Friday, April 13th, 2018: Spotting the Muscle-Up

April 12, 2018

200m run
50 du’s
10 t2b pullups
:30 sec plank
5 ring dips

Find 1 RM

“Lucky 13”
13min amrap
13 pullups
13 deadlifts 135/95
13 pushups
13 db snatch 50/35

L1: 95/65
L2: 115/80


Comments 6

Just as an athlete needs to build skill and confidence in a movement, a spotter needs to gain experience before spotting more advanced skills such as the muscle-up.

A muscle-up is often performed on the rings, a dynamic apparatus that places an athlete 6 or 7 ft. in the air. A great deal happens very quickly, and spotters must be ready for anything.

The spotter-athlete relationship begins with the rings at shoulder height. From here, the spotter can learn how to help stabilize the athlete, especially during the transition portion of the movement.

“A spotter can make the difference between learning the movement or failing at it. The spotter can guide a person to feel the movement’s proper cadence under load while providing constant safety.”

—Jeff Tucker

Below are important questions to ask before for spotting the ring muscle-up:

ALT TEXTDon’t over-spot. The coach doesn’t do the work. He or she assists the athlete and ensures safety. (Dave Re/CrossFit Journal)

  1. Is the equipment safe, including the straps and rings? Are mats in place to break a fall?
  2. Does the athlete have the requisite strength? Can he or she perform a ring support and a strict ring dip? Does he or she know how to use the false grip? Can he or she do one or more strict pull-ups?
  3. Is the athlete comfortable with and confident in the spotter? Are spotter and athlete on the same page, with clear lines of communication? Does the athlete know the spotter will provide hands-on support?

Remember, spotters do not perform the skill for the athlete but rather provide support while the athlete performs the movement. The spotter must focus on bringing wild movement under control while offering assistance.

The athlete’s movement will provide the spotter with important information about how much assistance is needed. The athlete will show signs of control and strength or provide clues that a loss of control is likely. This information allows the spotter to adjust his or her approach and take every precaution to ensure safety. The job of the spotter is to protect the athlete and provide assistance that will help the athlete move closer to solo performance of the skill.

“Spotting an athlete through a high-level skill, like a muscle-up, without mastering your knowledge of spotting can be a recipe for disaster.”

—Pamela Gagnon

Spotting Progression for the Strict Muscle-Up

The spotter has two options.

The Elevator Spot

  1. The athlete hangs from the rings using a false grip. The coach can stand on the ground, but we recommend a sturdy box so the coach is high enough to assist if the athlete needs support in the transition.
  2. The coach asks the athlete to put the feet together, then places one hand under the athlete’s mid-foot and the other hand on the upper hamstring or lower back. The coach maintains stability while assisting with sticking points, and the placement of the hand under the foot provides leverage if the athlete needs more assistance in the dip or if a box is not available for the spotter to stand on.
  3. As the athlete begins the pull, the coach provides steady assistance to help him or her “ride the elevator” up to the transition. The coach ensures the athlete reaches the required height in the pull, performs the transition and then presses out of the dip to support. Throughout, the coach assists and stabilizes the movement, providing the minimum amount of assistance required for safety and successful performance of the muscle-up. The athlete should stay in a hollow position throughout.
  4. The coach should be in contact with the athlete at all times until he or she is confident the athlete is in control of the transition and dip. Once the athlete has shown control, the coach’s job is to provide brief assistance at sticking points.

ALT TEXTAdjust set-up and spotting technique so you’re in the best position to assist the athlete. (Dave Re/CrossFit Journal)

The Thigh Spot

  1. Similar to the elevator spot, the athlete hangs from the rings using a false grip. The coach stands close to the athlete and uses both hands to grasp him or her at the front and back of the thighs. This technique allows the coach to be closer to the athlete’s center of mass. Some prefer it because they believe they can provide more stability when the athlete begins moving through the transition phase.
  2. If a box is not available, the coach is short or the rings are set high to accommodate a tall athlete, the coach will have to be comfortable providing assistance as the athlete’s thighs move above the coach’s head.
  3. Similar to the elevator spot, this technique allows the coach to keep the athlete stable as he or she transitions to the dip.
  4. With this technique, the athlete might leave the coach’s hands as he or she proceeds to lockout. This is determined by the set up and the height of the coach. If the coach can maintain contact with the athlete throughout the movement, all the better. If not, the coach remains under the athlete with the hands up and ready to receive the athlete and provide support and control as he or she descends.


ALT TEXTTrust building starts early on as coaches work with athletes to develop the strength and skill required for more advanced movements. (Tai Randall/CrossFit Journal)

The muscle-up is an intricate skill that requires strength in addition to kinesthetic and spatial awareness. The coach must also learn the necessary skills—where to place the hands and how to support the athlete through the movement.

Perhaps equally important, the coach must build a relationship with the athlete. Once a skilled coach earns a client’s trust, success will follow quickly.

About the Authors:

Pamela Gagnon is a lead coach for CrossFit Gymnastics, a coach at Rising CrossFit Ballantynea three-time CrossFit Games masters athlete and a former collegiate gymnast.

Jeff R. Tucker, or “Tucker” to those who know him, is the subject-matter expert for CrossFit Gymnastics. He is the founder of Global Sports Xtreme (GSX) in Fort Worth, Texas, and he has a passion for teaching gymnastics.

Cover image: Tai Randall/CrossFit Journal