3 More Reasons Kipping Pull-ups Cause Injury

By djpope

August 12, 2013

bad, Crossfit, dangerous, evidence based, injury, kipping pullup, labrum, research, rotator cuff, Shoulder, Shoulder Pain, SLAP tear, stupid

francocolumbuI couldn’t help myself.  In this article we discuss 3 more reasons that kipping pullups could be causing injury.  If you missed the first 3 reasons, you can find them all HERE.  This article is even more sciency, just the way I like it.  Without further ado, here are my next 3 top reasons kipping pullups cause injury.

1. You Aren’t Mobile Enough 

I’ve been hatin on mobility quite a bit lately, but not because I don’t think it’s important, just overemphasized.  Based on research we know that a tight pec minor can place us into anterior tilt of the scapula (1).  This decreases subacromial space and puts us at risk for subacromial impingement and rotator cuff damage(1).  Having a tight posterior shoulder can do the same (Good old GIRD)(1).  Decreased thoracic spine mobility can decrease scapular posterior tilt and upward rotation, two motions that are critical for shoulder health(1).

NERD ALERT: Go ahead, learn some more about shoulder impingement and scapular kinematics, you know you want to.

Another thing to keep in mind is that forcing yourself into a position that your body can’t achieve normally because of poor flexibility will really stress the shoulder.  Essentially, if you can’t put your arms overhead fully unweighted, then it’s going to be one heck of a stretch when you start hanging from a bar.  Add some kipping pullups to the equation and we might be running into trouble.  You can assess your own overhead mobility.  I’ve been meaning to make a better video assessment but this will have to do for now.  On top of that, lacking mobility in the shoulder can cause your body to try and gain motion from another joint.  I’ve seen several people who have lower back pain from doing kipping pullups and believe this is a major cause (maybe even more common then shoulder pain).   If you’re interested in learning more about how the different joints affect one another and how we can systematically use this knowledge to be more efficient, rehab and prevent injury click HERE.

kipping-pull-up_drillIf we lack full range of motion, not only are we increasing stress on the shoulders but we’re also becoming less efficient.  A kipping pull-up is going to require more range of motion then a strict pull-up.  The big swing as seen in the first part of the above photo displays this.

Note: You can also imagine how if we’re lacking shoulder mobility the lower back is really going to have to bend more to get those feet behind you.  The above person actually looks like she’s missing some shoulder mobility and her back is getting a decent amount of extension.  Not to mention some funky stuff going on in her elbows.

Another thing to think about is that if we’re lacking range of motion in the shoulder it’s going to make the movement harder and potentially make the shoulders fatigue more easily, which is a nice segway to the next point…

2. You Push Through Fatigue In Workouts

With fatigue we know that our technique changes, it’s pretty easy to see that.  Just watch someone do kipping pull-ups to failure.  I think this is where the floppy fish analogy comes from.

What’s even more important is that the position of your shoulder joint and scapula changes with fatigue as well.  The problem is that these positional changes put us more at risk for injury.

There is some research to show that pre-fatiguing the shoulder musculature results in reduced scapular posterior tilt and upward rotation (1).  Fatiguing the shoulder musculature can also cause scapular dyskinesis and decreased proprioception.   If we fatigue the rotator cuff it won’t be able to control the humeral head adequately and this can lead to humeral head superior migration, aka shoulder impingement city (5).  (Yes, both Mike Reinold and Kevin Wilk refer to this problem as shoulder impingement city, kidding… but they are both worth checking out)

All of these factors are really going to open us up to shoulder impingement(4).  As described in my original article, proprioception is exactly what the authors of the aforementioned studies recommended as important to decrease the incidence of labral injuries (2).  Makes sense that we should be paying attention to this huh?

From a common sense perspective I’m sure you’ve either found yourself or someone else in this position (Check me out on the far left).

dan kips

You’re tired.  You’re shoulder stabilizing muscles are fatigued, you’ve turned into a zombie hungry for human flesh.  You’re at the bottom position of the pull-up and you’re basically hanging on the passive structures of the shoulder like the capsule, ligaments and labrum.   Because you can use momentum you can continue to rip through several more repetitions despite your shoulders being completely shot.  If I had to guess, I’d say this is probably the biggest cause of injury.  You’ve got the unholy triad of problems going on that lead to rotator cuff tears.

  1. Poor shoulder blade and shoulder joint position – This directly compromises rotator cuff tissue by decreasing it’s ability to produce force (4)
  2. Eccentric muscle overload – From repeatedly eccentrically loading the shoulder tissues after they’ve fatigued (4)
  3. Reduced space under the coracoacromial arch – You’ve fallen into a shoulder position that increases subacromial impingement.  Couple this with some specific mobility deficits and we’re on our way to some rotator cuff carnage (4)

If I had to guess I’d say this factor is probably the largest area where kipping pullups go wrong.  We’re fatiguing our shoulders during met-cons and then jumping onto a pullup bar immediately after, often times doing way more pullups then we can do when we’re fresh.

Who cares though, Fran times are more important then our shoulders.  Kidding, but I think this is a common permeating sentiment.

3. You Follow Poor Programming

This is another big one.  Crossfit already is very stressful on the shoulders.  Now we’re placing another very stressful shoulder exercise into the mix.  If we’re not very careful about programming properly, we can be setting ourselves up for failure, even if you have the previous 5 points taken care of.  Keep in mind this previous very important point:

  • Eccentric muscle overload and overuse can lead to shoulder impingement and rotator cuff tears (4)

Progressively building shoulder strength and endurance will be a vital part of building bulletproof shoulders, but we could just as easily do too much and start creating problems.

Here’s a short list of shoulder intensive exercises seen in crossfit off the top of my head:

  • Handstand pushups, jerks, push press, press, kipping pullups, muscle-ups, dips, rope climb, snatches

Even with flawless technique our shoulders are already taking a beating throughout the week.  It’s going to be paramount that we slowly introduce the kipping pullup and build the prerequisite strength and endurance in the shoulder so that we stay injury free.  Over time our programming also has to be smart enough so we don’t end up creating overuse injuries in the shoulder.  This is a huge thing that I’ve tried to tackle in my own programming that you can check out for yourself with my fitness pain free wod.

Even Konstantinovs can’t help himself from enjoying some kipping pullups

Another no brainer that I see often being forgotten is that different people will be able to handle different amounts of stress and get away with it.  Think of Rich Froning Jr.  The man is a machine and can handle tremendous amounts of volume and remain unscathed.  Some individuals are just going to be able to handle more shoulder intensive exercises and get away with it.

Things like age, genetics and lifestyle also play a big role here.   Making a program that fits everyone’s individual needs within a gym is darn near impossible.  I think this is the reason why people need to learn to listen to their bodies and modify their gym’s programming to optimize their own health.  It’s exceedingly difficult to create a group exercise program that fits everyone’s needs.  In other words, you probably shouldn’t always be doing the same exact workout as the person next to you who’s 10 years older or younger then you are.

Well, that was a blast to the face.  I hope this all made sense.  Once again more and more I am realizing now that you guys are very smart and I don’t want to water down my writing.  Let me know if you enjoy the science by commenting below in the comments.  If not, just tell me I’m getting too geeky.  Next week I’m going to tackle some fixes for the kipping pullup.  Afterall, what good is all of this philosophical discussion if we don’t have any practical take-aways?

Do you think kegeling will prevent shoulder injuries?

Dan Pope

P.S. If you enjoyed this article then sign up for the newsletter to receive the FREE guide – 10 Idiot Proof Principles to Crossfit Performance and Injury Prevention as well as to keep up to date with new information as it comes out via weekly emails.

P.P.S If you guys have some other ideas to add please send them to the comments below.  one of the major reasons I write these articles is to try and stimulate some thought on the subject so that we can all move forward together.


  1. Ludewig, P. M., & Reynolds, J. F. (2009). The association of scapular kinematics and glenohumeral joint pathologies. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy39(2), 90-104.
  2. Cerulli G, Caraffa A, Ragusa F, et al: A biomechanical study of shoulder pain in elite gymnasts.  In Riehle HJ, Veiten MM (eds): ISBS ’98 XVI Internationa Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports. Konstanz, Germany, university of Konstanz, 1998, pp 308-310
  3. Mey, K. D., Danneels, L., Cagnie, B., Huyghe, L., Seyns, E., & Cools, A. M. (2013). Conscious correction of scapular orientation in overhead athletes performing selected shoulder rehabilitation exercises: The e.Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy43(1), 3-10.
  4. Kibler, W. B., Ludewig, P. M., McClure, P. W., Michener, L. A., Bak, K., & Sciascia, A. D. (2013). Clinical implications of scapular dyskinesis in shoulder injury: the 2013 consensus statement from the ‘scapular summit’. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 1-12.
  5. Reinold, M., Gill, T. J., Wilk, K. E., Andrews, J. R., & , (2010). Current concepts in the evaluation and treatment of the shoulder in overhead throwing athletes, part 2: Injury prevention and treatment.Sports Health A Multidisciplinary Approach,