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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