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Why Muscle Ups Matter To Every Single Athlete

It’s been several weeks since the 2019 CrossFit Open finished…but it’s 430am, and I’m writing an article about muscle ups. (Spoiler: it’s about much more than that.)

A ton of people hit their first muscle up, or pull-up, or handstand push-up, or double under over the last 5 weeks. In fact, in the 35 day span from the first Friday at 6PM to last Monday morning at 7PM, I embraced more sweaty men and women than in any other one month period in my 30 years of life. That’s a weird stat I suppose, but it certainly left a lasting impression. One powerful enough to have me up writing at the wee hours of the morning.

No the impression left has nothing to do with me questioning the hygiene of the sweaty encounters nor does it involve the tingles any human feels when embraced by a fellow shirtless class member. Rather, I was moved by the realization of the metaphorical (and sometimes literal) importance the muscle up has for all of us in our pursuit of health and fitness.

While we all started and continue to do CrossFit for different specific reasons, all those reasons ladder up to the same generic purpose – to live a healthier life. On a superficial level, achieving a muscle up has absolutely nothing to do with that.

In fact, many more people will live an incredibly healthy life without successfully completing a muscle up than those that do complete one. Certainly there is a positive correlation between degree of fitness and ability to do one, but by no means is one required to be fit.

So, why does it matter?  Why is a muscle up as important to the 25 year old young gun as it is to the 85 year old grandmother?

For most I’m not talking about the muscle up literally, but instead I am referring to what it represents – a meaningful, tangible, physical goal.  For the 85 year old grandmother, that might be walking up 3 stairs without assistance. For others it may be a 400lb back squat. And for some, it’s moving without pain.

In essence, we all need that Moby Dick to chase. (We will ignore the fact that everyone but Ishmael dies when Moby Dick is “caught”.  If that was a spoiler for you, I do apologize but I did just save you from reading 135 chapters :)).

We all need that meaningful something to keep us coming back day in and day out.  As with the pursuit of Moby Dick, it will be a journey filled with ups and downs. Calm and rough seas. It will be a journey that requires devout (borderline obsessive) commitment. And it may even be a journey that ends in failure.  BUT, it is in that pursuit and even in that failure that we progress, grow, and succeed in some way.

For 99% of us, we’ve stayed committed to CrossFit longer than any other fitness routine in our lives.  For many of us, we are fitter now than we were 1, 5, 10, and even 20 years ago. For most of us, going to the gym has become something we want to do instead of something we have to do.

All that is awesome, but we must acknowledge the facts:

Fact 1 – As humans we naturally seek newness and growth.  

The first year or two of CrossFit is intoxicating.  You’ve never done half the movements and while scary, it’s also exhilarating.  You never knew how awful 5 minutes of working out could feel, but somehow it’s awesome.  You were never a group class person but all of the sudden you couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  Inevitably, all of that becomes the new normal. It’s no longer new, it’s your routine. It’s still better than any other routine, but like anything else in life we do for years, it becomes routine.

Fact 2 – Measurable success breeds motivation and it becomes a lot less frequent as the years pass.  

In the first 2 years of CrossFit, you look at a barbell and you PR.  Not just PR but PR by HUGE jumps. 30 lbs on a snatch in 1 month. 50 lbs on your deadlift the next.  Then the gains slow. Suddenly it’s 5 lbs on your clean in 6 months. 10 lbs on your squat in a year. Let’s be clear, improving at a decreasing rate happens to everyone in any fitness program, especially as their fitness and age increases.  BUT, it still sucks and can be demotivating!

Fact 3 – We can easily combat these issues by chasing our own version of Moby Dick! Our own muscle up, so-to-speak.

Out of the 10 or so athletes that got their first muscle-up, pull-up, double under, HSPU, etc. during the open, almost every one of them came to a movement seminar, set-up a skill session, or sat in a goal review with us.  We’re sure the tips they were given helped, but the main driver for their success was their commitment to the goal and journey.  

During that process what do you think their attendance looked like?  Stellar.

Why? They had a goal.

Now that they hit their goal, how do you think they feel?  Amazing.

Are they motivated to find another one and continue to improve their fitness? Heck yeah.

But guess what, we also worked with several other athletes who have yet to get their Moby Dick.  

Have they reached the goal yet? Nope.

Has the pursuit of that goal fueled their commitment to their health? Heck yeah.  

Is that a success in itself? Absolutely.

In other words my friends, find a meaningful, physical goal and go get it.  

Maybe it’s a first pull-up or muscle up. Perhaps it’s a 200lb snatch. I don’t know what it is for you but all I know is you need one.  It needs to matter. You need to chase it. You need to celebrate it when you reach it.

Next week I’m going to send out a 2 question survey.  Question 1 will ask you to write down your own version of your Moby Dick or Muscle Up.  Question 2 will ask you to write down the biggest obstacle in your way.

Take some time this week to think about those 2 questions. Take the 5 minutes next week to fill it out.  Those 5 minutes could fuel your next 5 months.

Start here

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