6 Ways to Make Kipping Pull-ups Safer

By djpope

September 1, 2013

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

Big-KipSo the last few articles were all trash talking on kipping pullups.  We went over several reasons why kipping pullups might be causing injuries.  If you missed these articles you can find them here:

Now I wouldn’t be spewing so much pullup venom for no reason.  I actually enjoy kipping pullups.  I’m just very much interested in learning why kipping pullups cause injury so that we can learn how to make this exercise safer.  If you’re a competitive crossfitter or coach then you’re most likely interested as well.  So without further ado, 6 ways to make kipping pullups safer.

1. Build strength slowly

I love pullups, they’re a phenomenal exercise.  It used to be extremely impressive when you saw someone bang out 20 strict dead hang pullups.  Back in my personal training days I’d rejoice when I had a long time client finally completed their first pullup.  Now with the advent of crossfit you’ll regularly see workouts with 50+ pullups to be completed in a matter of minutes.   With these workouts comes the necessity of getting better at pullups, and FAST!  Enter the advent on kipping pullups, a way to complete more pullups in less time and finish those workouts faster.

However, because of the kipping action we may have skipped a step in the stages of learning how to do pullups properly.  We might be missing out on a key pillar, strength.

As we discussed in the first article, there are several reasons why performing kipping pullups before building prerequisite strength is bad.  If someone does not have the prerequisite strength to control the descent of their body from a pullup with bodyweight, then jumping into a kip may be inviting injury.

My favorite fix? Good old strength work.

Strength work can easily be programmed into your regular crossfit training.  Pick one day per week to work strict pullups.  If pullups are too easy you can add some weight.  If they’re too difficult then work on ring rows.  I’m an enormous fan of ring rows.

They’re incredibly easy to scale and shoulder friendly.  Once you can bang out 10-15 good strict ring rows with your body close to parallel to the floor I’m sure you can do atleast a few strict pullups.

Some coaches recommend being able to complete a certain number of strict pullups before trying to kip.  I’m not sure if there is some such magical number but being able to complete 3-5 pullups on your own is probably a good place to start.

2. Learn proper technique

Enough said, check #2 from the first article.  Not trying to beat the dead horse further.

3. Understand good and bad positions of the shoulder

We touched on this one briefly in the previous articles.  When I speak about shoulder position I’m referring to the bottom position of the pullup.  A few things we want to promote:

  • Shoulder external rotation (elbows facing ears)
  • Neutral position of the shoulder blades with slight retraction (shoulder blades back slightly)

In the past I’ve thought that really pulling the shoulder blades down and back (packing) hard was the solution to the problem, since then I’ve changed my mind some.

Ideal Positions:

Pullup Front Good - edit

Pullup Back Good - edit

Pullup Side Good - edit

Not so ideal positions:

Pullup Front Bad - Edit

Pullup Back Bad - editPullup Side Bad - Edit

Notice that the shoulder starts to slip into some internal rotation and protraction in the bottom three pictures, two movements that are notorious for causing problems.  This usually happens once fatigue sets in.  If you start to find yourself in these positions you might be looking for trouble.

Having trouble figuring out how to get into the proper position?  Try the reach, roll and lift.  It pretty much gets you exactly where you need to be.  You can do this while hanging on the bar as well.


One of the biggest take-away points here is not just learning what good and bad technique looks like but stopping when you notice you can’t maintain a good position anymore.  As we’ll hit on further in this article, checking your ego at the door and knowing when to stop are the keys.

4. Build adequate mobility (and stability)

This goes back to the idea that if you don’t have enough flexibility to put your arms overhead unweighted, then hanging from a pullup bar and forcing yourself into a new range will be stressful on the old shoulders.  Fixing this will require a combination of thoracic spine/shoulder mobility and shoulder stability.

My favorite shoulder and thoracic mobility stretches:

My favorite T-spine mobility exercises:

Once you’ve built some mobility I’d immediately follow this with some stabilization exercises to try and reinforce permanent improvements in movements.  (Keep in mind that sometimes improving stability and motor control can lead to improvements in mobility).  Some good ones to use are the reach, roll and lift demonstrated above and some kipping drills.

Side Note: I feel Carl Paoli is far and away the best gymnastics coach for crossfit movements I’ve found.

5. Don’t push through poor technique and fatigue

This one is self explanatory.  Fatigue screws up our technique.  It also decreases the ability of our shoulder musculature to stabilize the shoulder joint.  Kipping allows us to continue completing pullups beyond the ability of our shoulders to control movement within the joint.

Going back to reason #3 above, learning what good and bad shoulder positions feel like is paramount.  When you notice you’re shoulders aren’t in the right position, it’s time to rest.  It’s been said before but I feel it’s incredibly paramount.  I think it’s something we all understand but don’t always put into practice.  Everyday when you enter the gym, check your ego at the door.  We’re here to get better, not get hurt.  Just because you’re able to complete more repetitions incorrectly in a workout doesn’t mean you won’t be paying for it later.

6. Follow better programming

From what I’ve been experiencing, there seems to be 2 opposing schools of thought floating around in the rehabilitation world right now.  One side seems to think that once you get hurt you should avoid the activity that caused the problem at all costs in order to get better and stay healthy (ie: stop doing kipping pullups).  The other side believes that promoting better movement is the solution to the problem and if we can figure out how to improve technique we’ll take care of the problem (ie: fix your kipping technique).

I’m somewhere in between.  I’m all for correcting movement as seen in reason #2.  However, we’ve got to keep in mind that your body can only handle so much stress.  If we’re completing kipping pullups multiple times throughout the week mixed in with several other very demanding shoulder exercises (Snatches, overhead press, muscle-ups etc.) we’re still placing tremendous stress on the shoulder regardless of how perfect your technique is.  This is where a better program comes into play.  A few rules of thumb for my own programming.

  • Don’t kip two sessions in a row
  • Minimize kipping to 1-2 days per week
  • Balance pressing and rowing exercises in your program
  • Use deload weeks
  • Some days I push harder then others based on how I feel
  • I never hesitate to modify when needed

If you’re interested in seeing a specific example, I write my own programming that’s available for all to see.  It’s a crossfit performance program with an emphasis on balance and injury prevention.  Find my programming HERE.

Well there it is, probably way more information about kipping pullups then you were interested.  I wanted to leave no stones unturned in this regard.  You might see another article about kipping pullups next week though, you’ve been warned.

About to hit some kipping squats,

Dan Pope

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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.