Getting Familiar With The Strict Muscle Up: Transition

In this post, we are covering the transition portion of the strict muscle up. Find out what it is and how to build the strength to overcome this silent killer!



In our previous posts, we discussed the first two phases of the strict ring muscle up: grip and pull. If you haven't reviewed those posts, you'll want to read those first and make sure you understand the role they play in the transition.

What is the transition?

The transition is the part where you get from below the rings to on top of them. This consists of going from the top of your pull to the bottom of your dip. Easy, right? Not so much!

The transition is an area that many athletes struggle with despite having adequate pulling and pushing strength. The reason is that there are coordination and speed elements that must be perfected in order for the linking to occur.

How does the transition happen?

The best way to think about the transition is a rapid changing of body position; from that of a “pulling” position to a “pressing” position on the rings. Did you catch that? Let’s unpack what I just said there.

First, it is a “rapid” change of body position, and yes, we are still talking about a “strict” muscle up. I am always reminding my athletes that speed is your friend when you are trying to be strong. Whether or not you “actually” move fast, the intent to be fast will give you more ability to break over from below to above the rings.

Next, we are changing our body position from one that is “pulling” to one that is “pressing”. I like to make the comparison to the way we get a barbell from below the hips to the shoulders in a power clean. For example, in the muscle up, we are taking our center of mass (think of the center of your body or your belly button) from below an object to above it. In the clean, we are moving the object from below our center of mass to above it. We are the resistance in one. We are moving the resistance in the other.

The barbell clean and muscle up comparison

In a clean: We begin pulling from behind the bar. Once the bar gets past the knees and we become more vertical, we sweep the bar toward the hip and we then “jump” the bar to our shoulders. We go from a pull behind the bar, to a jump from under the bar - from “pulling” to “jumping”.

In a muscle up: We begin pulling from under and behind the rings (since you pull the rings down the front of your body, your body is technically “behind” the rings along with being under them). Once the bottom of the rings pass the height of the shoulders, we will begin pressing - from “pulling” to “pressing”.

Getting the timing right

In both movements, there is an element of timing that is crucial to getting the desired result. If one gets caught doing too much thinking while it’s happening, you'll likely miss your opportunity to jump or press on time while you end up ramming the bar into your hips or rings into shoulders and botching the entire movement. The perfectly timed “jump” gets the barbell from the hips to the shoulders in the clean and the perfectly timed “press” gets the shoulders from below the rings to on top of them in the muscle up.

How to transition

Step #1. Pull the rings down to the front of your shoulders. The beginning of the transition is when the bottom of the rings reach the front of the shoulders. This is when we can begin “pressing” the rings down to start rolling the shoulders over the top. This will also initiate the torso rolling forward.

Step #2. Press the rings down and drive your torso forward over the rings. The middle of the transition is when you are continuing to press down on the rings and driving your shoulders forward over the rings.

Step #3. At the end of the transition, our shoulders are on top of the rings, our elbows are fully behind the body and our body is being supported on the rings by squeezing our chest muscles and core. This finish of the transition is called the “catch”, the “bottom support position” or simply the bottom of the dip.

Common problems with the transition

#1. Grip is not secure

As I mentioned in the pulling phase, since the false grip technique is required for the strict muscle up, it is a very common culprit for having a bad transition. The transition will require a powerful pull and pressing action on the rings and if your grip is not secure you will not be able to do it as strongly and quickly as you need to.

#2. Not a high enough pull

Being that the transition begins when the pull ends, I see many athletes not getting their pull high enough which forces them to try and “squeeze” their shoulders through the rings (versus over the rings), which is much more difficult. I am frequently encouraging athletes to practice better form on their chest to bar pull-ups and focusing on pulling the bar to their chest versus arching their chest up to the bar. That “top end” of the pull-up must be strong enough in order for us to properly transition.

#3. Not pressing soon or hard enough

If you fail to begin pressing the rings downward soon and/or aggressively enough, you will end up with the rings ramming into your shoulders versus sliding underneath them. You must begin pressing the rings down as soon as they reach the front of the shoulders or you won’t keep the momentum going and you won’t end up on top of them.

#4. Lack of core strength

Whether you think of it as tucking your core, driving your nose through the rings or simply doing a fast sit up, you must contract your core to get over the top of the rings. You need to do it strong, fast and right when you begin pressing. One way to know if you’re training your transition right is to feel like you’ve been doing a bunch of sit ups. Make sure you are doing plenty of these core exercises.

Drills to develop the transition phase

Start slowly with these drills at first and make sure you are maintaining smooth movement. Rep ranges are usually best in the 3-5 range, which allows you to feel fatigue, but not do reps under too much fatigue.

Toe assisted muscle ups on False Grips
The toe assisted transition is where you place your toes underneath the rings and use them for assistance as you navigate from below the rings to on top of them. The goal in this drill is to maintain as much tension on the rings as you can while you go from below to on top to simulate the way it will feel without feet support.

Band assisted muscle ups on False Grips
The band assisted “basket drill” works fantastic with a heavier ¾” band in order to practice the transition over the top of the rings.

Negative transitions on False Grips
The “negative” is the action of resisting gravity and slowly lowering yourself through the movement. You can begin with toe assisted and eventually use no feet.

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!