Walk into a CrossFit box and you will see a variety of movements when it comes to pull ups. Assisted or modified pull-ups. Strict pull-ups. Kipping pull-ups. Butterfly pull-ups. So many options. Where do we begin?
Most people tend to start with kipping pull ups. Possibly because that is what they see. Possibly because that is what their coach tells them to do. Or maybe it is because they see a little more ability there compared to a strict pull up and think it is a better place to start. This is not the case. Starting there creates bad habits. Starting there creates compensations. Starting there places athletes at an increased risk of injury.
If you started with kipping pull ups, you are not alone. In fact, that is where I started because I didn’t know any better either. Because of that, it took me a long time to break the bad habits and develop the necessary skills once I learned the better way to progress pull ups. I discovered by backing down and learning the basics of movement I was able to perform pull-ups in a way that were giving me improved quality and improved efficiency. Greater efficiency à Less energy output à More reps! BONUS…I stopped having shoulder issues once I did that as well.
With kipping pull ups, the body requires strength, stability, and body control in ways your body has likely never moved before. If you don’t teach your body how to control this from the beginning, you are doing yourself a disservice in many ways.
With kipping pull ups, you are using momentum to help your body get your chin over the bar. But along with that momentum, you also need the strength to pull, the stability to control and protect the shoulders, and the body control to maintain tension and timing.
Let’s start with the strength and stability aspect.
In my opinion, you need to be able to do 5 strict pull ups before even attempting kipping pull ups. The strength needs to be present through the back, shoulders, and arms to actually be able to pull. Along with that, you need to be able to perform scapular retraction/scapular pulls while hanging from the pull up bar. If you can’t create that motion and control, there is no way you will maintain control throughout the pull up movement, especially when talking about coming down from the bar and transitioning into the Superman position.
If you don’t have the necessary strength or control and can’t maintain the tension through the shoulders when you come down from the chin being over the bar, you will cause a lot of quick pulling/stress on the shoulder. This is an easy way for a shoulder injury to develop. Besides that aspect, without the tension, you will never be able to cycle your pull ups past maybe 1-3 reps at a time.
When talking about the actual kipping motion. Let’s start simple…Can you even get into a proper hollow body position on the ground? How about a superman position? And then can you perform rocks in those positions? You need to learn the body control of those two positions before attempting it while hanging on the bar. Your body will never figure out what it is supposed to be doing when suspended in space if you don’t teach it on the ground first.
Combine all these deficits together – lacking scapular control, hollow body control, and superman control – and you are setting yourself up for continued failure and/or injury.
So where do we begin?
This is where the different drills come into play, both to begin working on the strength and stability as well as the body control required. There are a lot of different drills you can work on. Where to start depends on where you are currently in the process.
I have put together a list of some of my favorite progressions when learning how to perform a proper kipping pull up. You can find it here: Kipping Pull Up Progressions
You can also learn more about this by listening to Episode 35 of the Highly Functional podcast with Pamela Gagnon: Taking Gymnastics Back to the Basics
The best advice I can give you when working on pull ups (or any skill for that matter) is Regress to Progress. You have to give up your ego and your pride, go back to the basics and work there. Once you return to the basics, master those skills, and progress from there, you will notice huge improvements with your skills.
Have more questions regarding this or any other skills? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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