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How to Do a Strict Muscle Up on Rings

October 22, 2016 8 min read

How to Do a Strict Muscle Up on Rings

It is exciting when you see a person banging muscle ups one after another. The muscle up on rings exercise combines every pushing and pulling muscle in your body. It's a whole upper body workout, measurement of athleticism and power...and it looks bad ass. This video (and written) guide will help you master the technique and the progressions, to nail your first strict muscle up in no time.

Bar Muscle Up Versus Ring Muscle Up

For maximum functional strength, follow this guide to do a muscle up on gymnastic rings. While the bar muscle up is still an impressive feat of strength, the total upper body engagement on the rings make it an irreplaceable exercise to build raw strength.

Urban Strength customers have found that the strength you build between the ring and bar muscle up translates over to one another once you get close to doing either move, then there seems to be little carry over between the exercises after that. 1 customer could do 10 bar muscle ups and no ring muscle ups. Within two months of training following this guide, his ring muscle ups were even with bar muscle ups.

Video Tutorial: Ring Muscle Up Tutorial, Progressions, & Technique

The video tutorial demonstrates the ring muscle up technique and all progressions required to get the move. The rest of the article elaborates on what is taught and can provide a resource for you to quickly refer to in your training.

The Strict Ring Muscle Up Technique in Four Movements

There are four phases to the ring muscle up:

1. The False Grip

Only advanced level athletes can perform a ring muscle with the common grip. Instead of grabbing the rings in a regular way, you want your wrists to lie on the rings and your elbows should flex towards your fingers. Imagine you are in a bodybuilding pose, showing how big your forearms are. This is what gymnasts call "the false grip".

The false grip on rings

If you've never done gymnastic ring work before, you will find it difficult to hang in the air with this type of grip yet alone do any movement. It's an awkward position at first. You will likely get bruising for the first few months as you learn the grip. Performing a strict muscle up requires the false grip. You will want to do only pull ups with the false grip at first to build a solid foundation.

2. The Pull Up

Not much to explain here. Keep the false grip. Be sure your elbows point forward and do not flare them out. Keep your feet together and legs straight.

Pull up step of the gymnastic rings muscle up

3. The Transition

This is the hard part and the reason why so many people quit trying the movement. Sure, you can use some momentum and perform the Crossfit's famous “Kipping muscle up”, but we're talking about a strict version here. If you're a beginner, momentum from the kipping motion is dangerous and will destroy your shoulders as your muscles are not used to your entire bodyweight in weak positions. No shaking, no swinging, no kipping. Your elbows must scrap the sides of your body rather than flare out.

The transition in the ring muscle up

4. The Dip

Once your deltoids are over your hands, perform a regular dip. Return to the starting position slowly and under control. Aim for a decline of three seconds that stays at the same speed your entire way down.

The dip in the ring muscle up

Now you know what a strict muscle up on rings, it's time to master the movement. If you have experience in calisthenics and can perform at least 5 strict false grip pull ups with rings to your sternum and 10 ring dips with perfect form in a row, you are in good shape and likely just need to fine tune technique. We'll work through these as a progression and other movements to get you ready for the ring muscle up.

Useful progression tip: Throw in some weighted pull ups and dips

If at anytime you find a movement easy but you cannot reach the next progression, use a weight vest. If you can knock out over 10 ring pull ups or dips, adding weight lets you hit the sweet 3-8 rep range for maximum strength development. It's not a must, but it is a smart move.

Our weight vest is excellent for this as it wraps around your body. You can adjust the weight to get the correct resistance. The weight vest is one way like position manipulation, to create progressive overload in bodyweight training to continually get stronger.

Ring Muscle Up Program #1

The first muscle up workout program is our recommended training schedule. It is an improved variation on what many gymnasts learn to get strong on the rings.

Progression #1: Isometric ring holds and false grip chin ups

Grasp the rings in your false grip then practice holding the rings at eye level for 3 seconds. Once that becomes easy, hold different positions in the muscle up movement for 3 seconds. Refer to the 1:11 minute mark of the video tutorial. When your isometric holds feel easy, progress to false grip chin ups.

Ring chin ups are similar to bar chin ups except with the false grip. The hardest aspect folk new to the rings make is a loose false grip. Grip tight to retain a solid hand position. See the 2:43 minute mark of the video.

At the lowest point of your grip, turn the rings outwards so the palms of your hand face away from your sides as demonstrated below:

False grip hand position on gymnastic rings

Aim to do three false grip chin ups before progressing. It is critical you always pull yourself as high as you can to the rings. Expect to do between 5 and 10 good form chin ups before having the strength to do the full muscle up.

Progression #2: Dips

You will work on two types of dips: the bar dip and the ring dip. Bar dips are easier than ring dips as you push against a stable surface.

Go to your local park or gym to find parallel bars. A lot of parks in Australia have this piece of equipment. Look at the Calisthenics Parks website and app to find a park near you that has such parallel bars to do your dips. For bar dips at home, you can use our parallette bars on a raised surface while tucking up your legs.

The most important part with your dips is to do them with a straight body and to go all the way down to the bottom as shown:

Parallel bar dips exercise

Once you can do five bar dips, work on ring dips. If you haven't done dips on the rings before, you will shake until your shoulder stabilizers adapt to the new challenge. Do 3-5 sets of 3-8 reps. Like the bar dips, you want to get deep in the dip:

Ring dips exercise on gymnastic rings

Progression #3: Ring muscle up negative

What do you get when the ring muscle up is a negative? A ring muscle. Lame jokes aside, this progression can be brutal on your wrists. It is normal to get bruising as you work through this position.

The muscle up negative starts you at the top as you ease your way down. There are three main queues to help in the move:

  1. Dip. Ring dip to the full depth.
  2. Lean back. Feel the angle of your forearms change as the rings move to the front of your body. The elbows will go from being vertically above the rings to vertically beneath the rings.
  3. Grip. Hold the rings tight in false grip. Transition from the normal grip into the false grip. The rings will be fully in front of your chest then lower down.

See the 5:25 minute mark of the video tutorial for guidance on this complex move. When you can do 5-10 muscle up negatives in a row with slow and controlled form, you are ready for the final step.

Progression #4: The ring muscle up

Piece together everything you have learned so far. Get into false grip at the bottom position then pull yourself up like how you did with the false grip chin up. It's critical you pull the rings so they come to the top of your stomach region. From there, lean forward and move the rings around to the side of your body. In this position, you complete with a ring dip.

The strict ring muscle up is simple once you have built the foundations of earlier progressions. This does not mean the move is simple, but there is a simple sequence to get the movement.

Too many people waste time trying the move while they lack the strength built from earlier steps. If step four is too hard for you, return to steps one, two, and three. The most important key will likely be to pull yourself higher by bringing the rings as low as possible on your false grip chin ups.

Less Conventional Ring Muscle Up Program #2

Progression #1: Jumping muscle ups

Set your rings at a comfortable height that allows you to generate the explosiveness to jump up and perform this easier version of the ring muscle up. If you set the rings too high you won't be able to jump with enough power to get yourself at the top. Don't set them too low either, as this won't help you with the progression, either. Keep the false grip throughout the movement.

Do a slow and controlled negative on your way down. As it comes to gaining strength and muscle, nothing beats the good old negatives. And I mean really painful slow negatives. You know what people say: “Pain is when weakness leaves the body”. They talk about the “good” pain.

Once you hit 10 reps of jumping muscle ups in a row, move on to the next progression.

Progression #2: Knees to feet muscle ups

Set the rings at a height that allows you to fully extend your arms, while you are on your knees. You should look like you're in a dead hang but with your knees on the ground. Now start pulling yourself up, while transferring the assistance from your knees to your feet. Once you're done with the pull up, you will be in a dip position but on your toes. Now you only have to do a dip and return to your starting position. Don't forget the false grip here too.

Once you're able to repeat this 10 times, you're ready for the next progression.

Progression #3: Feet on box muscle ups

Same thing here, but this time your feet will be elevated on a box or a similar object in front of you. The position makes this progression even more difficult than the previous one and here you'll have to perform a muscle up with most of your bodyweight. Don't rush it. Do both positive and negative parts of the exercise under total control. Get your reps up to 10 and you can finally try out your very first strict ring muscle up.

Sample Training Schedule

Performing a progression everyday would lead to overtraining, and that's a bad thing. Leave at least a day off between your workouts. Here's an example of a weekly training schedule:

  • Monday – Progression
  • Tuesday – Off
  • Wednesday – Progression
  • Thursday – Off
  • Friday – Progression
  • Saturday and Sunday - Off

Stick at it with consistency, patience, and dedication. You will get your first strict muscle up on rings. If you don't have the gear to train this movement, get yourself our good quality wood gymnastic rings.

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