Are Muscle Ups Useless?

muscle up
November 14, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are muscle ups useless?”. Muscle ups are an explosive upper body calisthenics movement.

It is not an exercise that is extremely common in most gyms – the majority of people can’t do a muscle up so it has some novelty there.

This article will explore the advantages and disadvantages of muscle ups and examine whether or not they are a useless exercise.

Are Muscle Ups Useless?

Whilst many people view muscle ups as a novelty exercise or something that you do to show off, the movement is actually very functional.

If you find yourself hanging off the edge of a cliff, the ability to do muscle ups would be able to save your life. This is an extreme example but one that is worth contemplating.

Muscle ups will strengthen your pulling muscles and work your triceps hard at the same time. The exercise serves to improve the rate of force development and is commonly used in the calisthenics community. 

There are some injury risks that the muscle up poses to the elbow, forearms and shoulder. It is advisable to warm up thoroughly and assess how your body responds to the exercise.

Muscle ups are certainly not useless, at the same time not everyone will find that the exercise is compatible with their body mechanics. 

Muscle Ups Are A Good Pre Exhaust Strategy

Muscle ups can be used very effectively to pre exhaust your pulling muscles as well as your triceps. You could choose to do them earlier on in your workout.

This would then mean that you are able to get more out of less weight in later exercises such as pull ups and dips. By utilising muscle ups to pre exhaust your muscles, you don’t even need to do weighted pull ups.

By the same token you can perform bodyweight dips later in your workout instead of weighted dips. Since the muscle ups pre exhaust many muscles, it doesn’t take as much stimulus to get the same benefit on other exercises.

As a caveat, you could also choose to employ muscle ups as a finisher at the end of your workouts. You will be more fatigued by the end of your workout, therefore even getting a couple of muscle ups will be challenging.

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muscle up

Improve Rate Of Force Development

The muscle up is effective at improving your rate of force development and making you more explosive in general. In order to successfully perform a muscle up, you must be fairly explosive.

Applying progressive overload to your muscle ups by increasing reps or sets will help to really build your explosiveness further and increase your rate of force development.

This will indirectly benefit regular pull ups. You will become more explosive when doing pull ups as well. There are other ways to progressively overload muscle ups.

Another way is to add weight in the form of a weighted vest or a dip belt. This is for advanced trainees as it is very tough to do weighted muscle ups.

The risk of injury is increased on this exercise with heavier loads. However, there are calisthenics athletes who can put up an impressive number of muscle ups with extra weight.

Jeff Cavalier Views

There is a good video from Jeff Cavalier on the topic of muscle ups which I found interesting – you can watch it below.

In the video Jeff explains that he sees muscle ups as merely a party trick and doesn’t recommend it to athletes. He believes that the risk to reward on this exercise is not great. 

He says that the muscle up can flare up elbow tendonitis, especially in people who have had it before. On this point I do agree that the muscle up can cause elbow pain in some people.

One of my friends who can squat 270kg and deadlift the same, has complained of elbow tendonitis in the past from doing muscle ups. So it is true that for some people the fast forearm flexion required in the muscle up can cause tendonitis.

Likewise, Jeff also states that the internal rotation in the shoulder on the muscle up can be potentially injurious. From a risk to reward perspective it is true that this exercise is not the safest.

However, even standard pull ups and dips can cause injuries in some people – especially the dip. Pull ups tend to be safer, but in my experience it is easy to strain a lat with very heavy weighted pull ups.

Good Strength Marker For Calisthenics Athletes

The muscle up is used heavily by calisthenics athletes and it is a great gauge for relative strength. 

If you gain 10kg and your number of muscle ups stays the same, this is a good sign that you are getting stronger and putting on some quality lean mass.

The muscle up is an exercise that becomes a lot more difficult the heavier you get. With a normal pull up, if you gain 10kg your number of reps won’t be too far off where it was before.

With the muscle up, it is common to see big drop offs. as weight is gained. Therefore being able to keep your number of muscle ups the same as you gain weight is a fantastic marker.

Heavier guys with a bodyweight of 100kg or more that can do multiple muscle ups are likely strong and built. It is simply not possible to be able to perform lots of muscle ups at a heavy weight without having an appreciable amount of muscle mass on your frame.

Final Thoughts

Are muscle ups useless? This article has made it clear that muscle ups are not useless. They are great at building explosive pulling power and also good for pre exhausting muscles.

In addition, the muscle up is widely used by calisthenics athletes as a strength gauge. Heavier guys that are able to do multiple muscle ups will invariably look pretty built. 

At the same time, the muscle up is not for everyone. This is true for all exercises – therefore my recommendation would be to try the muscle up and see how your body responds.

If you find that the muscle up gives you elbow tendonitis or causes shoulder issues then simply discontinue it. 

If you have any comments about muscle ups please leave them in the comments. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!


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