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Gymnastics: Bent Arm Strength (muscle up prep) & Handstands Phase 5

Posted 29th March 2017 by Josh Schouten

Who wants a muscle-up?  The muscle-up is a great exercise to build upper body pulling and pushing strength, they are a compound exercise that trains a huge number of muscles, and they look dope!   They also require a significant amount of pulling strength, push strength, shoulder mobility, and shoulder stability.  Those who value their shoulders will take the time to work on building these attributes before they start throwing themselves over the rings/bar.

Where do we need to start?  Can you perform five strict chest-to-bar pull-ups (pronated grip)?  Can you perform five strict ring dips, I’m talking deep ring dips with full ring turn out (RTO) at the top, none of this half rep crap.  “You can be a half of a lot of things, but don’t be a half repper

If you’re not yet able to perform these movements, chances are you are not strong enough to be performing muscle-ups just yet.  We want to work the key attributes that will allow us to develop and perform the strict muscle-ups with tension and control.  Kipping muscle-ups are a recipe for injury. Honestly, those who kip before learning to perform strict movements are exposing their shoulders to a massive injury risk.  A kipping muscle-up does not count in my books as a muscle-up, yes I’m a purist and value the health and longevity of my client’s joints and connective tissue.

Muscle-up prep

Group training is not always the ideal environment to work on skills like muscles-ups.  It’s a trick to teach the individualise needs of each member.  We have some members that are strong enough to perform muscle-ups, we also have some members who are mobile enough to perform muscle-ups, and we have those who are missing both aspects.  It’s a mixed bag of abilities that we are going to try and work with.  We do know one thing, the fundamentals are essential for all levels of fitness, and both the strong and mobile athletes will benefit from mastering the basics.

In this next gymnastics block, we are going to start woking on both the pulling and pressing strength required to perform muscle-ups.  We will also introduce the baby muscle up to “grease the groove” as they say and understand the movement pattern.  Many of us get to the bottom of the dip and have a mental block, shoulder extension (see the last post) is an unusual/uncommon movement and many athletes struggle to find this sweet spot.


Band Pulldowns – Lat activation

Elbow warm-up – Push-ups and Ring Rows

Wrist Mobility – False Grip Preparation

Skin the Cats – Partner assisted

German Hang – Shoulder extension (holds for :10-:30sec)

PART A. Pulling and Pushing Strength

This is one of those tricky components to work on in the group environment.  How strong are you?  What level do you need to be working on to improve your pulling strength?  Everyone is an individual, and we all need to know out limitations, our weaknesses, and the areas that we should focus on. Don’t jump ahead, find the edge of your limitations and train to improve it.

Pulling Progressions:

Progression 1:  Isometric Chest-to-bar Chin-up hold    5 x :30sec

Progression 2: Eccentric Chin-ups     5 x [4], 80A1   – note if you can not do all 4 repetitions just do the 1-3reps that you can control for the prescribed tempo

Progression 3: Isometric Pull-up      5 x :30sec

Progression 4:  Eccentric Pull-ups 5 x [4], 80A1   – note if you can not do all 4 repetitions just do the 1-3reps that you can control for the prescribed tempo

Progression 5: Isometric Chest-to-Bar Chin-up hold 5 x :30sec

Progression 6: Chest to bar Chin-ups 5 x [5], 30×1

Progression 7: Isometric Ab-Mat Pull-up hold 5 x :30sec

Progression 8: Chest to bar Pull-ups 5 x [5], 30×1


Pushing Progressions:

Progression 1: Push-up progressions (barbell in rack, 15reps at each incline level]

Progression 2: Perfect Floor Push-ups 5 x [10], 30×0

Progression 3: Ring Push-ups with RTO 5 x [10], 30×1

Progression 4: Jumping Eccentric P-bar Dips 5 x [5], 50A1

Progression 5: P-Bar Dips    5 x [5], 30×0

Progression 6: RTO Ring Support 5 x :30sec

Progression 7: Jumping Eccentric Ring Dips 5 x [5], 52A1

Progression 8: Ring Dips with RTO 5 x [5], 31×1

Progression 9: Muted hip Bulgarian Ring Dips with RTO 5 x [5], 31×1

Note: If you aim to build strength we can add weight to the pull-ups and the P-bar dips. We never add weight to the ring pull-ups or ring dips.  If you want to build strength focus on doing it in a stable environment, the risk of injury outweighs the reward if you add weight to an unstable environment.  There are loads of studies that show strength adaptations are always greater when lifting loads on a stable vs. unstable surface.  Let’s not waste our training time and increase the risk of injury by loading ring movements. 

PART B Pull and Push Development

You’re not going to get very far with those little arms!!  If you want to be good at gymnastics your going to need a set of guns and some matching triceps.  It’s time to get your arms pump on.


It’s a smart move to train flexion before extension and to train both agonist and antagonist muscle groups. It has been proven to get you massive and strong!

B1. Standing Reverse Grip Bicep Curls 3 x [8-10], 3210, the 2sec is a pause at 30* of elbow flexion (on contraction).

B2. Dimond Press-ups 3 x [8-10], 30×0, rest :75

B3. 45* Incline Prone DB Hammer Curl 3 x [10-12], 3010

B4. Seated DB French Press 3 x [10-12], 3010

Enjoy the PUMP!!

PART C. Skill work

Here we are going to introduce the baby-muscle-up and start working on the shoulder extension and turnover.  Try to take the eccentric movement slow and controlled, unlike the video.

PART D. Handstands and L-Sits

Everyone has been making some steady progress with the handstand, and it would be a shame not to continue our practice.  The handstand and L-Sit are a great combination to superset for straight arm strength development.  The L-Sit training is also going to help you progress the muscle-up as an L-sit muscle-up is easier than a straight body muscle-up.  A hint for what’s to come.

It’s always a good idea to malaise both the shoulders and the hamstring before performing handstand and L-Sits.  Tight shoulder and hamstring will impact your performance in both of these movements.  Coaches will assist with mobility exercises here.

Handstand Work

[8-10] First Knuckle Push-ups  (building hand strength)

[8-10] Leg lowers + :30sec Hollow body hold

[:15reps] Elbow Plank or FLR with pelvic rotations (anterior pelvic tilt to posterior pelvic tilt)

[10reps] Wall Facing Shoulder Shrugs

[:10-:30sec] Wall Facing Split Feet to Free HS OR [:30sec wall facing handstand holds]

[5 kick-up to freestanding handstand on each leg] try to catch and hold the handstand

[30] Wall runs

[:30sec] Forearm supported wall facing handstands

L-Sit Progressions

Progression 1:  P-bar Tuck L-sit, Toes on the floor

Progression 2: P-bar Tuck L-sit

Progression 3: P-Bar Alternating Leg Extensions

Progression 4: P-bar 1-Leg Bent L-Sit

Progression 5: P-bar L-Sit

Progression 6: Straddle L-Sit