There are four phases of the strict muscle up: grip, pull, transition, and dip. They are all important, but one stands out as the starting point for beginners due to the longer learning curve - the pull.
In our Strict Muscle Up Program, we talk about movements that help develop pulling strength - ring rows, chin over bar holds, negatives and pull-ups to name a few. These are all good movements and great for building pulling strength. However, we would like to add another to the mix that is uniquely beneficial to a beginner-intermediate trainee in helping develop pulling strength - the ring row sit back.
Ring row sit back
We first saw this movement in a demonstration video on GMB Fitness many years ago. We immediately went and got a pair of rings to try it and was blown away at how potent this movement was.
Here is a video demonstration of the ring row sit back:
Why it works
The first thing you'll notice about the ring row sit back is that it's two movements in one - a ring row and a chin over ring hold. Each of these movements are especially good for beginners because they both finish at a point where the lats are shortened nearly as far as they can be which allows the muscle bellies to be flexed very hard and create a very strong amount of tension. High tension, for a beginner, is where the most gains can be made. The higher the tension you can get in a movement, the more muscle neurons that fire, the more muscle building that can take place and the stronger you can make that muscle.
You'll also notice that being two movements in one, the time under load during the ring row sit back it quite long. One repetition of the movement takes a minimum of 4 seconds, but is actually much longer because it's best done with a 3-5 second tempo hold at each position. Time under load, similar to tension, is especially good for beginners looking to develop muscle strength because it encourages muscle growth. As you are under load and the muscles get stressed, the neurons in your muscle bellies are forced to fire harder and recruit more of their friends to fire as well. The end result is muscle growth.
A final reason why this movement works is because it introduces another movement pattern to learn. Variety in movement patterns is extremely important for both beginner and advanced athletes. As mentioned, the first time we tried this movement, we were taxed after only a few reps. That first session with the ring row sit back, we likely only accomplished 15-20 reps, but felt sore the next day. This is the result of introducing variety, which can be good for everyone, regardless of how strong they are.
How to do the ring row sit back
The ring row sit sit back is done in several steps:
Step 1: The set up
You'll first set a pair of rings about sternum height, just like you would for the standard ring row. You may use False Grips to begin with, but we would recommend starting with empty rings and mastering it without false grip technique at first. Feet will be placed roughly directly underneath the rings, but can move at any point during the movement to be made more comfortable.
Step 2: The ring row
You'll next perform a ring row. Remember to retract the shoulder blades and think about pulling the elbows back to engage the back. We recommend a 2-3 second tempo to start. This will allow you to maximize tension in the back muscles.
Step 3: The sit back
From the ring row (top) position, you will shift your hips from their forward position to underneath the rings. Don't worry if you feel silly and need to take a look and make sure they're in the correct spot. But, the feeling should be exactly like a chin over ring hold. Your feet will be directly underneath your hips and used to support the majority of your bodyweight. Again, hold for a 2-3 second tempo and think about depressing the shoulders and engaging the back muscles.
Step 4: Return
The final step is to return exactly the way you came by going first to the ring row (top) position and holding for 2-3 seconds and then returning to the full bottom ring row position. If needed, you can shake it out before continuing for more reps.
As you progress, you can challenge yourself with both longer tempo holds during the movement as well as more consecutive reps. But, on your first few sessions focus on quality and higher tension. If you are doing it right, you won't be able to do more than just a few reps before needing to take a break.
This movement can be substituted for ring rows by reducing the reps. I would compare this movement more closely to strict pull-up work because with the tension and time under load it is just that much more difficult than ring rows and more comparable with strict pull-ups.