Disclaimer: To coaches and members alike, it should be obvious that there is no special exercise or drill you can do to perform kipping pull-ups if you lack the strength to body weight ratio to perform, at the very least, a few strict pull-ups on your own unassisted. Although you can still learn the basic concepts of the kip (AKA Beat Swing) no kipping drill will transfer into doing full range pull-ups if you aren’t strong enough. Basic physics proves that an appropriate base strength is required in comparison to your current body fat. There is a direct correlation between higher body fats and weak pulling strength on the pull-up bar. We just need to get you really strong while getting your body fat down. Don’t give up!
HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE
The list below is a comprehensive resource guide I have provided to my coaches given my 10 years as a CrossFit and 8 years as a Coach and Personal Trainer. This list is a compilation of all the drills I have used with great success for learning how to logically and progressive instruct the Kipping pull-up based on the capacity of each member’s current strength and skill level. You don’t need to use them all. A few of these drills coached and practiced intentionally will make a big difference.
WHY IS KIPPING SO IMPORTANT?
Learning to Kip Swing (aka Beat Swing) is very important to learn because it is the basis for the Pull-up (Chin and CTB), Bar MU, Ring Muscle Up, TTB, and HSPU. We can literally make ourselves 10-30% lighter which we can take advantage of for high rep pulling exercises. By no means do I encourage that we don’t program strict pull-up variations, on the contrary. I believe that the kipping pull-up serves a purpose, especially in CrossFit, just as much as the strict pull-up does. Train them both. Always!
In our gym, we work with such a diverse group of people that we created a 3-tier progression of movement standards that helps direct the athlete and coach as to which movement standard is most appropriate. From beginner to most advance we categorize these items as, Health, Fitness, and Performance with the general population falling under the category as Fitness, our most athletic member’s as Performance, and our beginner and older clientele falling under Health. “All Levels” is a term we use for drills that are applicable to all members.
All Levels: Partner Start-Stop Drill
This drill reinforces control especially in the extended position where an athlete is a chest forward and legs behind the bar. We never want them to be so overextended at the spine it looks like its going to break. Start in the hollow body position at the same time. Have them swing back and forward until you stay STOP. When they stop they must show control by freezing in that position. Have them come off the bar and repeat. It may be helpful to have Hollow Rocks and Superman in warmup.
Health: Kipping Hand Release Drill
Learning how to release grip is important because it allows the wrist to come back for pull-ups and most importantly allow the wrist to come up a come 180 degrees for the Bar and Ring Muscle-up. Most people do this naturally but its worth noting.
Health: Tactile Drill for Coach for Opening & Closing
It’s crucial to understand that the dynamic kip comes first from the shoulders followed by the hips. Not vise versa. We “push down on the bar” to get back and “relax” to let our shoulders from forward. This is a much easier concept than teaching them to come forward first. Teach the back phasis first. The tactile cue allows them to understand how dynamic they need to be.
All Levels: How to Hold The Bar
Ripping your hands on the pull-up bar is rarely supposed to happen. This is evidence of an improper grip on the bar in which the athlete is allowed their skin pinch between the bar and the palm. This video explains how to properly grip the bar for pull-ups.
Health: Jumping Kipping Box Pull-ups (with Famous CrossFit Annie Sakamoto)
The jump takes the focus away from not having the strength to do pull-ups and place more focus on the kip by using the cue “front, back, jump, push away”. This is a very effective and inclusive exercise for beginner and novice athletes who lack the strength to do pull-ups. It is important to mention that this drill is not an end all be all for pull-up workouts.
Fitness: Kipping Pullup with Towel Between Feet
This is one of my most favorite drills. To do this effectively the athlete needs to show control in the kip and rigidity in the hollow position. For now Performance athletes they can still do this drill without doing the pull-up.
Fitness: Half Pause Kipping Pull-up
The next logical progression is to move athletes through some type of range of motion while showing as much control as possible on the pull-up bar. The pause pull-up is a hybrid complex of kipping and isometric strength building.
Performance: Ring Kip and Pull-ups
This can be a fun challenge for Performance athletes. The rings great a different grip and feedback that they don’t get have to deal with on the pull-up bar. It will forward them to depend more on their kip (using shoulder flexion) which has a great transfer for Ring Muscle Ups.
All Levels: Grip Strength
Sometimes, especially with high rep pull-ups and grip intensive CrossFit workouts it’s not the strength of the pull-up that is lacking but a lack of strength from the grip that forces them to drop off the bar much sooner than they would like. Spending some extra time working on strength is a great way to reinforce the importance of a strong grip. A general rule of thumb is that the more overweight the client is the less amount of time they will be able to hold themselves on the pull-up bar. A general baseline for strength at our gym is a 1 minute dead hang hold.
Performance: Kipping Towel Pull-up
Once that athlete has shown proficiency in the kipping and adequate strength with strict pull-ups. We can add another level of challenge by having them performing kipping pull-ups with towels wrapped around the bar.
Performance: One Arm Kipping Pull-up
This is a high-level skill that requires a massive grip to sustain the weight of the entire body and be proficient enough to kip at the same time. This movement has no productive application in a conditioning point of view nor at high volume but it is still a great test of strength for advanced trainees.
Performance: Butterfly Circle (Ben Bergeron)
This is a cool movement to learn although I don’t think the Butterfly is the end of be all because of the sheer it places on the shoulder compared to the regular kip. Butterfly pull-ups have been proven to produce more reps in the same amount of time as the kipping Pull-up. Plus this is great for members who already kip really well.
Performance: Analysis of Butterfly vs. Kipping
There are some similarities and greater differences between these two movements. Although the requirement is the same in which the athlete must lock out each rep at the bottom and finish with chin over the bar the body part is the difference. If we can image the kipping pull-up as a “C” shape trajectory, the butterfly pull-up make more of an “Oval” shape.