Muscle Up Lesson #1: Understand and Respect the Functions of the Scapulae

One of the biggest and most overlooked reasons people experience shoulder pain is the lack of respect for how the scapulae (shoulder blades) are meant to function. This lack of respect invites many into under training and over training certain muscle groups and certain movements, respectively. Over and under training will eventually lead to imbalances in muscular strength, and resting muscular lengths, which can pull the scapulae out of position. Improper positioning can lead to improper movement, which can lead to shoulder pain.

All movements the scapulae are responsible for.

All movements the scapulae are responsible for.

When it comes to doing a muscle up, the missing link for many people is the lack of strength and/or mobility in downward scapular rotation, scapular depression and/or scapular retraction. To build a strong enough pull, and to set yourself up to push over the bar, you will need to be very proficient in controlling your scapulae through these movements.

One of the easiest places to overlook these movements is while training pull ups...

I see many people doing pull ups/chin ups starting and returning to only an "active" hang position. The problem with this is that you miss out on training some of this (downward rotation, depression, and retraction) range of motion. I believe the first part of this range of motion (the part you will miss when going only from an "active" hang) to be the most crucial part to develop. Instead of only doing pull ups from an "active" hang, it is important to learn to do them from a "dead" hang.

Dead hang: scapulae upwardly rotated, elevated, and slightly protracted. Active hang: scapulae already "pinned" into some downward rotation, depression, and retraction.

Dead hang: scapulae upwardly rotated, elevated, and slightly protracted. Active hang: scapulae already "pinned" into some downward rotation, depression, and retraction.

The only way to fully train these movements is to go into a dead hang. The good news is that you will still reach the active hang position (albeit, for only a short duration) when doing pull ups from a dead hang. The active hang is essentially the initiation of the pull out of a dead hang position.

To venture into a dead hang, you need to allow your scapulae to do just the opposite of downwardly rotate, depress, and retract. You will allow your shoulder blades to upwardly rotate, elevate, and slightly protract. 

The next three images show how the position of the scapulae changes when going from at rest, to a dead hang, to an active hang position...

Scapular downward rotation, depression and retraction will continue until the pull up is completed, where it reaches end range of motion.

Although the pull is different in a muscle up than in a pull up (this will be covered in a future lesson), it is important to understand the need to have strong downward rotation, depression, and retraction. This will ensure you'll have a good foundation to transition from a pull to a push when completing a muscle up.

Don't just pin your shoulder blades back from the start of your pull ups. Allow them to rotate up, elevate, and protract before initiating each rep. Feel your arms separate from your torso a little. This will help you build the necessary strength and shoulder health to move on to lesson #2.


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