How to Rehab Your Athletes Back to Kipping Pullups – Part 1

By djpope

January 22, 2017

chest to bar, kipping, muscle-up, physical therapy, pull-up, Rehabilitation, rotator cuff, scapula, Shoulder Pain, toes to bar

A lot of my athletes are coming back from shoulder injuries where they couldn’t kip previously.  This could be after a major surgery like rotator cuff repair or a bad impingement syndrome / tendinopathy that leaves athletes unable to kip.

Now, like any other shoulder patient we’ll need to have basics in place:

  • Restore full range of motion
  • Promote dynamic stability
  • Enhance rotator cuff and scapular strength
  • Restore symmetrical strength bilaterally
  • Allowing adequate tissue healing time (In the case of post-surgery especially)

I think where the wheels fall off the bus is when people attempt to return to kipping without a thorough plan.  I know not all physical therapy clinics have a bar to hang from but this is not a great excuse for not thoroughly preparing athletes for what they want to get back to.  In the best case scenario we need to get athletes slowly back to the activities they wish to return to.

Here’s how I like to do it:

Step 1: Restore full shoulder range of motion

Having full range is step #1.  I know I already mentioned this earlier in the article but it’s super important.  I’ve written numerous articles on how to do this.  Here’s an older video with some good ideas you can reference.

Not having full shoulder range of motion could be what caused this problem in the first place.  You can learn more about this here.  Suffice to say gaining full shoulder motion is important.

Step 2: Teach hanging shoulder position

Now, unfortunately there is a lack of evidence as to what constitutes the “healthiest” shoulder blade position.  I’m just using anatomy, anecdotes and some research from the shoulder blade world (Mostly from Ben Kibler and Ann Cools) to come up with these ideas.

What we’re looking for at the shoulder blade is a combination of upward rotation, posterior tilt and relative external rotation at the shoulder joint.  (I say relative because gravity and lat tightness is going to naturally pull the shoulder into some internal rotation.  We just don’t want this to happen excessively).  These movements help to maximize subacromial space and strength of the rotator cuff and scapular musculature.

For my athletes I like to cue:

  • Reach the toes toward the floor slightly (upward rotation)
  • Rotate the elbow pits facing inward (external rotation)
  • Pull the chest forward (thoracic extension and scapular posterior tilt)

I made a quick video of how to cue this and a few exercises to help athletes learn these positions:

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3 Keys To Optimal Shoulder Health for Kipping. Hanging from a bar and kipping can create quite a bit of compression on the rotator cuff and biceps tendon. Shoulder blade position is important when teaching people to hang on the bar to help minimize stress on the shoulder structures and maximize performance. There are 3 major shoulder blade motions to work toward to optimize shoulder health. 1) Upward Rotation – This moves the acromion away from the humerus allowing space for the rotator cuff as well as centering the joint. This goes against traditional wisdom of "shoulder pack" 2) External Rotation – This moves the greater tuberosity away from the acromion further creating space for the cuff. External rotation also increases ligamentous support of the shoulder. 3) Posterior Tilt – This last movement also brings the acromion further from the humerus creating more space for the cuff. Posterior Tilt and thoracic extension also places the cuff and scapular musculature in a stronger position to produce force. Try the exercises that follow to help teach your athletes how to hang and kip in a safer fashion. @powermonkeyfitness @championptp #crossfit #reebok #teamreebok #pullups #kippingpullups #performancetherapy #physicaltherapy

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3: Slowly build tissue capacity in the bottom of the kip

Just because you’ve built strength around the shoulder with basic exercises doesn’t mean you’ve built the specific strength and endurance needed for kipping in the gym.

Generally the most stressful part of kipping is at the bottom full hang position.  This is because you’re using core and lower body momentum to generate a pull-up and then need to control the descent with just your shoulders.  I’ve explained this in depth in prior articles if you want to read more about this concept.  Because of this, we need to build a ton of strength and stability in the bottom of a pull-up.  Just remember we need to start slowly.  Here are some of my favorites to start with:

That’s it for this week.  Next week we’ll talk more advanced progressions and how to modify once you start incorporating kipping movements back into your conditioning.  Until then give these a shot and let me know what you think.

All kipped out,

Daniel Pope, DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF-L1