The False Grip on the Muscle-Up: When to Use and Why

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September 22, 2022
different grip position including false grip

I get asked quite frequently whether or not it is correct to use a false grip on rings, especially when working muscle-ups. The simple answer is yes, it is right, but it requires some explanation.

The first rule is to stop thinking about a strict muscle-up and a kipping muscle-up as the same skill. Instead, the two skills are very different. The strict muscle-up is a static, strength movement, and the kipping muscle-up is a dynamic movement.

The false grip on the gymnastics rings is a technique that can help you move through the transition phase of a muscle-up more efficiently. In addition, it provides more stability and power to the exercise.

In this blog post, we’ll provide an all-encompassing rundown of the false grip, including an explanation of why the false grip is essential, how to start using the false grip in your training of muscle-ups, and when not to use the false grip.

What is a false grip, and why is it used in the muscle-up?

rings prepared for the false grip example

The false grip is a type of grip used by gymnasts and CrossFit athletes for ring muscle-ups. This grip allows the forearm and hand muscles to take on most of the weight, rather than using the shoulder and arm muscles.

The false grip is more challenging to master but can benefit beginner athletes looking to perform ring muscle-ups.

Other types of grips used for muscle-ups include:

1. A hybrid grip with the knuckles over the rings that use wrist flexion.

2. A standard grip where the wrist is relaxed. Athletes should only use this grip for kipping muscle-ups.

3. A neutral grip where the wrist is in a neutral position. This allows for maximum force and most potential energy to be used.

Check out this video from Ben at WODPREP that gives you a visual reference on the different types of grips.

the perfect position for the false grip on the muscle up

Shortens the Lever

The false grip shortens the lever in the muscle-up by decreasing the distance the arms need to travel. Doing this makes it easier to get up into the top position of the muscle-up, the transition movement of the muscle-up.

Works your forearms

The false grip uses the forearms to help maintain control of the weight. By gripping the rings with the false grip technique, you can use your forearms to keep the weight close to your body.

This grip technique and the level of forearm strength help reduce the stress on your hands and wrists and allows you to keep the weight under control. In addition, the improved grip will enable you to transition to the top of the muscle-up.

The average person will need to gain strength and progress through accessory work to get more comfortable in the false grip maneuver.

Strict Muscle-Up

False Grip

Strict muscle-ups are a purely strength-based skill. Therefore, the action should be as vertical as possible. Unfortunately, most people are impatient with getting from the hang to support, which can lead them to focus on a kipping muscle-up before they are strong enough to handle or stabilize the action.

If you ever watch a gymnast get ready for a ring routine, watch when his coach lifts him to the rings. Before starting the routine, he will take a second to lock in the false grip technique. Shortening the lever arm created by getting that false grip in place is critical for doing these strength movements effectively.

As an athlete, take the time to build wrist and forearm strength and flexibility to lock in the false grip technique. It will go a long way toward developing strength-based ring movements.

Here is one exercise I like doing that helps build wrist/forearm strength in the false grip:

1. Take a lacrosse ball in your hand and wrap your wrist over a ring as if you are trying to lock a false grip position.

2. With your free hand, grip the other ring for support and added stability. As best as you can, try hanging with locked-out elbows from that wrist without involving your hand for the grip.

Doing this will allow you to focus purely on building false grip strength in your forearm without relying on your hand for support/grip. It will probably be uncomfortable at first, so don’t get intimidated.

Over time, probably months in most cases, try hanging without the other hand on the ring as your grip gets more substantial.

Once you get to the point where you can support your entire body weight from one hand in the engaged false grip position, you know you have built the necessary strength for a powerful false grip.

If you want to learn more about improving your strict muscle-up, you can check out this article by WODPREP.

Kipping Muscle-Up

Neutral Grip

As I mentioned earlier, You should consider this skill separate from a strict muscle-up. This skill is known as a “front uprise” in men’s gymnastics and, when done correctly, requires very little strength. Instead, the power is generated from a technically sound swinging (kipping) action, where the body works as one continuous, unbroken piece from fingertips to toes to create maximum potential.

I always tell people that gravity will always win, no matter how strong you are. This means that even athletes with the fiercest false grip will tire after a while and be pulled to the absolute bottom of the hang position. Therefore, when working on swing-based elements, the aggressive false grip we see engaged with strength-based elements (i.e., strict muscle-up) does not come into play. But, of course, that’s not to say that the wrist or forearm is not engaged at all. The ideal position is a neutral wrist angle called the “neutral false grip.”

This name intends to reinforce the idea of being strong in the wrist/forearm position and constantly working towards completely controlling what your wrist is doing. Not maintaining a false grip often leads to a loose or floppy wrist, which is much less advantageous.

The neutral false grip allows maximum force to be generated through the point where the body comes through the vertical position in the swing/kip. Any wrist angle will create slack at the bottom (vertical) point, which translates to a loss of potential energy. It would be best if you worked towards a smooth, tight transition through the bottom of that swinging/kipping action, which can only be achieved when the body is free of angles and at complete extension.

The strength of the neutral false grip is built over time by working on a full false grip.

So, is a false grip engaged when doing a kipping muscle-up? My answer is yes, but the position and application are much different than the aggressive false grip in the strength-based ring elements.

False Grip Benefits

The false grip allows for more technique when used for the muscle-up that is performed on gymnastics rings. In addition, it can provide a wrist placement that is more advantageous for some athletes.

The false grip also allows the gymnast or CrossFit athlete to keep their elbows close to their body during the movement, which can help prevent injuries.

When to Use the False Grip

The false grip should be used when an athlete learns the ring muscle-up. Primarily the strict ring muscle-up. You can use the false grip on kipping muscle-ups, but as I mentioned above, the aggressive version of this grip can be dangerous because your forearm muscles will fatigue very fast, and it could cause wrist injury. Build wrist strength and forearm strength before relying on the false grip for kipping muscle-ups.

The false grip can be a problematic grip to master, but it is worth learning for the benefits it provides. Take the time to learn and practice false grip progressions to perfect your muscle-up technique.

When Not to Use the False Grip

The standard grip may be a better option for stringing larger sets of kipping muscle-ups. A standard grip may benefit you if you lack the strength to keep your wrists flexed and not lose slack in the movement.

woman showing a false grip position

How to Practice For the False Grip

1. Start by practicing on a low bar or rings set close to the ground. Doing this will help you get comfortable with the grip and make it easier to hang on to.

2. When you’re ready to try the false grip on a higher bar or ring, move the rings to chest height and use a box or resistance bands to help build strength and gain confidence in the movement.

3. Practice holding the false grip for extended periods. The more comfortable you are with the grip, the easier it will be to do a ring muscle-up.

How to Perform the False Grip

To assume the false grip position:

1. Place one hand on each ring with your wrists facing away.

2. Turn your hands so that your palms are facing out.

3. Keep your elbows close to your body.

Hands showing how to perform a false grip

False Grip Ring Rows

False grip ring rows are a great way to build strength and muscle in your ring muscles. To do them, place your hands on the rings in a false grip (thumbs over the top), pull your body up where the gymnastics rings are at chest level, then lower yourself back down to full extension.

To help you get a stronger pull, you can place a box in front of you and put your feet on the edge of the box. Remember to keep your elbows close to your body and focus on controlled movement in the body weight row position.

How to Get Better at the False Grip

-Using a band to assist with the transition into the false grip can be helpful.

-Practicing transitions into and out of the false grip on a low bar or rings can also be helpful.

-Pressing out of the false grip and into a dip can help develop strength in this position.

-Performing static holds in the false grip can also significantly increase strength and stability in this position.

Here is a workout you can do to help improve your false grip maneuver and build forearm strength.

EMOM 10 (every minute on the minute)

1. 3-5 false grip ring rows

2. 15-30 second L-Sit

You will perform five sets of each throughout the EMOM. For the L-Sit, place two boxes with enough space in between to have one hand on each box at shoulder width. Then place a hand on each box and attempt to bring your feet out in front of you where your body is in an L position. If this is too challenging, try raising your knees and holding that position until failure.

Beyond the Standards of Today

As elite gymnasts, technique is at the center of everything we do. There is never a moment in our careers when we stop training basic, foundational movements. Countless repetitions of basic exercises are what enable us to perfect more advanced movements like handstand push-ups, muscle-ups, and beyond.

Artistic gymnastics continues to push the limits of human potential because athletes find better ways to apply a technique, become stronger, lift heavier weights, and have a never-ending thirst for pushing the boundaries. It is impossible to carve a new path for a sport without a solid foundation.

Right now, the CrossFit world is fascinated by muscle-ups. It has become a must-learn skill, no matter the cost. Many people skip the critical strength-building step associated with a strict muscle-up and jump straight to a kipping muscle-up because it is easier.

Using the momentum that the kipping action gives you might get you on top of the rings but are you strong enough to support yourself and handle the time under tension once you are there? What if you come across a workout with fifty muscle-ups? Would technique help in this case? Doing a skill one time does not equate to mastery. You must gain strength first if you ever want to become truly proficient.

Essentially, what building strength and proper technique allow you to do is be ready for anything. If the standards change next year and strict muscle-ups (or another variation) are required, most people would have to start over from scratch in how they approach ring training.

Working towards one skill without consideration for fundamental movements puts you in a box that does not allow for adaptation. Building strength and body awareness will allow you to be prepared for any standard CrossFit might throw your way. Change is on its way, so set your foundation now. The muscle-up is just the beginning.

About Damect Dominguez

Co-founder of BoxLife Magazine. Author: Training Day: 400+ Workouts to Incorporate in Your Training.

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