I have 2 kids and, for me, one of the most exciting things in their development has been watching them learn to walk. Hang with me here, I have a relative point to make with CrossFit and I’ll get there, but this is a prime example of the learning curve. I use this analogy when teaching handstands in my yoga classes, as well. You see, I watched my kids eagerly pull themselves up at the coffee table, couch, and chairs and use that furniture as a support to cruise around and check things out. The furniture helped them balance while those chunky little legs began to gain strength and coordination. As their confidence grew, they’d let go, stumble a few steps, and then plop down on their diaper-cushioned butts. Everyday they took more steps. Some days looked like a backwards slide in progress, but soon enough they were taking several steps unassisted. The excitement of their achievement, or simply the sight of a dog, toy, or food, would sometimes get their legs moving a little faster. Inevitably, though, because they had not mastered the basic task of walking, running led to a full on face plant into the floor.

For many crossfitters, one primary goal is the elusive pull up. We use bands and work jumping pull ups, even do ring rows, to develop strength and body awareness to achieve this move. It’s a skill we work and work towards and once we get one or two the desire to kip becomes inherent. It doesn’t take long to realize a little extra wiggle from the body can accelerate that rise above the bar. Unfortunately, when we move too quickly into kipping pull ups we use momentum to achieve the skill, not so much strength. This concept also applies to the handstand push up, toes to bar, ring muscle up, and overhead press.

So why is this an issue?

In biomechanics, there is a certain pattern in which muscles should fire in order to achieve correct movement. Take the pull up for example. The pull up is initiated by the lower trapezius and pectoralis major muscles, and completed by the biceps and lats. During the movement other muscles, such as the rotator cuff (specifically infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres major), erector spinae, external obliques, rhomboid, and more, need to activate in a certain order to correctly accomplish the skill. If there is a weakness along the chain, the full movement is not possible. Not only should certain muscles contract to achieve proper movement patterns, but other muscles should relax to allow the counterparts to do their job. Therefore, if there is a hypertonic/tight muscle that cannot let go, then it can inhibit good muscle pattern firing. These imbalances are what we need to correct with mobilization, isolation/accessory exercises, or support mechanisms, such as bands, to guide the movement. Over time this work allows our brain to fully understand the movement and iron out coordination and control.

Kipping is kind of like running; it will allow you to cover more distance faster. Running 3 miles not only takes a lot less time than walking, but the swing momentum decreases the force production on the muscles, aka less work. Bottom line, you can better maintain power over time. You can bet your life that kipping 100 pull ups will not only get you through the reps faster, but it will also decrease the work load on the muscles and save your energy output. Just imagine 100 strict pull ups!

I’m not saying you have to be able to do 20 strict, unbroken pull ups before you begin to do kipping pull ups. The ability to do 5 strict pull ups is an ideal goal to have to ensure you not only have enough strength, but also body awareness, control, and proper movement pattern to be able to handle adding momentum to the skill. Shoot for 3 strict HSPUs, 2 strict toes to bar, and 1 strict ring muscle up before you start kipping those moves, too. When it comes to overhead lifting, always work strict press. Consistently getting back to basics with strict pressing overhead is a reminder to the brain on how to properly move with heavier loads and, in the CrossFit world, speed.

Kipping is an art-form in itself. If the body is not fully conditioned to activate muscles properly, in order, then kipping will certainly override them and further create dysfunction. By mastering strict movements you lay a foundation of strength and control that will help in kipping coordination and injury prevention.

If at any time you experience pain while kipping a movement, take a time out. Something is not working properly and needs attention. It’s easier to correct and heal something early on than to let injury progress and lead to bigger problems.


-Coach Heather

CrossFit Coach, Chiropractor, Yoga Teacher