OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!! I’ve been trying for three years to figure out how to do a muscle up, and I just did my very first one!!! (See my video at for a quick view.) But what’s even funnier than this video of me, is that it turns out I have been strong enough to do a muscle up for a very long time. What has been holding me back all this time?

My mind

For some reason I had it in my head that this was going to be too.…what? Difficult? Painful? Dangerous? Scary? Epic? I really don’t have a word or concept that specifies what held me back. I notice a pattern in my life. It’s a fear of success. I’m not sure exactly how or why I developed it, but there are many times I self-sabotage. What pleased me so much in that moment when I was suddenly over the bar was that it happened without my thinking about it.

I was playing around, and doing pull ups to burn off some excess energy. I get extremely ebullient, especially after hollering at a class of boot campers. When that happens, the best way to not explode from frenetic joy is to do bursts of exercise. While pulling myself around, I realized I was repeatedly pulling myself up so high that the bar was already at or below my chest, and then in a flash I flipped my elbows to arrive on top.

I did it without evaluating it or strategizing it. I did it without studiously preparing for it. The moment was right, and the muscle up pretty much completed itself. I was just along for the ride. It shocked me once I realized where I was. Even more surprising was how simple it was.

The process

I don’t mean to imply that doing a muscle up was easy. There are plenty of situations that are simple without being easy. In retrospect, this is what I think finally allowed that first muscle up to do itself. (Note: What you see in the video is my second and third muscle ups. The first was spontaneous, so no one was ready to record it.)

Progressive overload created this moment. It’s a long process to be able to do a pull up, let alone multiple pull ups. It is then another level of training to be able to use different grips, different tempos and explosive reps. All of that is part of a life-long progression for me. But something finally tipped…

I attribute this sudden burst in explosive power and strength to The 300 Workout ( A year ago I built up to doing the intermediate version of it, because I didn’t have the necessary equipment in my home gym. It was a crucible unto itself. Recently I decided to do the full original, because a year had gone by, I wanted to see if I could still do it, and Flex5 ( has the equipment. Why does this matter? I started doing the 35-pound kettlebell clean and press, and they require explosive strength. I think that training finished preparing my shoulders for the speed and strength that would be required.

My body was finally ready. All I had to do was get out of my own way.

Going forward

There are layers of personal lessons in this. I stay in my head far, far too much. It’s one of the disadvantages of being a genius. LOL! Anyway, this reminds me of one of the main tenets of Pattern 7: Focus ( The detail I’m referring to is my own advice to others: “See yourself performing your activity perfectly, and then do it. Apply this to everything.”

This was a fantastic example of recognizing in a flash what I wanted to do, knowing somehow what it would feel like, and seeing myself above the bar. And then I was above the bar. I wasn’t telling myself why I couldn’t do it. I envisioned it reflexively, and then I did a muscle up. Now to apply this realization to everything.

In terms of the muscle up itself, I have already begun reducing the amount of swing. A strict repetition is done without momentum and without kipping (lifting the knees to create a short boost). I can see minimizing or eliminating the swing relatively soon. Not kipping? That will take some time. But what really matters is knowing that I can do this. It doesn’t matter that I’m 40. I can do this.

info: Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at and