The ring muscle up is an incredible feat of strength, coordination, and body control that makes for an amazing workout. It takes a lot of hard work to get your first ring muscle up, but the journey is worth it! Read on to discover the four simple steps to mastering ring muscle up and the seven essential ring muscle up progressions.
CONTENTS: RING MUSCLE UPS AND PROGRESSIONS – A COMPLETE GUIDE
- What Is a Ring Muscle Up
- Why You Should Do Ring Muscle Ups: The Benefits
- How To Do a Ring Muscle Up in 5 Simple Steps
- The 7 Essential Ring Muscle Ups Progressions and How to Do Them
- How To Progress and Train Ring Muscle Ups
- Ring Muscle Up Workouts
- Tips For Getting Your First Ring Muscle Up
WHAT IS A RING MUSCLE UP
A ring muscle up is a gymnastics movement in which the athlete starts from a hanging position on gymnastics rings, pulls up to the top of a pull up, transitions into the bottom of a dip, and the pushes from the dip position to be supported on the rings with straight arms. This gymnastic movement develops strength, muscle, and coordination in the chest, back and arm muscles more than any other bodyweight exercise.
The Ring Muscle Up can be thought of as an “upper body squat” in how it moves the body up vertically in a single powerful movement, like the squat, except using the upper body. The movement is called the “muscle up” because it engages many upper body muscles at once and requires an extensive amount of strength and work capacity to perform multiple.
The exercise could be performed on pull up bars as a simple muscle up, but for added difficulty we prefer to do our muscle ups on the gymnastics rings as ring muscle ups. Also, the free swinging nature of gymnastics rings allows more natural movement of the shoulders and arms through the movement.
Doing ring muscle ups opens the door to getting in a workout with this intense, strength and muscle building movement anywhere we can hang a set of rings, a suspension trainer, or hook up resistance bands.
If you don’t have a pair of gymnastics rings at home, our need some for travel, click here to check out our instructional guide for making your own portable, simple to setup gymnastics rings to use anywhere.
HOW TO DO A RING MUSCLE UP IN 5 SIMPLE STEPS
- Setup with a false grip setup and hang: Grab the rings with a false grip and setup in a hanging position
- Pull Up: Pull up until the thumbs reach the lower chest
- Transition from the top of a pull up to bottom of a dip: Transition, tracing the fists only the lower pectoral muscle into a dip position
- Push out of a dip: Push out of the bottom of a ring dip and hold at the top
- Lower back to hanging with the false grip and repeat
The ring muscle up is a straight forward move that involves taking the proper grip (the false grip), pulling the body to the top of a pull up (the highest point you can reach), transitioning from the top of the pull up to the bottom of the dip by shifting the shoulders and bodyweight over the hands instead of under, then finally pushing out of the dip.
The most important elements for new “muscle up’ers” to learn is the “false grip” to create proper leverage in the movement, and the transition from pull-up to dip. Once you understand how the grip and transition, as long as you can do 5 controlled, full range pull-ups and dips you’re capable of doing a muscle up.
Let’s review how to do the ring muscle up, step by step
STEP ONE: SETUP IN THE FALSE GRIP + HANG
Grab the rings with a false grip and setup in a hanging position.
What is the ring muscle up false grip?
The false grip involves wrapping the hand around gymnastics rings so that the inside of the wrist and bottom, inner corner of the hand hook onto the rings to allow a proper pull-up, while shortening the distance the body has to be pulled to bring the chest above the rings.
HOW TO DO THE RING MUSCLE UP FALSE GRIP
The false grip involves wrapping the hand around gymnastics rings so that the inside of the wrist and bottom, inner corner of the hand hook onto the rings to allow a proper pull-up and transition to dip.
Using the false grip instead of “neutral grip” shortens the distance the body has to be pulled to bring the chest above the rings, allowing an easier transition from the top of the pull up to the bottom of a dip.
To do the false grip, reach through rings with the hands facing up and slightly in towards the body. Then wrap the inner edge of the hand around the ring with the inner corner of the hand “hooking” the ring. Finally, pull the ring downard to rotate it down while placing your weight on your hooked hand in the false grip
STEP TWO: PULL UP…HIGH
Once you’re setup hanging in the false grip, perform a pull-up pull your body as high as possible, and keeping your elbows and hands in.
Pull up until the thumbs reach the lower chest. As you pull, keep your arms as close together as possible with your elbows in close to your body for leverage and for elbow health in the long term.
At the top of the pull-up, the knuckles of your fists should be pointed towards each other and nearly touching. The thumbs should reach lower chest level during this part of the move to make a more natural transition from the top of the pull up to the bottom of the dip.
STEP THREE: TRANSITION FROM THE TOP OF A PULL UP TO BOTTOM OF A DIP BY SHIFTING THE SHOULDERS FORWARD, OVER THE HANDS
From the top of the pull-up transition into the bottom of the dip
Transition by leaning the shoulders forward so they travel over the hands while pulling and tracing the fists under the lower chest to end in the bottom of a dip position.
Keep your hands close to the body make the movement as efficient and easy as possible and don’t allow the elbows to flare too much.
STEP FOUR: PUSH FROM THE BOTTOM OF A DIP
Lean your chest forward and push out of the bottom of a ring dip. Hold at the top briefly with arms in full extenstion, before lowering back down to the starting position of hanging with the false grip.
THE FULL RING MUSCLE UP
STEP 5: LOWER BACK TO A HANG, TRANSITIONING FROM THE DIP, BACK TO PULL UP, BACK TO HANG
To lower, slowly and controlled back to the hang with false grip.
Lower the body back into the top of a dip, then trace the fists up around the lower chest until the knuckles nearly touch while leaning the shoulders back slightly to transition back into the top of a pull-up.
Lower the body to a hang with false grip, pause, and continue with the next rep
To get good at ring muscle ups, slowly and gradually progress during workouts from one ring muscle up progression to another until you have developed the essential strength (pulling, pushing from dip, false grip strength) and technique (elbows in, false grip positioning, transition) to do perfect, unassisted Ring Muscle Ups on your own.
From there, you’ll add ring muscle ups to your workout – or do ring muscle ups as a workout on their own.
HOW TO MASTER RING MUSCLE UPS: PROGRESSIONS AND YOUR PATHWAY TO SUCCESS
Achieving the muscle up is done by doing a progressive series of exercises that train the appropriate strength (pulling, dip-pushing, and false grip strength) as well as muscle coordination and technique (pull up to dip transition, false grip placement. We call this sequence of exercises ring muscle up progressions.
To master ring muscle ups, it’s important to follow a progressive workout plan that challenges your muscles and builds strength. Each progression delivers just enough intensity that the movement is achievable enough, intense enough, and allows for enough volume to build enough strength to prepare for the next ring muscle up progression.
Here are the seven stages we recommend for success in mastering this difficult skill.
RING MUSCLE UP PROGRESSIONS
- Train Basic Pull (Ring Row) + Push (Push Ups, Assisted Dips) Strength
- Train Pull Up + Dip Strength
- Train False Grip Strength and Technique: False grip hang, then false grip row, last false grip pull ups (this is in addition to training pulling and dipping/pushing strength)
- Train the full Ring Muscle Up Movement and transition with Resistance Bands using false grip.
- Train Assisted Ring Muscle Ups with Rings or A Suspension Trainer using false grip
- Train Momentum Assisted Ring Muscle Ups
- Strict Ring Muscle Ups
Now, let’s run through each ring muscle up progression level to help you understand how to do it each progression.
I’ve included videos of each progression in action, so watch the videos to get the full picture.
MUSCLE UP PROGRESSION 1: RING ROWS, PUSH UPS, AND ASSISTED DIPS
Train Basic Pulling Strength and Pushing Strength
In the first ring muscle up progression, train basic pulling and pushing strength until you can do 2 sets of 7 for each movement.
For basic pulling strength, train the ring row, suspension trainer row, or a pull up with feet supported on the floor. The ring row is performed by grabbing the rings, extending the legs and body to for a 90 degree angle with the ring straps, and then pulling to lift the body until the fists touch and slide around the chests.
The ring row can also be done with a suspension trainer or resistance bands
For basic pushing strength, do push ups.
How to train basic pushing and pulling strength: Do 3 sets of 5 repetitions per movement, increasing in each workout until you’ve reached 4 sets of 10 repetitions for each movement.
When to progress to step 2: 10 controlled, strict ring rows and 10 assisted dips
MUSCLE UP PROGRESSION TWO: PULL UPS + DIP STRENGTH
Train direct vertical pulling and dipping strength
The next step is to develop the pulling strength and pushing strength of a pull up, as well as dip muscles. We start by doing both movements “assisted,” reducing resistance, and progressing until we are doing free, unassisted ring pull ups and ring dips.
To train pull-ups, start by doing “assisted pull ups” with rings or a suspension trainer in which the feet are supported on the ground or box during the movement, to reduce resistance. During the beginning assisted pull ups training, the body should be bent at the hips, and the upper body should be inline with the arms (extended overhead) and the training straps.
Progress by reducing how much of the weight of the is supported on the feet during sets of 7 to 10 reps, until you are able to do a pull up on the rings, without assistance (feet unsupported)
To train dips, start by doing assisted dips. Any dips in which the feet are supported will suffice. You can start doing assisted dips with low parallettes for the least resistance.
As you progress, switch to doing dips on the rings at a low setting, wherein your feet are touching the ground, providing support and reducing resistance. Continue progressing, raising the height of the rings and reducing the amount of weight supported by your feet, until you can do free-hanging, unassisted ring dips.
How to do it: Start off with three sets of five repetitions per movement, both pull ups and dips. Aim for 7 to 10 repetitions per set.
If you achieve less than 3 repetitions in each set, drop to the previous progression (ring rows or assisted dips) and do 3 to 5 more sets aiming for 7 reps. This extra “smoker” ensures we achieve enough intensity in our workout to see improvement
When to progress: After achieving 5 controlled, strict pull-ups and 5 dips, start training the false grip.
MUSCLE UP PROGRESSION THREE: FALSE GRIP STRENGTH AND TECHNIQUE
Train hanging in the false grip hang, then pulling with false grip in ring rows, last train false grip pull ups
The next step is to develop the false grip strength and technique needed for ring muscle ups. You will train the false grip strength and technique while still continuing to train pulling and dipping strength.
How to train false grip: Train the false grip by simply hanging from the rings using the false grip. Start with the static hang from the rings with feet supported (to reduce resistance) aiming for 20 second hangs over 3 to 5 sets. Progress to hanging with feet unsupported for 20 seconds over 3 to 5 sets. Finally, progress to holding the false grip during pull-ups – assisted first, then unassisted.
Note: Continue to train pull-ups and dips while you train the false grip.
When to progress: 20 seconds free hanging with false grip, then when you can perform pull-ups with the false grip
MUSCLE UP PROGRESSION FOUR: TRAIN TRANSITIONING FROM TOP OF THE RING PULL UP TO THE BOTTOM OF THE DIP USING RESISTANCE BANDS
Train the transition from the top of the pull up to bottom of the dip with Resistance Bands while using false grip
The next element to train is the “transition” from the top of the pull up to the bottom of the dip, thus beginning to connect our movements.
We will train this, the transition, by training the whole movement. During this phase you will also a gain a feel for “pulling deeper” in the pull-up, aiming to pull your hands as low as possible, setting you up for an easier transition.
How to train the transition: Anchor your resistance band somewhere high and take a seat. Bend at the hips while keeping the back straight and upper body aligned with your extended arms and pointed at the resistance band anchor. With the resistance band in hand, ideally held with the false grip, pull low and towards the sternum, then rotate the shoulder forward slightly and trace the fist along the lower chest until your position mirrors the setup for the bottom of a dip. Last, push as you would in a dip. Reverse the movement and repeat.
When to progress: 10 controlled assisted muscle-ups on the resistance bands
MUSCLE UP PROGRESSION FIVE: ASSISTED RING MUSCLE UPS
Train assisted ring muscle ups using rings or a suspension trainer using false grip and with feet supported on the ground
In step five, we recreate the ring muscle up movement with rings, but at lower resistance so that we can do more and achieve sufficient volume and intensity in our workouts.
How to train assisted muscle ups: Setup the rings or suspension trainer similar to how you would for assisted pull ups. Ensure that the rings are low enough that you can perform a dip at the top while your feet remain in contact with the ground. Now, perform the full muscle up movement, with your feet in contact with the ground.
For less resistance, bend at the knees and support more weight on the feet. For more resistance, straighten the legs at the knees, pushing your center of gravity away from the point on the ground under the anchor for the rings or suspension trainer.
When to progress: When you can perform 2 sets of 7 controlled, assisted ring muscle-ups on a suspension trainer or with rings, and with feet supported on the floor or on a box, can do 10 free hanging pull ups and 10 free hanging dips, and can hold the false grip for 20 seconds, attempt the ring muscle up
MUSCLE UP PROGRESSION SIX: MOMENTUM ASSISTED RING MUSCLE UPS
Perform free ring muscle ups, pulling hard at the start vertically and using the momentum to carry you through the pull up to dip transition
Now that you’ve completed all of the ring muscle up progressions, its time to do a ring muscle up.
(*Click here to jump back up to the 5 step process for doing a ring muscle up*)
In this progression, we’ll use our momentum – while still maintaining good form – to get us through the movement. This contrasts to the “strict ring muscle up” performed at a slower, controlled and steady pace through the entire movement.
The most difficult part of the ring muscle up for most people is having the pulling strength far enough into the pull up range to get them high into a pull-up for an easy transition. In this progression, we will “cheat” by pulling hard and fast enough to carry our bodies over the top and through the pull-up to dip transition.
How to do it: From the bottom of the muscle up, hanging in a false grip, simply pull hard and fast enough to carry your body up and past your “sticking point” at the top of the pull-up. Once your fist reach your lower pec, and while the momentum of your body moving upward is keeping resistance low, lean your shoulders forward and trace your fists along your lower chest into a dip.
Use the momentum from the initial pull to get you through your transition sticking points, while training the intensity and volume necessary to gain the strength for a strict muscle up
When to progress: When you can perform 3 muscle-ups performed using the momentum of the pull to carry through pull up to dip transition and into the bottom of the dip, attempt a strict ring muscle up.
Feel free to train both momentum assisted and strict muscle ups interchangeably to achieve sufficient volume and intensity in your workouts.
Note: The momentum assisted muscle up is not a kipping muscle up. The ring muscle up technique should be followed the entire time. The body should travel straight upward throughout the pull, maintaining a hollow body position the entire time. Last, we rely on the power of the pull and momentum upward created to get through the transition – this is unlike the kipping muscle up which relies on the swing of the lower body to catapault the upper body and shoulders over the hands.
Maintain proper form throughout the entire move. Do not kip.
MUSCLE UP PROGRESSION SEVEN: STRICT RING MUSCLE UPS
When you can perform three momentum assisted muscle ups, you are ready for strict ring muscle ups.
In strict ring muscle ups, your body should move at a steady, controlled pace through the entire move. You are not relying on momentum, you are relying on your strength at every point of the move.
BOOM!! YOU DID IT!!
HOW TO PROGRESS AND TRAIN YOUR RING MUSCLE UP: 5 sets targeting 7 to 10 reps
We’ve listed general progression standards for each ring muscle up progression but generally, when you can do 7 straight of any movement, you are ready to progress to the next progression.
To train each progression – generally, 3 to 5 sets of 7 to repetitions for each progress exercise is our target, with 20 seconds for holds. This would look something like this.
- 5×7 Ring Pull Ups
- 5×7 Ring Dips
- 5 x 20 Second False Grip Hangs
That would be a solid workout at that progression. However, if you are just breaking into a new progression level and only able to do one or 2 reps of each movement, I recommend doing 3 to 5 sets of attempts (1 or 2 reps) and following this up with 3 to 5 full sets of the next lower progression. This ensures our workout has enough intensity and stimuli to spur growth.
An example of this “smoker” workout would be:
- 4x 1 Ring Muscle Up Attempts (Momentum Assisted)
- 5x 7 Suspension Trainer Muscle Ups
- 5 x 20 Second False Grip Hangs
The Ring Muscle Up attempts train strength at our maximum intensity, and the suspension trainer muscle ups give “frosting on top” to ensure our body is stimulated enough to spur the strength and muscle adaptions.
HOW DO YOU GET GOOD AT RING MUSCLE UPS?
To achieve your first ring muscle up and the continue to improve your ring muscle ups, diligently do the workout for your progression level one to two times per week, increasing the number of progression repetitions you can do and how slowly and controlled you can do them.
Start with the progressions listed above, doing sets of 3 to 5 of the progressive movements until you master that progression (usually when you are able to do 7 to 10 reps of that specific movement) and move up until you finally achieve 1 full ring muscle up.
Then, do 3 to 5 sets of 1 muscle up repetition in your workouts until you can do 2 then 3. If the volume feels to low, add 3 to 5 sets of ring muscle up progressions to achieve sufficient intensity for your workout.
Through the entire process, focus on form and slow, controlled movements and gradually add more reps to your set as your body feels capable of more. Increase the difficulty of each rep by making the movement slower or using less assistance from body weight (less swing) as time goes on.
Progress through this step with caution if you have wrist pain issues–the wrists will be in a lot of flexion during ring muscle ups! Avoid doing pull-ups before developing wrist strength and pulling strength first.
If you feel too much pain in the wrists or if you continue for weeks without progressing, then rest and recover – for at least one week – and return to attempts after that.
If you feel pain in the elbows, check your form and ensure you are keeping the elbows close to the body, not letting them flare, through the movement.
Last, ensure to rest sufficiently. If you plateau, rest. If you feel too much pain in your wrists or elbows, rest.
THE RING MUSCLE UP WORKOUTS: HOW TO WORKOUT WITH RING MUSCLE UPS
RING MUSCLE UP WORKOUT #1: PURE MUSCLE UPS – FOR STRENGTH AND FORM
- Perform 50 or 100 muscle ups in any repetition scheme or number of sets
RING MUSCLE UP WORKOUT #2
6 Rounds of:
- 5 ring muscle ups
- 1 minute rest
RINGLE MUSCLE UP WORKOUT #3: COMPLETE UPPER BODY STRENGTH
8 Rounds as quickly as possible
- 4 x Ring Muscle Ups
- 2 x Clean and Press (performed with a barbell, kettlebell, or sandbag)
3 Rounds as quickly as possible
- 1 Deadlift (2x bodyweight)
- 2 Muscle-Ups
- 3 Squat Cleans (1x bodyweight)
- 4 Handstand Push Ups
TIPS FOR GETTING YOUR FIRST RING MUSCLE UP
- Focus on training the false grip by hanging, then progressively pull more weight. The stronger your false grip the easier ring muscle ups will be.
- Train for a deep pull in your pull-up. Many people lack strength at the end of their pull up. Focusing on pulling deep will remedy that and improve strength quickly.
- Get plenty of rest: 1 muscle-up workout per week is plenty. 2 is the maximum. If your body isn’t healing, skip a week.
- Aim for good form in sets of 1 to 7 reps, instead of poor form and many reps
- Keep your elbows close to the body for good joint health and to make the movement easier
- Skip the Kips: Strict ring muscle ups train more strength, train more muscle, and put you at lower risk for injury
WHAT NEXT: HOW TO WORKOUT USING RING MUSCLE UPS
Now that you’ve mastered the ring muscle up I highly recommend using superpower to facilitate other workouts, to train even more strength, muscle and control.
- For Crossfit and HIIT workouts (for stamina), check out this list of bodyweight Crossfit workouts, many of which involve muscle ups.
- Train the ring muscle up in isolation for more strength: 5 sets of 4 to 10 reps (for strength), aim for slower, more controlled movements progressively, working up to 3 to 5 second negatives between sets.
- Add lower body and posterior chain training for balance: A simple protocol, such as 100 kettlebell swings per day, can add toning strength training as a complement to muscle ups in a time efficient way