In this post, we will cover the second phase of the strict muscle up - the pull. Specifically, what it is, how to do it correctly and drills to build a stronger pull.
In our previous post, we discussed the first of four phases of movement in the strict muscle up: grip. As we review these phases of movement, it's important to understand that each of them are important and we need the necessary level of strength in each one to complete a strict muscle up. Now it's time to review the second phase of the movement which is the pull.
What is considered the pull phase?
The pull phase is where your grip is set, and beginning with straight or nearly straight arms, you pull the rings down in front of your body to a point where you will then be able to press into your transition.
Pretty simple right? Well, let's dig a little deeper!
How to pull correctly
In theory, we could just say to pull the rings down in front of you toward your chest and you could potentially be doing it right. However, experience has taught us to make sure we take a look at the finer mechanics of the movement to ensure we are taking advantage of the maximum capacity of the shoulder girdle.
To pull correctly, we must pull in the correct order, which means to begin the movement by loading the shoulder girdle first, then pulling with the arms. For ring rows, pull-ups and muscle ups, it will look like this:
#1. Retract your shoulder blades
From a full hang, squeeze your shoulders down and back. Doing this will increase the distance between your shoulders and ears while loading the shoulder girdle. It will also increase the engagement of the lats as explained in step 2. This is worth practicing a few times if you’ve never done it before. You can think of lifting your chest toward the rings as you do it to emphasize getting the shoulders back. This movement is often called “shoulder depressions” or “shoulder shrugs”.
#2. Pull your elbows down
With your shoulders squeezed back, pull your elbows down toward your hips. The orientation of your elbows will vary depending on if you have pronated versus supinated grip (hands facing forward versus toward each other or toward your body). The important part here is that you “think” about pulling your elbows toward your hips, as you will get better lat engagement that way. Once you feel confident with step 1, I recommend practicing steps 1 and 2 together to make sure you are doing them in the right sequence.
#3. Pull hands down
The final step is to pull the bar or rings as far down the body as possible specifically to the chest. Again, I recommend practicing these steps regularly in order to pull in the proper sequence, which will increase the power of your pull.
Make sure you are pulling to the correct spot
The top of the pull is when the the bottom of the rings reaches roughly your sternum. Anything after that is considered the “transition” phase and is much more like a “push” than a “pull”, which is to say that you are “pressing” the rings away from your body versus pulling them to you.
At the top of the pull, the rings should be in front of your body. As seen in the photo, my shoulders are behind the rings and not directly underneath them. This will allow my shoulders to travel behind and then on top in the transition. As you begin your pull, you will drive your elbows forward (palms facing) as you pull them toward your hips.
Not pulling high enough
The height of the pull needs to be to about the center of your chest. Specifically, the bottom of the rings need to make it to the bottom of the shoulders so that they can get over them. All too often, I see athletes missing muscle ups because they are pulling their chins to the rings and that just isn't going to be high enough.
Try this: Stand in front of a mirror and act as if you are pulling the rings down the front of your body with an imaginary false grip. Lower your elbows and hands until your wrists are below the front of the shoulders. By seeing yourself in the mirror and seeing/feeling the place you need to pull to, you can mimic that in your ring pull-ups.
Improper pulling sequence
One of my favorite verbal cues in weightlifting is “when the elbows bend, the power ends." This means when you bend your elbows before you’ve fully used your hips, you are reducing your strength to the limit that you can maintain an elbow bend. This isn’t going to be very much.
In the case of the muscle up, if you bend your elbows before pulling your shoulders down, you will not load the shoulder girdle and lats to their best potential and will miss out on a powerful pull. Practice the pulling sequence daily - retract and depress shoulders, then pull elbows and then hands. Do it until it’s smooth and flawless!
Weak false grip
Being that maintaining a false grip is required during the pull phase of the strict muscle up, it is common for this to be the weak link in the pull. You are only as strong as your weakest link! I have seen it too many times where an athlete will have 10 powerful looking strict bar pull-ups, but when they attempt a strict ring muscle up, they lose all of their power and speed in their pull and it is 100% because their false grip is weak and cannot support a strong pull. You will not be able to pull any harder than you can maintain your false grip, so please do not overlook your grip strength!
Best drills to build a stronger pull
The muscles used in the pull are in the back, shoulders and arms - the lats being the largest. For simplicity purposes, we can just think of them as the “back muscles” and their main function is to pull your arms toward your body. Rep and time ranges can vary on these movements, but I typically recommend keeping reps low enough to support proper form (including proper pulling sequence) and NOT going to complete failure.
Ring rows are not only a great place to start for beginners, but can be used by advanced athletes in higher rep schemes to add volume to your back training.
Timed holds with your chin over the rings slowly lowering yourself from the top to the bottom position, known as “negatives”, are both great ways to improve strength and the position of your pull. Palms can be rotated toward the body, each other or away to engage different areas of the back.
A “feet elevated” ring row is an advanced version of the standard ring row with your feet elevated on a box or mat. What might seem like a minimal adjustment makes a dramatic difference in the difficulty to the movement.
Doing full pull-ups on rings with a normal grip or false grip is the most challenging exercise to work on your pull.
Ready to get started? Our False Grips Muscle Up Program is also a great resource for developing the grip (and everything else) to help you get your first muscle up. What are you waiting for? Get your False Grips and start working toward your strict muscle up today!