I find it odd that there are world class crossfitters between 150 and 200lbs who can’t do momentumless muscle ups. Everybody is kipping and swinging and jumping and whipping around on the bar. And they never get better. They never do a clean rep without extreme momentum. I’m 30-100lbs heavier and doing it with added weight.
Follow 7 steps, and you can get this in the next 2-8 weeks, depending on where you are in the first three prerequisites: a pull-up, a dip, full shoulder extension mobility (with which we may pair control within loaded internal rotation).
Before we get to the steps, be ready to change what you’re doing. Before we get to the steps, make sure you can actually achieve full shoulder extension. Before we get to the steps, be ready to scrap the ego and quit kicking your legs around to fake this.
1.) Make sure you can do a single solid pull-up - yes, just ONE - that’s all you need, if you are able to squeeze your body high enough. There is a common mistake when people are training the muscle-up where they keep trying to build more pull-up prowess. After one clean pull-up, you're good. Trust me. I can outperform competitive rock climbers and gymnasts in pull-ups for reps or added weight; and they CRUSH me in momentumless muscle-ups. Doing 40 reps of weighted or partial pull-ups doesn’t get you any closer to a true muscle up than one bodyweight rep cleanly executed with collarbone near or above the bar.
2.) Make sure you can do a single solid dip - yes, just ONE - that’s all you need, if you have the shoulder mobility and control to lower your armpit to the hand or below it.
3.) Stop training pull-ups and dips. There are many guys and gals who are absolute beasts when it comes to pull-ups and dips. They can do hundreds of additional pounds and/or hundreds of reps. But they cannot perform a single clean muscle-up without momentum. You have finite physiological resources: willpower, time, recovery, etc. If you're going to get this skill down, you must focus your energy on it to the exclusion of peripherally-related exercises. Those exercises, though inherently beneficial, will likely reduce your chances of getting this sooner than later.
4.) Train the transition. Train the transition. Train the transition. That is, either set up some parallel benches as I do in the Instagram videos (https://www.instagram.com/p/BuTu15MjWaX/ ) or start at the top position above a bar or parallel bars. Then, beginning with the top of the “dip,” brace yourself as hard as possible, lower in a very controlled manner, as low as you can safely do.
5.) The transition training focus is to get the elbow below the hand contact point. You likely lack the shoulder mobility to train this yet. And there is an incredible amount of forearm power required to be safe. So be very gentle.
6.) Once you can do this on the way down, begin to train it down near your limit and attempt to come back up.
7.) Limit sets to 1-3 reps. Rest at least two minutes. No more than 5 sets (and be 90% recovered before adding it to a training day again) or you’re going to get the worst tendinitis of your life.
For most people, even once they’re ready, this will be at or above a 1RM effort. The rings are substantially easier than the bar or parallel bars, yet don't necessarily afford you good transference of skillset. Relegate the training to parallel benches, a bar, or parallel bars.
Shoulder Tips Continued
I promised I’d reveal the secret for shoulder magic. Here it is.
During Lyme disease, I had radiating nerve pain 7-10 on my left side. A year later I had partial paralysis in my left arm from physical therapy. MRI showed some cervical spine abnormalities. Lots of hypotheses.
Then, a live ultrasound found that I had a 75% tear in my left supraspinatus (part of the rotator cuff) from who knows how long ago (it was old accumulated damage). The avulsion had pulled a fleck of bone off the greater tubercle of the humerus and it was grinding around on the nerves.
How is it that I can rep out at least 100lb dumbbells in overhead press now without any irritation?
I answered that partially in the first shoulder tips article.
Another piece is this prone strict external rotation:
• Lateral abduction begins to shorten supraspinatus (this is orienting the elbow at the same “forward” coordinate as the shoulder)
• Horizontal abduction shortens a little more (further orienting elbow at same objective height as shoulder)
• The end (top of the movement) of external rotation pulls everything into its shortest position EVEN for someone like me with this injury (that is, in the top position, you cannot make out even a full tear in the supraspinatus on imaging - indicating we create an opportunity for your body to close the fissure)
• Many coaches have argued this force production should be at least 10% of your max press to ensure balance at the shoulder girdle
• This exercise is not at odds with hypertrophy or max strength, although it is a magnificent measure of mobility and assessment of a common deficit in all three
• Though biopsy studies show disproportionate Type I muscle fiber cross-sections here, I increasingly lean toward heavy loading as the client can maintain form and bracing
The standing version of this loads the stretch position greatest and doesn’t load the shortened position much. That can actually worsen should instability. A standing variation with bands or cables where the anchor point is in front of or slightly above the end hand position is analogous to the prone variant here.
Check out this video and others (as well as comments and additional insights) on our Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/jonathan.watters/?hl=en
Tips for Training "Bad" Shoulders
Neck and shoulder pain can be frustrating. They make upper body training less clear, to be sure.
I solve spinal issues, nerve irritation, and injuries, including my own. No need to stop training. Keep in mind a couple things, and you’ll find you can rep out at least 100lb dumbbells and high rep Arnold presses with 60s.
1.) The well-intentioned cue to “relax neck” is asinine nonsense during shoulder training. The greater the ambient tension, the more stable and braced all nearby structures are.
2.) Yes, OVER-stressing neck and persistent, needless shrugging is bad technique. But to think you can put a vertical load on the upper body WITHOUT vertical support structures producing vertical force is folly. Ever see a gymnast nail handstand work with upper traps OFF and shoulder blades “unshrugged” and “tucked down into back pockets”? Nope.
3.) For moderate and heavy loading, absolutely someone ought to have full-flexed shoulder function (the capacity to press behind the neck). Watch Olympic lifters and throwers rehab with behind the neck jerks at 400lbs. That said, the true vertical or rear position can be bothersome when you’ve had nerve irritation, and one should go lighter for that. A slight recline keeps heavier load more reliable.
4.) Secrets - sorta - prone external rotation; thoracic mobility; and understanding that the shoulder is effectively 7 joints, not 1, plays a big role (and often leads us to look at the biceps for “shoulder” issues). Check the blog for forthcoming shoulder health tips as we explore what all this means.
Shape Magazine tells you to tone your abs in 10 minutes a day. News headlines read “Workout Only 30 Minutes 3 Days Per Week.” Your trainer says it’s gotta be five. Your best results were from six once upon a time long ago. Someone else tells you four.
How about this: WHATEVER YOU WILL DO.
I’ve had clients who gain strength with an average practice of once weekly. I’ve built pretty darn good pull-ups with only 9 minutes of exercise 3 days per week. I know coaches who will only have a client attempt a personal record lift every 3-6 months.
I like Cal Dietz’ recommendation: waking heart rate dictates exercise intensity and frequency. That is, 29-39 beats per minute, you can go hard twice a day every day. 39-49, intense six days per week. 49-59, moderate to high five days. And so on.
I’d argue you’re better off to plan it based on heart rate variability than rate.
Either way, it’s all wrong and moot points versus the pragmatic question, “what will you do?”
Start there. Actualize. Then we can get into theoretical best practices.
- Take a week off; focus on sleep; reduce or eliminate stress (including caffeine)
- Start kcal at bodyweight X 15 to distribute macros
- First week of activity, start low
- Focus on short workouts, lifting and short sprints - DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES FALL INTO THE LONG STEADY STATE CARDIO TRAP
- Each week that weight loss slows or stalls, multiply weight by one factor lower (i.e. - 14, then 13, and so on - rapid loss tends to happen around 11 and under) to distribute new macros
- Keep workouts relatively short for as long as possible - keep progressing your lifting and sprinting as long as is possible
- In the reduction of food, never take protein below 1.2g/kg bodyweight (and keep in mind that research indicates better sparing of lean tissue at around 2.4g/kg bodyweight per day), never take fiber lower than 20g, never remove essential omega 3s, minerals, essential vitamins
- If tolerated, conservatively but progressively add caffeine each week
- Take a week off; focus on sleep; reduce or eliminate stress (including caffeine)
- Start kcal at bodyweight X 10
- First week of activity, start low
- Focus on short workouts, lifting and short sprints
- Each week, outdo the prior in sprint intensity, lifting force production on some lift(s) and/or volume of work performed
- Any week that there is a slow or stall in performance increases, multiply weight by one more factor (i.e. - 11, then 12, and so on). If the goal is outright size, not simply strength (they are related but different), you may raise the factor when average weight for a given 2 week period is not at least a half pound greater.
- At the beginning you will need to be somewhere between 1.2 - 2.4g of protein per kilo per day. When your factor is beyond 15, you may be able to tolerate sub 1.2g intake.
- If tolerated, progressively dose caffeine accordingly for performance improvements.
This is not my absolute favorite system; but it is a simplified version for people who do track. There are versions where we account for activity in the calculation in the beginning, or do metabolic testing, hormone profiles, etc. But this is one that is relatively self-regulatory for hunger, activity, comp, water weight fluctuations, monthly cycles, metabolic conditions, variances, etc.
I didn’t outline the three “M”s: maximums and minimums and maintenance. I prefer 2-4 week periods before shifting variables. In competitors, 2-3 DAYS is more appropriate. There is a place for different kinds of fasting. If ever you hit overwhelm or burnout, return to week 1.
Beware the three “I”s:
With inconsistency in execution there is inconsistency in outcome. To prevent or address this we get impatient. Impatient programming reinforces inconsistency. During both, there WILL be insufficiency of necessary nutrients, recovery, and positive feedback. Insufficiency, therefore, likewise reinforces both impatience and inconsistency.
When I did my most aggressive mass gain effort in 2006, I exploded with strength and size, but impatience led me to gain too much body fat, as I far exceeded the 10 factor at the beginning and the 20 factor at the end. As the mind wanders, recall the thee “I”s.
The joy of someone disagreeing with you for the right reasons outweighs the hollowness of someone agreeing with you for the wrong reasons.
It's not an error that this article has only one line in the body of it, after a very simple question title. Think about it.
The Myth of Myofascial Release
Like all trends, there are some parts reality and some parts fiction within the myofascial release world. It was great to be the featured author on T-Nation for calling people's attention to one piece of the fairytale: jamming on tissue as hard as you can wherever it's "resistant" and relaxing into that pressure is good for you. The obviousness of this misapplied logic should've been evident to all onlookers. But again, popularity seldom has anything to do with sensibility.
For the full article, go here: https://www.t-nation.com/training/foam-rolling-gone-wrong
The backlash was mild. I expected worse. I knew that there would be many people who resisted the news, since there are newbie "professionals" and enthusiasts in the fitness industry without much experience and who have crafted a whole practice based on this nonsense. There are just so many people who have taken up the mantle of "experienced" fitness influencer without ever having worked a single full-time week of coaching in a physical facility, let alone years at a sizable one. I didn't realize the magnitude of the problem until a couple of years ago when I started to pay attention to social media, at which point I discovered almost a linear relationship between fame and lack of expertise. If someone spent all her time on self-promotion, not being mentored and developing valuable experience in the health sciences, she could be a household name of unquestionable authority on fitness. If someone spent all his time on professional development, not self-marketing, you can guess. So many of the pieces of advice in circulation are just one online philosopher copying the inexperience of another online philosopher. Perhaps worse are the part-time coaches who have worked as trainers as their side gig, or they worked in smaller gyms from the beginning. They don't have a big enough dataset to begin to opine; yet they are the loudest voices sounding off in every venue. I think back to how many beliefs I had to revise as I crossed the 10 thousand, then 20 thousand, then 30 thousand, then 40 thousand hours of professional experience lines. One of the biggest names from one of the biggest weight loss shows was a bartender and probably still hasn't hit the 10 thousand mark for actual coaching experience.
After you work six or seven days a week directly with teams who are training hundreds or thousands of clients for years, you start to realize a lot of seemingly "good" ideas were not so good. Yet, there are voices of "authority" who've trained at maximum 15 hours a week at a warehouse gym from the beginning or who NEVER were mentored by an in-person peer group. My new hires 14 years ago had more real coaching experience in their first year than most online influencers have after 5-10 years of supposed expertise. I realize it's hard for them to understand that everything they do is wrong. They don't even have the context or know enough to know that they don't know anything.
The T-Nation article and photos were good attention-grabbers, but made it a little more difficult for people to wrangle with the actual content, it seemed. 100% of those who first had something negative to add to the conversation hadn't read the article at all or missed the central theme altogether. That said, once I thanked even the most ardent naysayers for their input, and reiterated the findings weren't opinion, but known metrics and specific calculations, that seemed to clear up the misunderstandings for them as well.
You read a story like this. Notice NO MENTION whatsoever of the best days being behind him. Notice not even implying that he couldn’t keep progressing. Think about that.
The man in the photo, Ted Lindberg, is the client of Chad Henry, a solid coach in my area whom I had the opportunity to connect with some years ago. Both Henry and Lindberg are a testament to the local lifting community in the Twin Cities.
Henry’s training and Lindberg’s story are instructive on multiple levels. Check out the Eden Prairie News article by author Eden Teller.
In Teller’s piece, Lindberg states clearly that he aims to outdo his first two world records, shooting to hit a 300lb bench by the age of 90. I think he aims to go well beyond even that, as indicated by the “until 100” quote.
Instruction Is Not Conclusion
Experts help us. Indeed. Specialists are invaluable. Assuredly. They can instruct. They can inspire. None of that should be confused with “conclusive.”
Instruction is not conclusion. Inspiration is not conclusion. Information is not conclusive. These are related, but distinct. Don’t confuse them.
I’ve had a persistent interest in nutrition science and exercise science for over 30 years. That does not make my experience conclusive. Informative, sure. Helpful, I try. Beyond question? Never.
Since becoming a certified trainer and health and fitness professional 15 years ago, I have logged hundreds of specialty certifications and workshops, both attending and leading. Through the course of my career, I hired and managed coaches with their Masters Degrees in Exercise Physiology, Doctorates of Chiropractic, Licensure or Registration of Dietitian. Some of my employees came from clinical experience. Some afterward went into the clinical world or Division I collegiate coaching. I’ve mentored medical doctors. I’ve coached psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, scientific researchers, physical therapists, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, surgeons, sports medicine specialists, naturopaths, massage therapists, acupuncturists, reiki practitioners, and martial artists. I spent most of 2012 learning the entire USMLE1 curriculum. I know anatomy. I know physiology. I know behavior change psychology. I’ve completed over 10,000 consults, developed hundreds of trainers, managed record setting coaching teams, worked with thousands of clients, observed tens of thousands of members. It gives me insight, not authority.
I’ve gained well over 60lbs of muscle as an adult late-in-life lifter with no PEDs. I’ve lost 70lbs. I’ve gotten as lean as a human can. I have clients who have kept off over 100lbs on 14 year followup (which NO weight loss clinic or weight loss show in the world can boast). I’ve had the joy of getting Lyme disease and various injuries, close family with complex migraine, hormone and autoimmune issues; and I’ve been fortunate enough to figure out all of them. That gives me AN experience. It doesn’t mean I have THE answer.
I’ve also had 5 near-death/out-of-body experiences. I’m so skeptical I’m not even sure I believe in them. I almost never talk about them. They are not the centerpiece of my identity or existence. I HAD THEM and I’m not sure I believe in them. Forget about being an expert at them, or having THE conclusive take on them.
It’s interesting to me to see people conclude with finality so many things so much of the time. I’m over here with over 45,000 hours of speciality professional expertise at something; and I can easily, regularly, and readily acknowledge that two completely different tactics can both work. That is, based on my empirical testing, my direct observation, I can admit that there are at least two mutually exclusive nutritional and exercise practices which both work for different people, or even the same person. Yet, somehow, without any direct observation, and without any empirical data collection, all kinds of “experts” on the internet have reached an absolute and final conclusion about everything?
I think what they mean is instruction, not conclusion. There are many things which help to direct us and instruct us. Do they conclude? No. Instruction is not conclusion.
“Heart disease correlates with X.” Fill in the blank. Do you believe that correlation IS causation? Careful. That’s a logical fallacy.
It crops up everywhere. “The economy does Z.” Fill in the blank. Now, that’s a really big and complex system you’re talking about. There will be a lot of correlations. Which proposed items are and aren’t legitimate causes? Current world leaders? Former world leaders? Old policy? New policy? Anticipated future policy? What if the real mechanisms which drive economy haven’t even been studied yet? What if we haven’t yet verified a mechanism?
We jump. We hurtle ourselves toward a causal conclusion. But look before you leap.
In many statistical studies, there are defined trends. So what? Without a proposed, testable, known mechanism, we have to be very careful. It is just as easy for what we think is an effect to be a cause.
In human health, correlation to causation and trend without mechanism are thin ice. Did you know that 100% of people who sleep in beds end up dying? I guess you better not sleep at all, just to be safe.
Correlation is not causation. Trend is not even close to mechanism.