Kipping Pull-ups and What You Need to Know
Kipping pull-ups, as most of you are already aware of, are a topic of great controversy within the CrossFit community. When people start their CrossFit journey they are often drawn to kipping pull-ups; people are swinging around on the pull-up bars and seemingly getting their chin over the bar effortlessly! These are seen as CrossFit’s default pull-up; they allow athletes the ability to perform more reps and in a faster manner than conventional strict pull-ups, using the power of the kip, a foundational movement in gymnastics.
There are arguments that the kipping pull-up shouldn’t be called a pull-up at all, it is cheating. Using your whole body to get your chin over the bar is not the same as just using your arms. While others argue that this is the only “standard” of a pull-up is to get your chin over the bar. A kipping pull-up is the only way they are able to get their chin over the bar, so it’s still a pull-up. As always, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of these two arguments.
So the question is: Should you be doing kipping pull-ups? The goal here is to give you a better idea as to whether or not performing kipping pull-ups should be a goal of yours, where you are in your progression towards kipping pull ups, and give you some suggested ways to build the necessary prerequisite strength..
To start, lets list our minimal recommendations for performing kipping pull-ups. To be clear this is just a starting point. These minimal requirements are suggested to begin practicing kipping pull-ups. We advise that you hold yourself to higher standards and more proficiency before you begin using kipping pull-ups in a high intensity MetCon.
1.) Greater than or equal to 180 degrees of bilateral shoulder flexion without pain and without compensation of thoracic extension… Think being able to do a full kettlebell swing without pain and without breaking at the hips as your arms are overhead. I would consider this a red flag area. If you do not possess this range of motion, it is highly advised to achieve it before beginning kipping pull ups.
2.) Greater than or equal to 5 strict pull-ups with full elbow extension and with neutral cervical spine (neck) at the top portion (not craning your head back to get your chin over the bar) with the ability to hold the hollow position throughout the 5 reps.
3.) Greater than or equal to 10 arch to hollows on the bar without excessive breaking at the thoracic or lumbar spine as well as the knees (staying tight).
These may look like high standards, but in all honesty, a solid case could be made that these are lower than they should be.
At this point some of you are saying, “With those standard I will never be able to do kipping pull ups”. Don’t worry! We are here to help you build the necessary strength and technique to help achieve successful and efficient kipping pull-ups. For some this process may be 1-2 months, and others it may be 1-5 years.
As in most aspects of life it is the journey and not the end result that make it worth it.
Hang from the bar in a hollow body position.
Externally rotate by having active shoulders. Gradually increase the amount of time under tension. Try for a goal hanging with active shoulders for 30(+) seconds.
Initiate by shoulders back and down and pull into scapular pull-ups (video below). Build up to 3 sets of 10.
Set shoulders back and down and keep them active. Don’t relax and let shoulders come forward. Never let your body go back farther than active shoulders.
Body is one unit, it moves and works together. Hips and shoulders move as one.
The farther your feet are out and your arms directly under the rings, the harder the ring rows will be.
Same fundamentals as ring rows. Body is one unit.
The higher the bar is set in the rack, the easier it will be, and can allow you do assist yourself with some leg drive.
Jumping to a Negative Pull-up
Jump to chin over bar and try and hold for 2 seconds.
Control your bodyweight in a hollow body position with your elbows in and not flaring out all the way down to full extension in a controlled manner.
Suggested Extra Credit and Accessory Work
As many strict pull-ups as possible without going to failure.
As many strict ring dips as possible without going to failure.
Rest as needed between sets.
Scale to ring or inverted rows. If you don’t have ring dips, scale to banded ring dips, ring dip negatives (jump to support and slowly lower down) or push-ups with hands directly under your shoulders.
Min 1: 20 second dip support (externally rotate and palms facing forward).
20 second bottom of the dip hold (don’t relax, stay tight and in the hollow position.
Min 2: 30 second hang from the bar (hollow position, active shoulders)
Scale by holding as long as possible with good form up to the 20 or 30 seconds.
4:00 clock: Max strict chest-to-bar or inverted rows (place bar higher in rack and assist with legs if needed for full range of motion).
4:00 clock: Max push-ups (Hands under shoulders, elbows in, slow and controlled). Scale with knee push-ups.
A big key to doing kipping pull-ups is building the necessary strength of the major muscle groups for the overall pulling power, but also as important is to never neglect the minor muscles that help play a role in stability of the shoulder. If kipping is your goal, these muscles need to be strong to help decrease your chance of injuring your shoulders because you can’t keep them active during the kip. These exercises below are worked into warm-ups from time to time, but these can be done on your own at anytime as well.
Shoulder Strength and Prehab
Band Pull-aparts and overhead band pull-aparts
If going overhead is your problem, let’s start with these exercises and stretches to help loosen up that thoracic spine.
Mobility for Thoracic Spine
As always, ask a coach with any question you might have or for any help you might need!