Coaches see it all the time - athletes can get enough height in his or her pull, and the hands reach the chest, but they still can't turn over. Athletes might feel like they are very close because of the height they reach, but height in the muscle up is yet again a false sense of hope and the direction that the palms are facing is a huge indicator as to why.
Getting straight to the point, the direction your palms are facing at a certain point of a movement gives insight on what muscles are most predominately engaged. Let's go over all the sequences of the muscle up in relation to the direction of the palms.
When you grip the rings in a dead hang or with minimal tension, the palms face outwards or forwards depending on mobility. At this point, the forearms are predominantly the most engaged muscle (if in a moderately passive hang).
During the initiation of the pull (if done correctly), the scapula retracts, the shoulder blades are repressed and the lats engage thus turning the palms to face downwards. The biceps should also engage, but not predominantly. This is thecommon mistake that we will circle back to. Gradually during the pull your wrists should begin to rotate inwards and your palms will face each other.
This step instantly becomes more probable when the palms are already facing each other from the pull. If you are you using your lats in the pull, the palms should already be facing inwards thus making the transition possible as it simply becomes a transfer of your center mass on top of the rings. The direction of the palms should not change from the top of the pull.
Through the push (or dip) the wrists and shoulders are rotating externally and the palms gradually face diagonally away from your body. Turning the wrists in this direction is harder than not, but in terms of movement diagnosis and assurance of mastery - do it.
Now if you see an athlete reach the top of his or her pull with palms facing away from his or her body, this is a huge indication that the lats where not activated in a dominate manner over the biceps or the forearms. The correction to give this athlete is to engage his or her lats in the initiation of the pull - before the athlete even bends at the elbow. Lat engagement is achieved by retracting the scapula and pushing down with the lats before the biceps are ever engaged. This correction is a lot easier to practice when doing a strict muscle up as opposed to a kipping muscle up.
When lat engagement is weaker than bicep engagement in the muscle up, the palms end up facing away from the athlete thus making it near impossible to turn over simply because your wrists are blocking your center mass. The palms face forward at the end range of motion for the biceps; the palms face each other at the end range of motion of the lats. This also briefly leads into why a strict bar muscle up is harder than a strict ring muscle up.
The way we like to show this lat engagement to an athlete is by using a PVC to engage the lat muscles solely. Have the athlete hold a PVC pipe with his or her palms facing downwards in what would be a clean grip with the arms bent or straight out in front. Ask the athlete to try and break that PVC pipe in half straight down the middle between both hands. The lats will immediately engage first and if the athlete could break the PVC pipe the wrists would immediately turn inwards and the palms would face each other. This is the same engagement we want to happen in the pull, more specifically the top of the pull before the transition. The major takeaway with this PVC drill is that the athlete gets the feeling of lat engagement before any bicep engagement whatsoever.
You can use the direction of the palms as a reference during any point in the muscle up. Use a slow motion video at a side profile and pay attention to where your palms are facing. Go back and dissect where exactly the wrists and palms fail to rotate or face a certain direction. While there are exceptions to this, it is highly likely that the direction your palms face have a direct relation to lat, bicep and forearm activation.
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