The strict ring muscle up. A foundational CrossFit movement, and oftentimes a barrier to entry if you’re looking to score well in the Open. It’s one of the most complex gymnastic movements in CrossFit, but yet not always treated as such.
True, in its purest form, a ring muscle up is simply a pull-up, a sit-up, and a dip. But if that’s all that you needed in order to do one, then everyone strong enough to do those three components would be crushing ring muscle ups like nobody’s business.
In short, ring muscle ups aren’t that simple.
Strict Ring Muscle Ups: The Mindset Fix
Your brain has the capacity to do one of two things for you while performing a new movement - it can THINK, or it can DO.
The Thinking Brain is for drills. As you drill and practice, your Thinking Brain gradually switches off, and your Doing Brain switches on. The Doing Brain is for showtime. Because when you’re all set and ready to fly up there on the rings, the less thinking you do, the better.
What do I mean by that? In other words, the majority of a ring muscle up needs to be automatic.
Here are two prime examples of mindset getting in your way when working on RMU’s.
"It’s just a pull-up, sit-up, dip."
So if I keep those three things in mind, I can do a strict ring muscle up.
Spoiler alert: the actual RMU movement lasts only 1-2 seconds (at least to arriving at the bottom of the dip), but the amount of work done by the body and brain is astonishing.
You’re all aware of the general layout of the movement — pull-up, sit-up, dip. But it’s not just any sit-up, it’s a really fast, powerful one.
Try sitting still and saying all those things out loud at once. Time yourself. No really, try it. How long did it take you? Too long. There’s not enough time to think “pull-up, VIOLENT FAST SIT-UP, press out from dip” and manage a successful ring muscle up!
"I’ve done a strict ring muscle up before…."
But when I really want to do it, I can’t. I am trying SO HARD, and I just keep failing.
Trouble with this mindset is that those failed reps teach your body how to do just that: fail. And with style. Any time you want to bust out a failed muscle up, your body knows exactly how to do that. So what’s the fix?
Let’s take a minute to look at how you’ve learned to do other things, like walking.
If you’ve ever seen a tiny human learn how to walk, you know it is NOT easy at all. It is complex, requiring the body/brain network to run complex coordination, stabilization, and mobilization programs simultaneously.
It seems easy now, because you’ve had loads of time to progress and practice. Children don’t usually just stand up and walk. They test out standing, then use objects for balance, then finally attempt some first steps. It’s not a “zero to hero” scenario. Ring muscle ups are not “zero to hero” situations either. If you’re gunning for your first, you have to first make small progress.
Think of it this way. If your current max back squat is 150 pounds, and you have a goal to squat 300 pounds, you don’t load up 300 pounds from the get-go, and expect to succeed because you “want it so bad”. That’s pretty standard knowledge.
Sounds so silly, but be honest - is that how you're approaching muscle ups?
Not only do you have to progress, but you have to focus on the correct strict ring muscle up progressions. Because let’s not forget about that funny little thing called the transition. Where lazy athlete’s muscle up dreams go to die.
Typically the transition also masquerades as a “sit-up”, which — sure, it certainly looks like a sit-up. But this is not a familiar movement pattern for anyone, by a long stretch. When was the last time you did a sit-up suspended in mid-air? On the ground, sure! All day err’y day - but mid-flight 7 feet off the ground? Think again.
So once you have the prerequisite pull-up and dip strength, it’s time to focus on the transition portion of the movement.
Ring Muscle Up Transition Drills
Here are 3 of my favorite drills to build body awareness and smooth movement patterns to conquer the ring muscle up transition. These drills are listed in a progressive order - from easier, to harder. So if you have no clue where to start, I suggest tackling kneeling transitions first.
Kneeling Transitions on Low Rings
Kneel down on your knees, sitting on your heels. Curl your toes under so that the tops of your feet are off the floor.
Line your HEELS and HIPS up with a vertical post on the rig or whatever is holding up your rings. The rings should be DIRECTLY above you so when you begin your pull, you are pulling UP and not forward.
Look up at the rings. Do you have a meaty false grip? Bring the rings in close so your knuckles are touching. Now reset your gaze to neutral. Keep the rings close and begin to pull. Pull to your sternum. Let the rings open around your chest to your sides - just below your armpits, sending your chest and shoulders aggressively forward. Own that position.
Stay there for a few seconds. That deep dip is where you are trying to be, so learn what it feels like to be there. When you’re ready, press up out of the dip. Use your feet for as much or as little help as you need.
Box Transitions on Low Rings
Set yourself up in a horizontal ring row position. Your feet can be on the floor (easier) or elevated on a plate/box (harder).
Set your false grip just like you did for the kneeling transitions.
Pull the rings as close to your sternum as possible. Keep the rings close!
You will naturally want to use your legs and hips to assist you through the transition. This is ok as long as you focus in on holding your true hollow position, not allowing your hips to rise above your shoulders.
Now, just like in the kneeling transitions, let the rings open around your chest to your sides - just below your armpits, sending your chest and shoulders aggressively forward. Press out from there.
Jumping Muscle Ups on High Rings
Set up a box directly under the rings. When you stand on the box, you should be able to grab the rings with bent arms while still fully upright. Grab the rings with a solid false grip.
Remember: false grip is the grip of champions.
Bend your knees and lower down so that your arms are now at full extension. Using your legs, jump directly upwards and follow through into a super duper deep dip; as low as you can go on those rings.
Why? Because that deep dip is where you will land your first ring muscle up… so don’t you want to learn how to press out from that position?
You don’t have to complete a press-out for every rep you do, as that will result in fatigue. I do recommend pressing out about 1 of every 3 jumping muscle ups you do so that your body learns what it needs to do.
Ready for kipping ring muscle ups?
Try out these three progressions — and even if you have gotten a strict ring muscle up in the past, start with step one. The best place to begin is at the very start!
From there, once you can comfortably do a few strict ring muscle ups in a row, then it’s time to start working on your kipping. Like all gymnastics movements: master strict before you master kipping.
Use these drills to fill in your gaps, and you’ll have ring muscle ups mastered in no time. And if you’re more of a visual learner, we have an excellent video from Coach Ben that walks through a few more ring muscle up transition drills, check it out:
Start working on these drills now... the Open is closing in on us, and we’ve learned from the past that muscle ups can show up ANYWHERE, even the very beginning (remember Open WOD 15.3).
Looking for more strict ring muscle up help? Click the button below to view our most popular fault fixer videos, pulled straight from our flagship course, Muscle Up Madness.
Don’t get aced out of a whole workout because you let your ring muscle up practice slide. Stop getting nervous and jittery whenever you hear the words muscle up.... try these drills on for size, and your gains will start piling up!
Disclaimer: WODprep is not associated with CrossFit® in any way and these opinions are separate from the CrossFit® brand.