In this article I wanted to spend some time going through the kipping pull-up, specifically whether or not it is responsible for shoulder and muscular injuries (SLAP tears, labrum issues, muscle strains, and common overuse pains). In the below sections we will first review the kipping pull-up movement demos, uncover who typically performs them (and why), and address various reasons as to why the kipping pull-up may leave you more susceptible to injury.
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Before we dive in, however, I want to make clear that this piece is not for or against kipping pull-ups, as nearly every single one of us at some point has used the “kip” (either as a learned skill progression or as a natural skill progression). Carl Paoli points out in his book, Freestyle Connection, that nearly every beginner who fatigues at a strict pull-up quickly learns how to use their hips and momentum to get themselves to the bar. In doing so, they are able to learn valuable awareness and coordination of movement that can be applicable to other aspects of movement. That said, in this article we will discuss the most common reasons as to why kipping pull-ups may be detrimental to your joints and tissues, most commonly due to lack of technique, readiness, and programming concerns.
The Kipping Pull-Up Exercise Demo
In the below video we learn how to properly perform the kipping pull-up to maximize efficiency and stability in the movement. The key points to emphasize here are midline control, scapular strength and stability throughout the movement, and a controlled, fluid descent.
Who Does Kipping Pull-Ups?
As stated above, nearly everyone who has failed at strict pull-ups yet wanted to get a few more repetitions has done some form of “kip” to get to the bar. While the form and technique may widely vary, and often differ from the above technique video, the purpose of the kipping motion was the same… to use body momentum to assist in the ascent to the bar.
In the formal sense, kipping pull-ups are often seen in competitive fitness sports and WODs and gymnastics. The widespread growth of both movement philosophies has led to the kipping pull-up making its way into general fitness as well.
Why Do Kipping Pull-Ups?
In a previous article we discussed the benefits of performing the kipping pull-up, which you can read in detail here. In short, kipping pull-ups serve a purpose for some athletes (such as the ones below).
Muscular Stamina and Grip Endurance
Muscular stamina and grip endurance is key for fitness athletes, climbers, gymnastics, and other grip intensive sports. While there are a million ways to increase muscular and grip endurance, the kipping pull-up is a total body and dynamic movement that can mimic some sport specific (see below) movements and have a good application to sport.
Whether you agree or disagree with kipping pull-ups, the fact of the matter is that gymnastics and competitive fitness requires an athlete to be sufficient in the form and control of the kipping pull-up. Failure to prepare, teach, and train the movement correctly would be committing a disservice to an athlete who is invested in the sport.
Total Body Integrated Movement
When looking to accomplish a task, such as get one’s body from Point A to Point B, we have natural and trained progressions that we can rely upon to accomplish the goal. Climbers for example, may use both a strict and a kipping pull-up depending on the nature of the task in order to move themselves up and over objects. The same goes when we move in life, as learning how to dynamically move the body in a fluid manner is helpful in accomplishing life’s tasks (however, in today’s world we find less need for this style of movement, however this does not mean it is not important). The kipping pull-up can offer some individuals a better, more efficient way to accomplish a movement task, and therefore does provide some benefit when done correctly.
Can Kipping Pull-Ups Cause Injury?
In short, the kipping pull-up may be correlated with some of the injuries seen in competitive fitness and general fitness populations. The root of injury isn’t necessarily due to performing the kipping pull-up, but rather for reasons such as individuals with pre-existing issues, poor programming and excessive training volumes, and/or lack of sufficient technique.
4 Reasons Why Kipping Pull-Ups Can Cause Injury
Below are four potential reasons why kipping pull-ups may cause injury when performed incorrectly. Note, that any movement done poorly will often result in movement asymmetries, disorders, and compensation patterning that can lead to overuse injuries. While kipping pull-ups are the focus of this article, it is to point out that kipping pull-ups (and any other exercise) done poorly is the primary concern. When done correctly (sufficient preparedness, technique, programming, and recovery), kipping pull-ups may or may not be an issue.
Lack of Scapular Stabilization
Inability to stabilize the scapulae during this ballistic movement will certainly create excessive strain on the shoulder joint and connective tissues. Proper scapular depression and control throughout the kipping movement is key to not only fluidity in the kip, but for proper deceleration during the eccentric component of the moment. If you have issues with scapular control, try performing these simple scapular stability/activation exercises prior to kipping work.
Increased Eccentric (and Total) Loading on Muscle Tissues
Due to the ballistic nature of this exercise, the lifter must have sufficient muscle mass and control of their body to resist high amounts of loading and force placed upon the biceps and lats during the lengthening phase (eccentric) of the kipping pull-up. Failure to properly load the lats and stabilize the scapula will often result in the biceps and lats taking excessive straining (due to the nature of the ballistic exercise and the higher training volumes seen when programming kipping pull-ups).
Lack of Pre-Requisite Strength and Control
Like any movement, lack of strength and coordination as someone is progressed into a more advanced variation can result in high amounts of unnecessary/excessive strain to the muscle and connective tissues. Failure to have the necessary prerequisite strength, muscle hypertrophy, and movement control can often result in overuse injuries, movement imbalances, and instability (see reasons above).
Excessive Shoulder Joint Stress
All of the above reasons can lead to the acute overuse and chronic issues with the shoulder joint, elbows, and muscle tissues. While the kipping pull-up, when done correctly (see above) may not result in such issues, individuals who perform them with less than optimal readiness, technique, and poor programming will most likely develop some injuries specifically due to the kipping pullup (as it can aggravate predisposed joints and connective tissues).
While we spent a great amount of time discussing the negative side of kipping pull-ups, and the injuries that are often associated with the movement, I want to make it clear that there are still numerous benefits to the movement (discussed above), especially when done correctly and with proper readiness. Coaches and athletes must determine the purpose of the kipping pull-up in their movement, rather than simply doing it to do it. Movements like strict pull-ups, scapular stability, and functional strengthening exercises must occur before an individual can progress to more ballistic and demanding exercises.
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