Your First Bar Muscle Up in 5 Easy Steps

Apologies for the clickbaity title, but “Your First Bar Muscle Up in 10 Hours Over 7 weeks of 3-4 Open Gym Sessions Per Week” might not have been quite so catchy. Maybe you’ve read articles or watched videos with similar titles to this one promising quick fixes and shortcuts towards your goal of the illusive muscle up...


Perhaps you’ve felt inspired and headed straight for the gym only to feel deflated when the magic doesn’t happen. Possibly because the reality of learning muscle ups involves hours of tedious drills and strength building exercises that can’t be matched by flapping around aimlessly on a rig, hoping for a miracle.

Of course, we’ve all met the athletes who show up on their first day and knock out effortless pull ups, quickly learn to kip then think nothing of hopping up on the bar to amaze all with a first muscle up. But they’re in the minority, and CrossFit Stewarton athlete, Claire Barrowman, has a different story.

This is Claire’s first muscle up…


Yeah, you read that right… her first! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Claire is ‘lucky’ or ‘gifted’, or doing something you’ll never be able to do. Like most of us ladies, Claire joined CrossFit Stewarton unable to do a single pull up. She felt inspired by other girls in the gym who could do muscle ups and decided to make it her long term goal. She began by working through her shorter term goals; first a strict pull-up, then kipping, then chest to bars before tackling her long term goal. After successfully linking chest to bars in her second CrossFit Open earlier this year, Claire began work on the muscle up and committed to reaching this within a target of 10 weeks. Not by aimless flapping, but with purposeful practice and commitment to a dedicated program.


If you ever train at 7.15pm, you’ll have noticed Claire wandering around with benches, wall balls, boxes, foam rollers, PVC pipes. Spotted her rocking in her hollow position or tying bars to rigs with bands. You may have wondered what it all had to do with a muscle up. You might also have questioned when she was ever going to attempt one!

So here are our 5 ‘easy’ steps to your first bar muscle up;

  1. WILL. You need to want it enough to make it a priority and dedicate time and effort to achieving your goal. If staying behind after class a few times a week sounds like too much effort for you then perhaps you don’t want it as much as you think…

  2. STRENGTH. There are prerequisites to attempting muscle ups, for safety and common sense reasons. Claire ensured she had a solid gymnastic base before even looking for a suitable program. At CrossFit Stewarton we recommend you are capable of performing a minimum of 5 strict pull ups and 5 strict dips to minimise risk of injury to your joints.

  3. PATIENCE. This is something Claire had in abundance. Never once did she attempt a muscle up until her program ended. How tempting it must have been to give it a go after just 2 weeks, yet Claire trusted in the process and it paid off.

  4. HUMILITY. Some of the movements in Claire’s program took her back to basics, and some just seemed a bit bizarre. She did them all regardless, without a fuss. Again, trusting the program to deliver results if she completed it to the best of her ability. Skipping movements because you think you’re above them messes with the progressive nature of a program and you can no longer expect the desired outcome.

  5. HOLISTIC APPROACH. Claire knew that to achieve her gymnastic ambitions, she had to have all of the aforementioned attributes, and ensure her performance outside of the gym was on point too. Claire dedicated time, money and effort to improving all aspects by joining the CrossFit Stewarton Nutrition program. Her mentor, Kirsty, guided Claire in training, recovery, sleep, hydration, health and fuelling effectively for optimum performance. Since beginning her journey with CFS Nutrition, Claire lost 2kg whilst gaining muscle and building strength; resulting in her strict pull ups going from 4 to 8 and managing 5kg weighted pull ups for reps.

So there we have it. Five not-so-easy steps to your first muscle up. While it may not be quick, or easy, it’s certainly do-able. It might take you 10 days, 10 months... 10 years even, but progress is progress and as long as you’re moving forward, your dream inches a little closer to becoming reality.

Whatever your long term goal, reaching smaller milestones in the short term will help keep you motivated but patient. Claire’s muscle up is just one example of successful goal setting and patience paying off, but the same principles can be applied whatever stage you’re at. The key to improving in CrossFit is knowing your weaknesses and having the foresight to work on the right ones at the right time. Muscle ups may be a weakness and a dream for you, but if you don’t have the mobility required to squat to depth, or the lung capacity to run the length of yourself; you have bigger weaknesses than advanced gymnastics.

If you have a specific goal you’d like to work towards - whether it’s a muscle up or a push up - remind yourself that there is no limit to what can be achieved with hard work and commitment. Find your beginning and make a start.

Shona Oldham - CrossFit Stewarton Coach

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