Bar muscle ups (BMU) are considered to be one of the hardest exercises in all of CrossFit. It’s the kind of skill that turns heads at the gym and inspires athletes to master it.
In this article, we’ll break down this elusive exercise in a way that will help beginners who are working towards their first reps, as well as intermediate athletes who want to link reps and improve their technique.
Either way, bar muscle ups require sweat, practice, and persistence, but with the right approach, they’re absolutely attainable.
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Why Bar Muscle Ups Matter
Not only are Bar muscle ups a perfect example of functional strength, they are an undeniable indicator of body awareness and coordination.
Learning bar muscle ups will add versatility to your WODs and help you to become a well-rounded CrossFit athlete. If you want to RX, you are expected to have this skill, and if you intend on competing, being able to do BMU is a must.
Understanding the Exercise
When learning the Bar Muscle up, the exercise is commonly broken into 4 phases:
- The Kip
- The Hip Extension
- The Transition
- The Dip (or Reload when complete multiple reps)
Start by hanging from the bar with a palms-down (prone) grip. Initiate a kip swing by using your hips, legs, shoulders, and mid-back to transition between hollow and arch positions.
The kip is essential for generating momentum. Eventually, you’ll learn to do this more efficiently by jumping to the bar directly into this movement.
The Hip Extension
As you reach the peak of the arch, initiate the change to hollow with your chest slightly pointed toward the ceiling. Elevate your feet and execute a violent hip thrust, bringing your hips close to the bar (and sending your feet slightly lower).
Once the bar reaches the area around your hips, it’s time to transition from the pull-up phase to the dip phase.
Pull your chest up and shift your body forward by bending at your hips and/waist. Follow through by sending your legs back.
This phase is commonly compared to doing a really aggressive sit up.
In the dip phase, engage your chest and triceps to lockout your arms while maintaining your head and shoulders slightly in front of the bar. Using your legs to kick out of the dip will help reduce fatigue. Hold the top support position to ensure your rep.
To initiate the next rep, maintain a straight body position with your core engaged. From top support, gently fall back into hollow position behind the bar. Lower your body with control and engage your core to prevent swinging.
Athletes can practice each phase individually before grouping them.
Prerequisites for Achieving a BMU
Executing a bar muscle up consists of transitioning from a pull-up to a dip.
This means that athletes must have the strength to pull your body from under the bar, and dip out from the top, while also possessing the technique and coordination to execute the transition.
If you want to know if you’re ready to learn BMU, or if you have a lot of difficulty performing reps, here are some minimal strength requisites that you meet before taking on this demanding exercise:
- Upper body and grip Strength: Athletes should be able to perform 3-5 strict pull ups and static dips. If you want to ensure success, aim to have 2-5 strict chest to bar pull ups. It’s also helpful to be able to perform kipping variations of these two movements. Try our 6-week Strict Pull up Course if you haven’t unlocked this skill yet!
- Flexibility and Mobility: Athletes will need a fair amount of flexibility to fully benefit from the hip extension that generates power for the upward movement. It’s also important that the shoulders have enough mobility to pass through the range of motion found in the transition. Stability for the shoulders and upper back is the difference between achieving high volume reps and injury. Begin incorporating scapular drills and exercises that will strengthen shoulder rotation early on in your CrossFit career to avoid the latter. Learn about strengthening your shoulders in this article.
- Core Strength: Maintaining a strong core is essential for both the lever the athlete needs to generate the power needed before the transition, as well as linking reps. Core stability drills like weighted carries, holds, and hollow drills with help to develop this aspect.
Prioritize meeting these basic foundations, and your road to better bar muscle ups will be a smooth one.
Bar Muscle up Common Errors (and How to Avoid Them)
Rushing the Movement ❌
This error is mostly seen when athletes are attempting their first bar muscle up.
They are so concerned with getting over the bar they rush through the kipping phase which will in fact, make the transition a lot easier.
Speed is important, but hitting the right positions (hollow, arch, and hip extension) at the right time is crucial to avoid inefficiency, developing bad habits, and even injury.
Over-Gripping the Bar ❌
Over gripping is common when an athlete tries to exert a lot of effort all at once.
Unfortunately, a death grip only restricts the dynamic movement that’s necessary for a successful transition.
It wastes energy and significantly increases the chances of ripping open your hands.
Aim to keep a firm grip that allows the bar to move smoothly in your hands as you position your body from under to over the bar.
Neglecting Core Stability and Hip Extension ❌
Hip extension and core stability are major aspects in an efficient bar muscle up.
Core stability is important for maintaining integrity in the positions, while hip extension generates the force to send athletes over the bar.
Practice drills like hip-to-bar or glide kips to develop control in these areas.
Lack of Strength and Technique Development ❌
One of the main prerequisites for achieving bar muscle ups is to have a solid base of upper body strength.
Including variations of strict pull-ups and dips can help to build the foundational strength needed to practice muscle ups and perform them even when you’re fatigued.
Exercises like rope climbs, or presses can be used to develop absolute strength, but don’t forget to practice skill-specific exercises like transitions on low bar and chest to bar pull-ups, to develop the skills exclusive for bar muscle ups.
Lack of Recovery and Mobility ❌
Bar muscle ups are considered to be an advanced skill for a reason: they require a large range of motion, strength, stamina, and coordination.
This exercise is extremely demanding on athletes’ shoulders and hips.
Although consistent practice is necessary to learn and perfect this skill, doing more volume than your body is ready for can lead to discomfort or chronic injuries.
Be sure to warm up properly before practicing or participating in workouts that have bar muscle ups.
It’s also a good idea to do compensatory and joint-strengthening exercises to reduce your risk of injury.
Training for Better Bar Muscle Ups ✅
Making time to incorporate the extra work needed for efficient bar muscle ups can be difficult for busy athletes. It can also be very discouraging to weed through vast online searches, follow the progressions, drills, and hacks only to still feel like you’re getting nowhere.
For those looking to elevate their bar muscle up skills, consider a structured training program.
The Progrm Athlete Academy offers a 6-week course specifically designed for athletes to develop their skills, without leaving behind their regular training plan.
Don’t leave your progress to chance.
Our program has been developed by some of the most reputable CrossFit coaches in Europe, and is tested by athletes of various levels to ensure it will be effective for the majority.
Bar muscle ups are more than just a CrossFit skill, they’re an impressive display of fitness and a necessity for being an RX athlete.
By understanding the movement, meeting the minimal strength requirements, and practicing consistently, dominating this exercise is possible for the majority of athletes.
Hone your skills with a structured program and you’ll be flying in no time.
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