Bar Muscle Up – CrossFit Exercise Guide with Photos

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Overview: The bar muscle up is an extremely challenging exercise and many CrossFit enthusiasts find it very humbling when they attempt it for the first time. This is mainly because the bar muscle up is a complex exercise that demands a combination of both pulling and pushing movements along with incredible core strength for it to be executed successfully. Those who are not well versed with this type of exercise tend to be under the impression that it is a pull-up combined with a dip, but it is actually much more complex. This exercise is a true test of the upper body and the key is to follow proper technique in order to execute it correctly.



Muscles Targeted: Since the bar muscle up exercise mainly focuses on the upper body, it primarily targets a lot of muscle groups including the back, shoulders and arms. The pull-up movement engages the latissimus dorsi muscles of the back and the secondary muscles involved are the biceps. The core muscles are also used to position the body up and over the bar. Once the upper body is positioned over the bar, the triceps provide the power for the final movement.

Exercise Instructions:

  • Begin by positioning yourself under the bar and then jump up to grab onto it.
  • Just like you would do in a kipping pull-up, drive your hips forward aggressively and let your body get into a tight and controlled arch position. Pay close attention to the feeling of this position.
  • Begin to swing back and engage your lats as you pull towards your hips as hard as you can while pulling your hips and upper body up towards the bar. Always make sure that you are pulling with your back muscles since they are the prime movers. It is important to note that the higher you raise your hips, the more momentum you gain which helps in positioning the shoulders up and into the catch position.
  • Once you get your upper body close to the bar, extend your arms out and press with your triceps, chest and shoulders to fully extend your arms to reach the final position for this exercise.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.
  • Once you complete your first repetition, you will continue the exercise with continuous movement and your momentum will get you into position for additional repetitions. Your body will basically swing back into a kipping style pull-up once you reach the bottom part of the exercise and you will be in constant movement with a smooth tempo until the end of your set. Don’t be worried if you can only do a few repetitions of this exercise when first starting out. Most beginners can’t even come close to completing a single rep since it’s so difficult!

The False Grip
This is a very helpful maneuver when performing the bar muscle up. This type of grip involves holding the bar in such a way that your palms are facing downwards when you attempt to pull yourself up to the bar. This means that you do not have to roll your hands over the bar as you make the transition from pulling to pushing, which makes it a little easier to execute.

Things To Avoid:

  • Poor mobility. This often leads to a situation in which you cannot get the elbows back far enough to attain a stable position above the bar.
  • Failure to involve the shoulders at the beginning of the pull-up. This puts unnecessary strain on other tendons and joints that are not supposed to endure the impact.
  • Hands being too tight on a non-false grip. This results in difficulties as you try to make the transition from pulling to pushing.

Reps and Sets: Given the difficulty of this exercise and because it takes a lot of strength to execute it, it is advisable to focus on performing only one section at a time in order to master the movement. It’s highly recommended to get help from a certified CrossFit instructor to guide you on each and every position when you are first starting out. As a beginner, your goal should be to complete just one repetition using strict form. After you get the basics down, shoot for multiple reps. If you can do more than 5 repetitions of bar muscle ups, then you are a true CrossFitter!

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