Why muscle ups are not all about muscle

With the increasing popularity of calisthenics it appears that everyone wants to learn how to muscle up, flag, L sit or handstand, but very few people (relatively) have the determination to commit to a training programme to acquire a new skill or gain the required strength to execute the moves.

Often what draws people towards calisthenics is the signature moves that can be seen all over social media platforms, people hanging off lamp posts in what appear to be gravity defying positions and the ability to control their own bodyweight through different planes.

So it's no surprise that I regularly have people asking me to teach them how to perform the moves. When I'm asked, the conversation normally goes like this, I explain that what they are witnessing is weeks, months and sometimes years worth of training, and to work towards these moves we need to start at the beginning and build a strong foundation. This is often when the eyes begin to glaze and I can tell that they've pretty much stopped listening!

Occasionally, I'll have people say "Yeah, but can't you just put me in the position and then quickly take a picture". This is normally followed by me laughing or my face becoming a little stern. I partly blame the social media culture as a lot of people fill the need to portray themselves as either being more capable than they actually are or living a far more exciting life than they actually do. Do not be fooled by the hype!

If you actually do want to learn a new skill or gain strength to perform the moves you need to do a couple of things:

1) Evaluate where you are, where you want to be, and how you're going to get there.

2) Be prepared to embark on a journey which will require consistent hard work on your behalf.

The first point above is really important because without knowing where you are how can you expect to get to where you want to be? This is where egos need to be left at the door and we need to be realistic about our expectations. For example, if you can't perform a pull up or a dip with good form, but you want to learn how to muscle up, guess what you need to do? That's right, you need to first focus on being able to perform pull ups and dips. Simple. That's not to say you can't experiment with the muscle up (perhaps with band assistance), but in order to progress you'll need to address your current weaknesses. This is sometimes harder to understand for those people who perceive themselves as being 'strong' or are strong in a different discipline. Asking the body to perform movements that you don't normally do can be an incredibly humbling experience, trust me.

In terms of "how you're going to get there" that's where I would suggest either seeking the advice of professionals, such as myself, or doing lots of research from quality sources. That means not just watching YouTube tutorials which can be uploaded by anyone. I'm not saying that tutorials are not good, I just think it's best to gain information from a variety of different quality sources as there are many different ways/ progressions for most of the calisthenic moves or holds. 

The second point is mainly about being mentally prepared to commit to a training programme and knowing that results are not going to happen over night. We live in a world where we expect results instantly, but unfortunately that's not the way it works. You need to trust the process and in my opinion, learn to enjoy the process, that way you're not so fixated with the end goal and it will allow you to really focus on getting the most out of your training sessions at your current progression level. 

In my own practice, I now tell myself that the training I do today is to benefit the 40 year old me (I'm 33 years old). I'm now all about the long term goals which I hope will mean I can build an even stronger body.

So I say all of the above to say this, if you work hard, stay consistent and follow a technically sound programme you will eventually get to where you want to be. That includes being able to muscle up if you so desire.

Just remember that we are all different and there are many factors that influence the speed of our progression so try not to compare yourself to others.


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How to kick start your fitness journey (and stay on it)

People often tell me that they’d like to get fitter but they don’t know where to start or how to keep going. I’ve given it some thought and listed 10 tips (many that I’ve used myself) to help people who are new to exercise to start their journeys and to help them stay on the right path. The tips are not in any particular order.

1. Start slow

Once you’ve made the decision to becoming a fitter version of you, don’t ruin your chances by going all out in the first week. This is a common mistake that people make, they go from 0 to 100 within the space of a few days. It’s good that you’ve been inspired to get your body working again but you need to give it time to adjust to the new regime. Going crazy in the first week will increase your chances of injury, severe delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and most likely dent your confidence as the realisation that you’re more unfit than you thought you were kicks in.

In the first few weeks of exercising, use this time to ease yourself into your new programme. Perhaps exercise a few times a week at a moderate level to help build up your general fitness before increasing the intensity.

2. Find a fitness buddy or community

Sometimes we need a little push on days where we really don’t feel like getting out of bed, let alone exercising. Find a friend who will workout with you and arrange regular sessions and make sure you hold each other accountable.

Ok, so we all know that friends can be a little unreliable at times, and being let down by your fitness buddy might result in you skipping a work out. So why not have lots of fitness buddies? Take a look on the internet for local fitness organisations and communities. You’ll be surprised at how many things are taking place right under your nose. This way you know exactly when and where you’ll be working out. Plus, a massive bonus to this approach is that you’ll be trained by someone who knows what they’re doing and you’ll meet loads of other like minded people.

3. Love what you do (or at least like it)

Exercise comes in many different shapes and forms, it isn’t just about going to the gym and throwing weights around or banging out press ups at home, but it can be if that’s what you enjoy.

Why not try something different? Boxing, running, street dance, gymnastics, BJJ, cycling, parkour, hill walks, swimming, skateboarding, yoga and the list goes on and on. There’s literally something for everyone.

I workout a lot because I love all of the things that I do. It’s not a chore. If you can find an active that is strenuous and you enjoy elements of it, you’re on to a winner.

4. Goals

It’s important to set yourself SMART goals.

SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time framed.

So for example, a person new to exercise may have a SMART goal of: being able to perform 5 strict form push ups (with no rest) in 30 days from now.

Goals are great as they help you to monitor your progress and will help you to stay motivated.

Another little tip is to write your goals down and put them somewhere that you’ll see them every day, perhaps on the fridge. Having a constant reminder of what you have set out to achieve will help you to keep focused and working towards your goals.

5. Social Media

Social media can be a great tool to share your fitness journey or to find motivation and inspiration from others. Personally, I use Instagram to document my fitness progression and to connect with other like minded people.

6. Tutorials

If you don’t know how to perform an exercise correctly I would suggest the following:

– Buy or borrow some exercise books

– Check out some tutorials on YouTube

– Arrange a few sessions with a personal trainer

Recording yourself performing an exercise is a good way to check your own technique. If you notice that you’re doing something wrong you maybe able to self correct the issue. Be careful when following tutorials or advice from your friends as they may be just showing you how they do the exercise, not how it’s meant to be done. It’s always best to check a few different sources of information so you can see whether they are reliable.

7. Sign up for an event

A good way of maintaining motivation is to have something to work towards (similar to having goals – see point 4 above). Signing up for an event will give you something to work towards and you’ll be less likely to skip your training sessions. There’s plenty of events to choose from so you’re bound to find something that interests you. Some of the popular events include: 5km run, obstacle/ mud runs, half and full marathons, triathlons, charity runs, bike rides, mountain climbing etc

8. Don’t let the weather put you off

Sometimes, or a lot of the time if you live in the UK, the weather will not be what most would consider to be perfect training conditions. Don’t let this put you off. Yes, it might be wet, cold, too hot and sweaty, but these are the  sessions that will really show you what you are made of. If you really want to become a fitter you, just throw on appropriate clothing and go and get those gains!

9. Get into a routine (and stick to it!)

When you’re new to exercise it’s important to get into a routine. This will help you keep on track as you start to become accustomed to regular exercise. If you don’t have a routine it’s all too easy to skip one workout which leads to skipping another and before you know it you’re back on the sofa!

10. Concentrate on yourself

Set your goals and work towards them to the best of your ability. Don’t concern yourself with what everyone else is doing. Yes, take inspiration and motivation from the people around you, but don’t feel disheartened because they appear to be fitter,stronger or faster than you. Also, don’t listen to anyone who tries to bring you down or is unsupportive of your attempts to be a fitter you. Just keep putting in the work and you will become the best version of you that you can be.

I hope these tips have been helpful. Good luck with your fitness journey! 

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