Hey Guys,

Just wondering why there are no muscle-ups in the CrossFit Football programming? I’ve heard that if you can do heavy weighted pull-ups (like 100 extra pounds) then you can do a muscle up no problem but I don’t know if this is true. Does this have anything to do with the program doing a ton of weighted pull-ups and chin ups?




Jay, before I go threw the reasons you won’t see muscle-ups in the CrossFit Football program, you need to understand the different between pull-ups, kipping pull-ups and muscle ups.

Pull-ups, and when I say pull-ups I mean strict pull-ups. Before CrossFit, when someone said they were doing pull-ups there was no violent hip drive pushing them to the bar, it was a upper body pull. Pull-ups are a back and shoulder exercise designed to create musculature in the shoulder gridle. The reason CrossFit Football programs pull-ups in the routine is to create a strong, stable shoulder platform to place the bar. If we can create a more stable platform to place a bar then we should be able to support more weight and thus squat heavier. And if you read post called Deadlifts & Viagra then you will understand the back squat is the foundation of CrossFit Football and power athletes around the world.

In addition to creating a more stable platform for the squat, the increased strength developed in the latissimus dorsi or lat muscles by the pull-up is key for the bench press and press. The lats function as a stabilizer for the shoulder girdle when the shoulders are retracted for a heavy bench press. When the shoulders are retracted they are in a stable position, thereby reducing the chance of injury.

Hopefully, you will begin to understand a program without strict pull-ups is incomplete. If we ask you to squat, bench, press and deadlift heavy but do nothing to aid in strength and structural development by creating a strong platform for you to squat, bench, press and deadlift heavy then our program won’t meet the demands of our athletes.

*On a side note, I got an email from an interested party that asked me about my strength when I was playing. I had a few measures of strength that allowed me to gauge my off-season progress. I never worried about getting stronger each year, it was more about getting back to my all time PR’s. Since I never had enough training time to set new PR’s, I just wanted to get back to even. So when I hit certain marks in my training I knew I was ready to rock. Squat 500 x 5, bench 440 x 5, RDL 585 x 5 and 10 strict pull ups with 90 lbs between my waist…two iron 45’s hanging from a chain around my waist for 10 reps was my best indicator that I was ready. If I could do those 10 pull ups + 90 lbs I knew I was strong enough to squat 600+, bench 500+ and break an opposing defender’s chest with a punch.

In contrast, kipping pull-ups play in the realm of metabolic conditioning. While a kipping pull ups does take strength and shoulder flexibility, the violent hip extension pushing you to the bar makes this a conditioning tool and less of a strength movement. Kipping pull-ups crush my wind with my forearms and hands fatigue long before my back. When I come off the bar I am usually gasping for air and trying to get rid of the pump in my arms.

Now we have two tools to use in the vertical pull. Strict pull ups allow us to create a more stable platform for all our primal lifts. A kipping pull, as a metabolic conditioning tool, allowes us to incorporate violent hip extension, flexibility so we can display our strength in a workout.

But…what about the muscle-up?

The muscle up is a skill that is a pull up followed by a dip. It is used to take yourself from below a set of rings or bar to above the rings or bar. The site Beast Skills has a great write up on muscle-ups. If you watch the video below, the gymnast starts still on the rings and performs a controlled muscle up to get into position to begin his ring routine.


Notice the controlled and smooth nature of the movement. The skill, strength and musculature has been developed  over his 15+ years of training to perform a controlled elegant movement. Notice there is no violent hip extension propelling him up into position. The problem I see with the kipping muscle up is the rings. They are not stable and there exists too great a risk for slipping off and injury. Now add to the kipping ring muscle up a 300+ lbs athlete and what will happen to his shoulder if he doesn’t keep his hands tight to his chest on the roll over and the ring shoots out? The result is a shoulder surgery and a missed season at the worst. The best we can hope for is two weeks loss training to recover from a strained AC joint.


As a strength & conditioning coach imagine the head football coach’s face when this 300+ athlete tells him that he wont be able to practice or train because slipped off a ring and separated his AC joint during one of your ring routines. You see so many 130+ kilo gymnasts on earth this is a completely understandable injury.

Now if you tell me the muscle up develops a level of strength that cannot be developed with weighted pull-ups and weighted dips I would say you are living in fantasyland.

However, I don’t want you to think I do not like the muscle-up. But for me to like it enough to program it, it must be done on a bar.

I like the idea of a violent kip followed by a big vertical pull on a stable bar. It is very simple…if you do not pull yourself high enough on the bar muscle up then you will not make it. The bar is stable in contrast to a set of rings that are moveable. If you do not kip high enough on a set of rings you can use flexibility and whacky ring position to make the MU happen by just slipping into it.

In the end the bar is stable and you dramatically reduce the chance of injury.

CrossFit Football is a strength and conditioning program for power athletes. This includes contact sports and any sport where the time domain is short and the need for big horsepower is paramount. A ring muscle up is not a unique skill or movement that can be found on the football field, and the risk of injury is too high.

Last week I visited with Carl Paoli, coach at San Francisco CrossFit and former Olympic Gymnast. When our conversation turned to the ring muscle up the analogy was given that NFL players need to perform muscle ups for their sport as much as Olympic gymnasts need to be able to perform One of One pass pro.

Offer to work One on One pass pro drills into Bela Karolyi’s Olympic training program. I am sure that will be met with the same response Bell Belichick would give Mike Woicik if he told him he had his athletes doing ring muscle ups. Tom Brady misses a ring muscle up and dislocates a shoulder…imagine how long that coach will have a job. Actually, he might not be able to work again in an English or Portuguese speaking country.

Am I against the muscle up? No

Do I think the risk versus reward is too high for power athletes? Yes.

If you are doing CrossFit and planning on competing in a sectional or the games will you have to be able to do muscles ups? Yes.

If you are training in CrossFit and you cannot do muscle ups then your skills are incomplete. It would be the same as being a high level CrossFit athlete that cannot do a handstand push, thruster or climb a rope.