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Muscle Ups: Are They Really All That Impressive?

Wondering whether or not your first muscle up is really all that impressive?

Man doing muscle up on pull up bar

If you went around the streets asking people whether or not they were able to do a pull up, a survey has shown that you would find roughly 68 out of 100 adults would reply by saying that they could.

However if you were to ask about muscle ups, you'd probably be lucky to find 1 in 100 adults that would be able to do one.

The strength that it takes to not only pull your own body up, but also get it over the bar and press up is quite rare.

Or is it?

For those of us that have been able to do muscle ups before, it's always extremely impressive to get the first one, both to our peers and to ourselves.

It's also extremely satisfying as well!

To get up there, be able to see everything else in the gym and feel like you're on top of the world.

However, while it may be impressive compared to what the general population is capable of doing, it might not actually be all that impressive if we're talking strictly about the fitness community and what they're capable of doing.

In this post I'll go over why this might be and offer a new perspective on it, so let's get started!

Are Muscle Ups Impressive?

Before I say anything, I want to get something out of the way.

Anything that you do in the gym is impressive.

And it should be taken that way.

If you're getting up and getting into the gym every day or several days a week, that in itself is impressive and applaudable.

Person waking up every morning and going to the gym

Most of the population isn't able to do that, and it's something that you should be proud of.

Regardless of where you are or the level that you're at, if you're actively putting in your best efforts to improve on yourself and create a better version of yourself, then you have everything to be proud of.

Because if you look at the average person, they're nothing like this.

All I'm saying in this article is that getting your first muscle up might not be the most impressive thing ever, when you take into account what it really takes to achieve your first one.

It's definitely something that you should be proud of achieving, but probably not in the list of the most impressive feats of strength in the gym.

Heck, I was ecstatic when I hit my first muscle up!

I remember I was 16 years old, had the classic swinging and kipping, as well as a absolutely no control. Still, I managed to get both sides of my chest up evenly, and it was still a muscle up.

Of course, under special circumstances it can be more impressive for some than others, but I'll explain that later on.

But yeah that's the main point. It's definitely something to be proud of, just like your first pull up or your first completed 5 mile run.

Alright, now we can go on to explaining why I'm saying this.

The Average Muscle Up Isn't Actually That Difficult

Now, back to the main point of the article.

For the average muscle up that people are doing in the gym (like the one I did when I was 16), it actually doesn't require all that much strength or fitness.

I had achieved this first muscle up after doing about two year's worth of high school rowing, and about a year of hard, consistent lifting in the gym.

Now three years of fitness and working out does sound like a long time, but remember this was when I was between 14 and 16 years old.

I had been trying to hit a muscle up for about a week, and was fairly confident that I was actually able to do one because it really wasn't all that hard pulling myself to to the bar level (it was the rotation of my wrists that was putting me off).

I could do about 18-20 proper pull ups with control and going down to a full dead hang at the bottom in one set to failure, and could do lots of push ups as well.

Fit CrossFit athlete doing push ups next to a barbell

Then, finally one day I had just decided to go for it and got up extremely quickly to my surprise.

From that day onwards, once I realized I actually could do one and roughly knew the basic technique for doing them, it became much easier to replicate the reps.

One thing that I remember realizing, though, was how it wasn't actually that difficult to do. I quickly realized that my brother (who was my age and benched 100kg or 225lb at 15 years old) could probably do it as well.

Now this isn't me making myself sound like I'm stronger than everyone else, or anything like that.

It actually wasn't that difficult.

To test this, I asked some of my friends (who were also my age) to try out a muscle up.

And as expected, even some of them that had only been training for just under a year were almost able to do one.

Sure, their form was beyond ugly, but they were still almost able to get both shoulders up above the bar.

I did some research and I saw someone had made a good point.

The muscle up itself is a very impressive exercise.

It's extremely tough to pull yourself up over a bar and press your body up.

However, with gymbro culture and every trying out muscle ups these days, the average muscle up, even with atrocious form is acceptable.

Imagine if someone told you that they were able to do a pull up, and then when they showed you they were kipping, and swinging, and pulling up unevenly!

Nobody would regard that as a proper pull up!

Yet people still regard muscle ups, of equally atrocious form as perfectly acceptable muscle ups.

That's what I mean.

The average muscle up, although still accepted, is simply not very well performed and not that tough to replicate.

People literally turn it from a pure strength based movement to a full body, explosive exercise!

It's more like ego lifting.

Now if we were to talk about real, controlled muscle ups with minimal swinging, then that's another story.

Those muscle ups are truly impressive feats of strength.

If you're able to do a muscle up like that, then you've truly got something to brag about.

Because out of all the people that can 'do' a muscle up, only a tiny, tiny fraction of them can do them with control.

I remember after my first couple of muscle ups, I tried to do them with control and quickly realized how much of a difference it makes!

Sloppy Muscle Ups Are More Like a Party Trick

Another thing that I saw during my research was the analogy of a muscle up being like a tough flip on a skateboard, or other types of impressive party tricks.

Person doing cool party tricks and flips on a skateboard

They're objectively harder than other tricks/exercises such as the basic pull up or push up, but they're by no means ridiculously difficult to the point where only people that devoted their days to training could do.

If people actually set their minds to it and even just trained for a muscle up once or twice a week, they would eventually be able to get it.

Once again, a real, strict muscle up is a different story.

There are far more impressive exercises such as the planche, or the 90 degree push up that would actually require you to basically devote most of your time to advanced calisthenics in order to pull off successfully.

Isn't This Perspective Skewed Because of Social Media?

Well, I already covered this as remember, any sort of muscle up is certainly impressive compared to what the general population is capable of doing.

I'm only saying that compared to what the actual fitness community can do, the average muscle up is not that difficult to perform.

So How Do You Get Better at Actual Muscle Ups?

Well, I suppose the only thing that you can do is to get stronger!

Keep working away at it and working on yourself, and all your goals will be achievable if you truly put your mind and effort into it.

The muscle up is heavy on technique as well, and it might pay for you to take the time to learn the sticking points of your muscle up, which is most commonly the transition from the pull up to the dip (the part where you twist your hands to prepare for the dip).

There are loads of great tutorials and tips from actual devoted calisthenics athletes teaching you how to get to more advanced muscle ups, for free!

Some great examples are:

  • Chris Heria or THENX

  • Greg O'Gallagher

  • Austin Dunham

  • Ian Barseagle


Hopefully this clears things up and helps get my perspective across, without bursting too many bubbles.

To reiterate, any sort of muscle up is certainly something to be proud of and is impressive.

However if you truly want to turn heads and be that guy that other people (who know a thing or two about fitness) admire, then a strict, controlled muscle up is going to be levels and levels above the average muscle up we're all used to seeing.

I hope you've learned something from this post and have enjoyed reading through it!

If you did, remember to share it with your friends so we can help keep as many people knowledgeable about fitness as possible!

Do YOU think the average muscle up is impressive?


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