Question: Should I attempt kipping pullups before I have strict pullups? Answer: No.
This blog will be breaking down the reasons why you shouldn’t kip before strict, the dangers of kipping without proper mechanics, and providing a standard for if you want to consider kipping pullups into your practice.
I want you to think of the kipping pullup like you would the jumping squat, it is a dynamic version of its foundational movement. You wouldn’t learn the jumping squat before the understanding the mechanics of the air squat would you? Of course not, the foundation must be laid, before adding dynamic movement to the equation. Adding dynamic movement to your foundation exponentially increases the chance for injury. With the static version of the movement you build the strength in the shoulder complex to keep you in good positions at the start and the finish position. The strict pullup requires strength in your large stabilizers of the shoulder known as the latissimus dorsi, the serratus anterior, and the trapezius. The strict pullup will also strengthen the anterior and posterior fibers of your deltoids; your deltoids harbor and protect the small rotator cuff muscles that often become damaged when the preliminary strength is absent. The four rotator cuff muscles are the infraspinatus, the supraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis. Also to be noted, the concentric activation of the biceps, and eccentric loading of the triceps. If one is missing the strength required to move the body statically through full range of motion, adding momentum places additional stress to the joints, muscles, and ligaments surrounding the shoulder which could wreak havoc on the complex. The kipping pullup was designed for speed, not for completion of task; if you take someone with strict pullups and ask them to do them for time, they will inherently begin to form a kip.
The kipping pullup in itself is not a dangerous move, however not having the proper form will bring about intrinsic dangers to the movement. Many of the dangers I wrote about
If you want to add kipping to your practice, I would recommend this: be able to demonstrate 3-5 proper strict pullups first. This shows control on the bar which is necessary for keeping the shoulder safe as the intensity rises. The strength required to perform these pullups will build a more durable shoulder girdle and provide a better platform for kipping movements.
Last I invite my dear friend and Doctor in Physical Therapy Matt Stevens to share some insight for his practice and the number of cases he has seen involving kipping pullups and his findings as a result.
All too often I hear the same story in my office.
Patient: “My shoulder hurts from doing kipping pullups.”
Me: “Can you do a strict pullup”
Me: “OK, that’s the first problem.”
There is a vast difference between performing a “kipping pullup” and utilizing momentum while attempting to perform standard pullups. A kipping pullup is a learned skill that can and should be broken down to smaller components for the athlete to learn and master prior to performing the movement as a whole. As a clinician I have a checklist of tasks that an athlete must demonstrate prior to attempting or returning to kipping pullups.
1. Does the athlete have sufficient, pain-free range of motion of the shoulders, thoracic/lumbar spine?
2. Can the athlete dead hang from the bar for a minimum of 30 seconds?
3. Can the athlete actively depression scapulas (shoulder shrug) while hanging from the bar for 10 repetitions?
4. Can the athlete perform 5 strict pull ups or 1 strict pullup at 125% of their body weight?
5. Can the athlete demonstrate dynamic stability/control during all phases of the movement (hollow position, arch position, pull-phase etc)?
Until these basic skills are achieved and able to be performed without pain my athletes do not perform kipping pullups. This checklist ensures that the athlete has the strength to properly control and stabilize each joint, as well as utilize the proper biomechanics. Performing a kipping pullup without these prerequisites puts the athlete at a greater risk for injury of the tissues and joints mentioned above. In the clinic, I have unfortunately seen glenohumeral labrum tears, torn pectoralis major/biceps and a plethora of overuse injuries because athletes can not properly perform the skill or do not have the strength and stability.
If you are new to CrossFit I highly recommend finding a coach, trainer or clinician that can assess your range of motion, strength and movement patterns to ensure your safety prior to adding kipping pullups into your exercise program.