In a recent interview, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman made a statement that seems to fly in the face of what we see on TV in the CrossFit Games or sometimes in our own local Boxes. In reference to creating CrossFit, he was asked if he would do anything differently. Glassman said, “I would devalue the kipping pull-up”.
But what about WODs like Murph or Fran where kipping pull-ups are just about required to complete or get a decent time? Glassman’s position may seem at odds with those types of heavy pull-up WODs, but when you look closer, Glassman’s statement follows the core principles of every other CrossFit movement.
If you think back to the first time you walked in the Box, you likely started out with a junior bar, or maybe even a PVC pipe for your first WOD. You scaled the workout and did hang power cleans while the more experienced athletes did full squat cleans. Pull-ups are the same way. Once you master the strict pull-up, only then you can consider learning to kip.
Kipping should not be viewed as a way to bypass building the necessary strength required to do strict pull-ups. It is merely a technique that allows increased speed and endurance, once you’re ready for it.
Glassman also said, “People that can’t do strict pull-ups trying to kip is wrong.” You can tell who has built up the strength for regular pull-ups and who hasn’t when people get on the bar and start kipping. If you haven’t developed the form and strength for regular pull-ups, it’s going to show as your core slacks and your lats fail to engage and you start to look like a fish flopping out of control as you try to kip. Worse than looking like you’re being tased, a weak pull-up puts you at risk of injury if you try to kip.
Pull-ups are very intimidating to many athletes, and some struggle to get even one pull of the chin over the bar. It is a challenging movement, but with determination and a little effort, you can build up the strength to do them. Here are some scaled movements to get you there.
Ring Rows. Working primarily the biceps and triceps, ring rows are where you should start if you are new to pull-ups. Grip the rings and fully extend the arms, keeping just your heels on the ground and your back straight. Pull yourself up until your chest touches the rings. Lower and repeat. You can make the movement more challenging by lowering the rings or walking your feet out further. You can also elevate your feet on a box to increase the difficulty.
Negatives. To perform a negative pull-up, use a box or a partner to get yourself to the up position and hang, resisting gravity’s pull, going as slow as possible, for as long as possible, until you hang arms fully extended. Get back to the up position and repeat. This helps develop the muscles needed for the movement but decreases the effort required as you start already over the bar.
Chin-ups. A close cousin of the pull-up, chin-ups are performed with an underhand grip and hands close together. They work more of the biceps and can offer you a break if you are hitting muscle failure from regular pull-ups.
Partner Assisted Pull-ups. You may have noticed that we’ve gotten away from band-assisted pull-ups and instead prefer to see partner assisted pull-ups. The bands tend to pull your feet out in front of the bar, placing you at a non-ideal angle. They also provide the most help at the bottom of the pull-up, and are least helpful at the top of the pull, where you need it most. A partner can assist by supporting your crossed ankles or pushing your lats as little or as much as you need. You get more out of your pull-up attempts with partner assistance.
A quick safety note: Be cautious of your neck position as you do pull-ups or chin-ups. Often, people will attempt to get that inch or two needed to get above the bar by extending and straining their chin over the bar. It’s important to keep your head neutral and chin parallel to the ground as you pull. Leading with the chin can cause severe pain at the back of the neck that doesn’t go away quickly. If you aren’t quite ready to get a neutral head over the bar, pulling to eye level is an acceptable scale option.
Don’t let pull-ups intimidate you. Challenge yourself by mixing up the scaling options. Work with our coaches and track your progress so that you are always working towards getting your strict pull-ups, not just doing an easier scaled movement. Develop your form and strength, and only then look at ways to increase your speed and endurance with a kip.