When myself, Jonathan, and Jeremy first started doing CrossFit, it wasn’t long before we stumbled upon the muscle-up. Almost immediately it became our Holy Grail. It represented the toughest of the tough as far as CrossFit movements were concerned, and we each wanted to get one badly. You might be feeling the exact same way, and rightfully so. Only a very small percentage of the world can say they’ve ever performed one successfully. The muscle-up club is a very exclusive club, and though it requires strength, explosiveness and coordination, perhaps the biggest barrier to getting one is the very awkward “false grip”.
The False Grip
Those looking to get their first muscle-up have to start by practicing the false grip. This is the grip you’ll be using to perform a muscle-up. In the picture above you’ll notice the differences. The false grip places the palm of the hand, and part of the wrist, directly on top of the ring. The standard grip keeps the palm of the hand at the side of the ring. But why? The muscle-up requires the athlete to pull themselves up from beneath the rings, into a dip position above the rings. The best way to transition from the pull-up to the dip is by having your hands already set in the dip position. This grip will give you the best opportunity to.
Don’t worry about muscle-ups just yet. The hardest, most uncomfortable part of the muscle-up for beginners is maintaining the false grip. It places a tremendous amount of pressure on the wrists and requires a significant amount of forearm and wrist strength. Much like your first experiences with the kipping pull-up, the skin on your palms and wrists will become irritated and ripped. Don’t worry though, simple practice will get you ready.
Start by simply hanging from the rings in a false grip. Make sure your elbows are at full extension. Try 3 sets for max time. As soon as you start to feel your hands slip down into a standard grip, stop, take a break, and get ready for your next set. When you’re able to hold the false grip fairly easily, move to 3 sets of 5 false grip, strict pull-ups. The pull-ups will add a different stressor to the false grip and will test your wrists and forearms in new and different ways. If 5 strict pull-ups is too many, go for a max set each time (even if it’s only 2 or 3). Once you become proficient at maintaining the false grip during a pull it’s time to add the kip. Move to 3 sets of 5 of false grip kipping pull-ups. The kip swing will help prepare your wrists and forearms for the dynamic nature of the muscle-up. By the time false grip kipping pull-ups are mastered, your false grip should be good to go for the muscle-up.
*Note: Chalk will help tremendously. Place some on your wrists and your palms to help with slippage from sweating.
Standard (or True) Grip
There are ways to do the muscle-up without utilizing the false grip, but it’s an incredibly advanced skill. The standard/true grip skips preparing your hands for the impending ring dip. Instead it requires you to rotate your hands during the transition phase in order to catch yourself in the bottom of the dip with the palms sitting on top of the rings. This means actually letting go of the rings for a split second during the turnover. Because you have to slide your palms into position on your own, it also means you also have to pull yourself up higher than you might need to using the false grip.
False Grip vs Standard/True Grip
As with most technique variations there are trade-offs. The pull-up to ring dip transition for a muscle-up utilizing the false grip is easier, but maintaining the false grip, especially at high reps, can become very difficult. In comparison, the standard/true grip is really easy to maintain, but the transition into the ring dip can be incredibly difficult. False grip pull-ups also tend to be a little slower than true grip muscle-ups given the preoccupation with hand positioning.
Jeremy Kinnick, Nick Robles, and Danny O’brien are all really good at standard/true grip muscle-ups. Notice the speed at which they go through high reps, but also remember they’ve been practicing and perfecting them for many years now. All beginners though should start with false grip muscle-ups.