Why you should stop looking for shortcuts: or, how to do muscle-ups in two weeks

There is no shortcut to being this beastly.

There is no shortcut to being this beastly.

This week, I did my first proper bar muscle-up. No leg kick, no ‘kipping’ no wobbling from side to side. Just hanging below the bar, then – BANG – above it.

It took me about five years. Or, to look at it another way, it took me about two weeks.

It took me about five years because that’s about the length of time I’ve spent trying to shortcut my way to a muscle-up. Looking at form guides on the internet, worrying about whether I need to use a false grip or not, trying to work out what thickness of bar is best, working on my kick. Concentrating on the wrong things, basically. Do these things matter? Yes, for lots of muscle-ups. But for one muscle-up, they don’t matter at all.

Here’s how I did a muscle-up in two weeks.

1. Was shamed by my inability to do more than a handful of strict chest-to-bar pullups in a recent seminar with Gym Jones.

2. Resolved to do 25 strict chest-to-bar pullups every day. I started by doing 25 sets of 1, and pulling hard enough to bruise my chest against the bar. After about six days, I noticed that I was suddenly accelerating so much that my upper ribs were hitting the bar on my 7th or 8th rep. This was hard – some days, you don’t want to do pullups, especially when it takes half an hour, resting between chest-battering reps. Other days, I’d do very short ladders – 1-3, four times – focusing on rep quality instead of going to even near-failure.

3. Two weeks in, I did a pull-up so vicious it took me straight into the ‘transition’ without a kip, then pressed it out. Done.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’ll be pleased to hear I think there is a non-workout point to this:

It’s easy to waste more time looking for shortcuts than you’ll ever save by finding them. Sometimes, the path is clear: other people have already walked it, and they’ll even tell you where it is if you look. Meanwhile, other people – who haven’t walked the path, but want you to follow them – will offer you shortcuts. That’s when you end up getting lost.

HOMEWORK: Do some chest-to-bar pullups this week. One a day, Five a day, ten a day, whatever. Can’t do pullups? Do five negatives – every day.

About the author


Editor and creator of Live Hard. Fighting enthusiast, steak lover and aficionado of all things self-improvement related.

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