six keys that WODprep recommends to keep in mind when breaking down the bar muscle up:
Step 1. Hollow body position
Similar to pull-ups, holding a hollow body position is key. Jump up onto the bar, and establish a solid hollow body position while hanging. Also, try playing around with your grip; I personally find that a slightly narrower grip is easier for me when it comes to BMU’s.
Step 2. Arch
Move into an arch position – or in other words, an extended position. Your back should be slightly arched, with your feet behind you and together, staying tight throughout your core and quads, with your shoulders open and active.
Step 3. Scoop legs & lever back
From the arch position, move to scoop your legs through (back under the bar) and then levering yourself back. Think of it as closing the angle between your arms and torso, while “pulling” the bar down. This will naturally elevate your body.
Step 4. Hip Pop
Once your body begins to elevate, it’s time for that hip pop. As your knees and legs are lifting into the air with the elevation, think about aggressively popping your hips. This is what will really help to get your body over the top bar. Almost simultaneous with your hip pop, you should also begin to pull the bar towards your hips.
Step 5. Slide hands around the bar
This is one of the most important steps, so read carefully: let your hands slide around the bar. This step is often missed by many athletes, who instead death trip grip the bar. Without the sliding motion around the bar, it’s pretty hard to let your body settle over the top of the bar! This mistake is what commonly leads to the dreaded ‘chicken wing’ – which can actually cause injury. Think: relax your grip, let your hands slide.
Step 6. Fast sit-up & lockout arms
The final cue to use to really get up and over that bar is ‘the fast sit-up.’ Think of it this way; if you were wearing a hat while doing your BMU, you want to throw that hat off of your head as you come up and over the bar. Engage your core, and allow that torso to really pivot over the top of the pull-up bar, then locking out your arms at the top.
Remember: practice makes perfect!
I share my story to reassure you, regardless of what your gymnastic-savvy friend may tell you, or how simple Ben can make it look, bar muscle ups aren’t easy (for a lot of us at least).
Luckily, WODprep is here to help give you that plan you need to either work towards your first bar muscle up, perfect your form, or start stringing them together. Be sure to check out our free guide!
I’ve got to run, but let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.
Question: Which step are you missing in your bar muscle ups? In your own words, what do you think is causing this problem?