Should you kip during Pullups and Muscle-ups? This is a question with no easy answer. As a coach I’d like to see athletes take the time to develop the strength required to use strict form. Unfortunately many of those new to CrossFit, (which is where we’ll be referring to for the purposes of this article) are in a hurry to emulate those flashy moves they see on TV and at the Games. They want to run before they even know how to crawl and if left unchecked and unguided injury is a possibility. The top athletes in the sport didn’t just walk into a box one day and start performing these movements. Many female athletes are in fact former gymnasts while many of the men have been avid gym junkies for a decade or more having spent years developing the upper body strength they display during workouts; it didn’t happen overnight.
I would prefer athletes develop their strict form before attempting to kip in any movement. This will allow their muscles to grow and support the joint instead of relying on tendons and ligaments. The shoulder girdle is particularly susceptible to injury because it is quite delicate despite its location and job as anchor point for so many large powerful muscles. Newer athletes should never forget that movements like the Pullup are primarily a strength movement and not about speed. You cannot shortcut developing strength; even those who turn to steroids must still put in weeks and months of training to develop strength. In this way I believe that kipping is a form of cheating. While I do understand its use and function during WOD’s for time and utilize it myself I learned strict Pullups/dips/Handstand Pushups/ and Muscle-ups before I ever employed a kip. In most cases I will resort to a kip only after I’ve exhausted my muscles to the point where strict form is no longer possible.
I do not believe any athlete can truly develop the necessary strength needed for strict form by learning to kip from the beginning. The only way to grow stronger is to continually overload your muscles in a fashion that forces them to grow and adapt. Focusing on Kipping is only going to make you better at kipping and leave you high and dry deep in the middle of a workout when your strength reserves fail and you have no back-up plan. Pullups are such a true test of upper body strength precisely because they are so difficult. It reminds of the old expression “The Iron never lies” and neither does the Pullup bar if you can’t get your chin over the bar it’s not an issue of technique; but of strength and trying to kip your way over is no different than trying to bullshit your way through a job interview when you obviously aren’t qualified.
All this comes back to one concept of training; patience and discipline. Beginning athletes need to be told, shown, and made to believe by their coaches that time is their ally not the enemy and that they must be willing to dedicate the time to developing strength alongside technique. Bands, negatives, and scaled movements are the way to develop ability not flailing around on a bar like a jumping fish in a vain effort to get your chin over the bar. As a coach I will have more respect for those that decide to take the long way and ask for bands and assistance over those who constantly berate me to show them a kip when they have yet to demonstrate a single strict Pullup. This speaks to character and motivation.
And one last thing if you can’t do 10 strict Pullups and dips, then don’t even bother asking about muscle-ups. I’m warning you. Stop worrying about what Rich and Annie did at the games; you just started a few months ago and are nowhere near that level of skill and physique. Be honest with yourself and embrace the reality of the situation. Better yet enjoy the fact that you’re a beginner and your gains will come quickly and frequently over the next year while experienced athletes like Rich and Annie have to fight tooth and nail for every little fraction of a gain. They have to work out for hours a day to make the kind of jumps in ability you will after just 45 minutes 4 times a week. Be grateful for who you are and focus and making who you are better instead of trying to copy someone else.