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Why You Should Master Strict Pull Ups Before Kipping

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By: Coach Renee Telles

Mastering the kipping pull up is one of the most common goals of new Crossfitters.  Just take a look at our goal board next to the bleachers.  Nearly 80% of our athletes’ goals include a designated number of pull-ups.

As a coach, one of the most common questions I get asked is “what can I do to get my kipping pull-up?”  My answer is always “do more strict pull-ups.”  And of course my answer is usually met with a look of confusion.  Rarely do I have the opportunity to explain WHY patience is the key to mastering the kipping pull-up as well as preventing injury.  So here’s my advice:

Let me begin by explaining a little about the shoulder.  While the shoulder joint is built for mobility, we must take into account that it is naturally designed for internal rotation (rotation toward the center of the body).  There are 5 major muscles that position our shoulder into internal rotation:  Deltoid; Subscapularis; Teres major; Latissium Doris; and the Pectoralis Major.  Compare that to the two muscles that are responsible for external rotation:  teres minor and infraspinatus.

What does the anatomy of the shoulder have to do with kipping pull-ups?

Many Crossfit coaches, myself included, teach the kipping pull-up by referencing the hollow rock and superman positions.  The hollow rock position places the shoulder into internal rotation, whereas the superman position forces external rotation.  Practicing these positions on the pull-up rig without performing an actual pull up is fine.  Disaster strikes when an athlete forces the pull up by using a big kip when they haven’t developed the muscles needed to pull their own body weight over the bar without assistance.  The downward phase is even worse as your shoulders now have to bear the weight of the body in addition to the downward momentum.  Sure, you can force your way through a few kipping pull-ups, but if your shoulder muscles are not strong enough, your body will find a way to withstand the forces acting on it.

The ligaments and tissues that hold the muscles together will be compromised and injury may result.

Check your ego at the door and master the strict pull-up.  Once you can perform at least 5 strict pull-ups, your shoulders are now strong enough for the kip!

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