14 Jun Returning To Kipping Pull-Ups In CrossFit
Every sport has some specific skill that makes it unique. The skill is needed to excel in the sport due to the demands of the environment or competition. One of those unique skills in the sport of CrossFit, gymnastics, and obstacle course racing is the kipping pull-up. Derived from gymnastics, the kip made its way into CrossFit, allowing increased intensity and power output while completing the same amount of work as a strict pull-up. As with any skill, if we rush the process to develop it without paying attention to our foundation injury can occur. Once that happens the question becomes, “How do I return to kipping pull-ups?”
Return To Kipping Pull-Ups Checklist
Every sport comes with its own risks. The research shows, contrary to popular belief, that the CrossFit injury rate is comparable or lower than rates of injury in distance running, track and field, rugby, and gymnastics (Kilmek et al 2018). The common thread between injuries is they occur from doing too much too soon or from doing too much for too long. Specific to kipping, injury is likely not directly correlated to the kip, more so to inappropriate volume loaded on top of a dysfunctional base.
When injuries occur it gives us time to reflect and realize that we may have skipped some steps in the training continuum and now we have no choice but to go back and take care of our limiting factors. The beauty is that by taking care of your foundation, not only will you be back to kipping pull-ups but you will have the side effect of improved performance that will simultaneously improve other skills in the sport. Let’s cover the essentials for returning to kipping:
- Block 1: Mobility
- Adequate shoulder mobility
- Adequate thoracic mobility
- Block 2: Foundational Capacity
- Adequate Scapulothoracic strength and endurance
- Mastered Hollow and Superman positions
- Block 3: Foundational Pull-up Strength
- Dead hang with Hollow position from the rig
- Can complete at an absolute minimum 3-5 strict pull-ups symptom-free
- Block 4: Return To Power
- Toleration to power-based shoulder movements
- Toleration to kip swings
- Toleration to kipping toes to bar
- Toleration to kipping pull-ups
- Block 5: Sport Specific Skill Conditioning
- Ability to maintain form and integrity with a kipping pull-up under fatigue
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The Training Continuum
No matter the sport or exercise we have to talk about the training continuum (Cormie et al 2011). Sticking to the continuum improves our likelihood of improving consistency in the gym and decreasing the consistency of being seen in health care or medical clinics. The training continuum also gives us direction and a guide in the rehab and performance process!
Looking at this curve and comparing it to our checklist, max strength would be correlated to strict pull-ups. As the theme of this article is to not skip steps, let us wind it back and see what we need before we earn the right to swing into this curve.
Do You Have Enough Upper Quarter Mobility For Kipping Pull-Ups?
In order to complete the kipping motion, before you even grip the rig, we need to make sure you have enough shoulder and thoracic mobility. During the superman or arch phase, the shoulder joint is in the end range of flexion around 180 degrees. If the shoulder joint is lacking mobility, the body will find it elsewhere predisposing other areas such as the lower back or elbows to injury.
Quick Overhead Mobility Screen For Your Kipping and Other Movements
Learn More About Overhead Mobility To Optimize Crossfit Workouts!
Along with shoulder mobility, we also need to own adequate thoracic mobility, particularly in the superman or arch phase. Similar to the shoulder, if our thoracic spine is not extending the body will find this elsewhere and predispose the lower back to injury.
Quick Screen For Thoracic Mobility
- HOW: Begin by positioning yourself on both knees, sitting back on your heels with your feet straight and thighs together, arms on the ground and your elbows touching the top of your knees. From this position, place on hand behind your head. Rotate your upper back and try to point that elbow up to the sky. You can also place that hand behind your back and rotate that way.
- FEEL: You should feel a stretch in you mid back.
- COMPENSATION: Avoid side bending as you rotate. You want pure rotation of the spine.
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Do You Have Enough Strength and Endurance For Kipping Pull-Ups?
Once mobility has been earned and checked off the readiness list we can move forward to foundational strength and endurance, again making sure we do not skip this step and rush back into kipping to beat our buddies in the WOD. This is our short-term sacrifice for long-term gains! Let’s make delayed gratification sexy again!!!
We want to ensure we have built up enough scapulothoracic and core capacity or conditioning. Once we reach these thresholds, it does not mean we forget about them, they become a staple in our training to continually allow higher-skilled movements!
Quick Scapulothoracic Screens
Quick Core Screens
- HOW: Lying on your back, place both of your arms straight up overhead. Contract your core to flatten your back, then lift both feet up off of the ground about 6 inches. Keep your arms next to your head as you raise your shoulder blades just off of the ground. Hold this position for as long as you can. The test is over when you have to lower your legs or shoulder blades back to the ground.
- FEEL: You will feel your core really working for this one!
- COMPENSATION: Don’t have your arms behind your neck during the test, keep them right next to it. Keep your legs straight, don’t bend your knees.
Prone Superman Hold
Progression To Strict Pull-Ups
Once the movement system has been pre-tripped and ready to get on the road the next step is going through active pulling-based movements. To test the waters we can start with a horizontal-based row with heavier loads and then progress to vertical pulling.
The next step may be the most exciting step, GET OUT THE CHALK, we are getting back on the rig! We will start with a dead hang keeping a nice tight hollow position.
Dead Hang Assessment
Chalk up again because if this went well, let’s start adding in some strict pulling movements!
Scapular Pull Up
Pull Up – Band Assist
Want to overhaul your strict pulling strength? Check this out!
Single Arm Pull Up – Band
Once mobility and foundational capacity have been checked off, strict pulling strength is where we get the most bang for our buck! It may be the most tedious and frustrating stage but as stated by 5x CrossFit Games Champion, Mat Fraser, “Hard work pays off.” Kipping should never be substituted for strict strength! We will get back to this point and drill it home later!
Progression To Power Based Movement For Kipping Pull-Ups
The kip swing is used to allow more reps to be completed in a shorter duration of time, thereby increasing intensity and power. Every pull-up, whether strict or kipping, requires the same amount of work (force x distance). If more pull-ups can be completed in a given time the workout had more power and intensity. The intensity and appropriate recovery drive adaptation.
Mastering the kip involves coordination, agility, along with grip, shoulder, and core stamina. It is a sport-specific skill, meaning it requires specialized attention to detail. If your sport does not have this skill in it then the risk vs benefit calculation would say stick to strict pull-ups!
Again, kipping should not be used as a substitute for strict strength! Kipping is not a cheated pull-up rep but it can be if used incorrectly! It allows force production from the arms to decrease as the hips and leg swing drive the body vertically. A kipping pull-up to a strict pull-up is synonymous with a push press to a strict press. One needs to occur before the other to prove a strict foundation of strength, the former allows more muscles to get involved allowing more work to get done and power output to increase. However, if the kipping pull-up or push press is used before the foundation is cultivated, the foundation struggles under the load and becomes very visually apparent, your coaches know this, your workout buddies know this, and you know this!
Assuming strict strength has been cultivated and your in agreement to keep cultivating it throughout the season we can talk a bit more about the next block, power! To return to kipping the shoulders must be able to accept the forces from the swing created by the hips and transfer them to the rig and then control the returning force to restart the swing again. This relies on elasticity and power! Before getting out the chalk and swinging around on the bar, let’s make sure you have built base toleration to power-focused forces.
For Kipping and Butterfly Pull-Ups
- HOW: Begin with a resistance band pulling your arms forward. The anchor for the resistance band should be around shoulder height. Bring your hands close to your ears, this is achieved by rowing and rotating your arms back at the same time. Bring your arms in front of you and repeat, this exercise should be performed a bit more quickly that the other exercises.
- FEEL: You will feel the muscles in the back of the shoulder as well as the shoulder blades work with this exercise.
- COMPENSATIONS: Avoid excessively arching of the low back.
For Kip Swings
For Butterfly Pull-Ups
If performing these and having discomfort, let’s take a step back into the strength phase! As stated by Cormie et al 2011 “a fundamental relationship exists between strength and power, which dictates that an individual cannot possess a high level of power without first being relatively strong.” If tolerating these power-based movements, CHALK UP, we are heading back to the rig! Again we want to test the waters as we are now going to combine power with the hanging position. We will start with keeping a really tight swing on the bar with the coaching cue of leaving the giant swings on the sideline, instead keep your swing arch “inside a phone booth.”
If you’ve developed the habit of a giant kip swing and need some tactile cueing, check out the video below.
Cueing For Kip Swing
Next, we will progress into delivering the force from the kip swing into outcome in the form of toes to bar. This will allow us to practice the kip swing but without as much force on the upper quarters as the kipping pull-up will create.
Kipping Toes To Bar
After mastering the kip swing in the toes to bar movement we will now progress to the full pull-up! Finally!!! Does this mean you can go back to full sending it in class to beat your buddies? You can but still wouldn’t recommend that, yet!
Adding In Sport Specific Training To The Sport Specific Skill
I cannot recall ever doing a WOD in which the kipping pull-up was performed on its own with no other movement. Typically, it is coupled with overhead press variations such as in the benchmark workout Fran. Speaking of Fran, we also have to add in the factor of fatigue! If you’ve completed this WOD and experienced the fire breathing feeling it creates you fully understand that we don’t just need to do a kipping pull-up, we have to maintain integrity and form under fatigued conditions!
The last step in the process is taking what you have accomplished, learned, and now mastered and intelligently plugging it back into the rest on the demands of the sport. We will stick with the example of Fran. We want to test the waters vs risking a re-injury! Fran is a couplet of thrusters and pull-ups performed 21-15-9 rep scheme to be completed as fast as possible. The total amount of reps in this for reach movement is 45. Let’s limit the rep scheme to about 50 percent; to the range of 20-25 reps and see how form and capacity hold up. In this example, we could use a 9-7-5 rep scheme. Tolerated that well with good form? Perfect, let’s bump up to around 75 percent workload. We can use a 15-12-9 rep scheme. The same rules apply, if all goes well then go back to 100 percent!
Why not just dive back into 100 percent workload at this point? Load management is crucial!
We have to remember plyometric forces or increased power output have a much greater demand on elasticity and output of the neuro-musculoskeletal system.
Every sport has a unique movement incorporated into it. Once that skill is mastered, performance arises. For performance to rise and the skill to be expressed is must be built from a foundation that has mastered the variables need to put the equation together. Whether you are returning to kipping pull-ups after an injury or looking to improve your kipping pull-ups as a whole, stick to the checklist guided by the training continuum with the mindset of delayed gratification and hard work pays off!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
[P]Rehab Audio Experience Host
[P]Rehab Program Developer
[P]Rehab Writer & Content Creator
Dillon is a Sports Physical Therapist, performance coach, and adjunct professor residing in Syracuse, NY whose passion is providing holistic solutions to improve all aspects of human performance. Along with working with clinical athletes across the lifespan, he provides on-field coverage for youth and semi-professional teams. After his undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, he earned his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from SUNY Upstate Medical University. He practices wellness, prevention, and solution-based health care out of Goldwyn & Boyland, PT, and Core Fitness. In his free time, he enjoys family dinners, playing with his dog, and competing as a fitness athlete. Dillon honors the opportunity to join the [P]Rehab guys to influence and educate in a people-first system!