by Erik Castiglione

NOTE: This article is longer than 500 words, so for those interested to learn all about kipping, please read beyond the key points. For those who aren’t, here is what you need to know:

  1. Kipping is a controlled opening and closing of the shoulders and hips to generate power and momentum.
  2. Using a kip allows us to cycle through more repetitions more quickly by spreading the load through our whole body, rather than keeping it localized.
  3. Kipping allows us to add a metabolic effect to otherwise strict movements, resulting in an increased heart and breathing rate.
  4. Kipping requires more mobility, balance and coordination than a strict variation. It adds skill to a strength movement.
  5. Kipping IS NOT cheating; it is a completely different movement variation.
  6. You should master the strict movement variation before attempting the kip for the safety of your joints.

There is no aspect of CrossFit that is demonized in the rest of the fitness world more than kipping. “That’s cheating!” “That’s unsafe!” “What the hell are they doing flailing around like that!?” I’ve heard it all before, and I’m sure you have too. Maybe you’ve even had these thoughts yourself. I certainly have, especially about the handstand push-up. Like it or not, kipping is a part of CrossFit, and with good reason too! Before we get into why, let’s look at where the kip came from.

History of Kipping

In gymnastics, athletes perform a glide kip. This is not a movement in and of itself; it is simply how gymnasts get over a bar or rings to do the movements in their routines. When he created CrossFit, Greg Glassman (a former ring man himself) took elements of the glide kip and applied them to doing pull-ups, thus creating the kipping pull-up. In this case, the kip is a controlled opening and closing of the shoulders and hips which generates some momentum to help with a pull-up.


Courtesy of THE CAVE TRAINING

This same controlled hip and shoulder action lent itself nicely to a hanging leg raise, allowing athletes to achieve a greater range of motion and take some stress off the abs, thus creating kipping toes to bar. The kip swing also found its way to muscle ups, creating the kipping muscle up. If you look at the OG CrossFitters in the Nasty Girls video, all of their muscle ups were strict. The top of the muscle up is a ring dip, and people noticed that kicking out at the top to assist with the lockout in a muscle up could also be used in regular ring dips. Thus the kipping ring dip was created.


Strict, Kipping, and Butterfly Ring Dips

In 2007 at the first CrossFit Games, an athlete introduced the more efficient Butterfly Kip. At the time, people had no idea if his pull-ups even counted as full reps. When interviewed, he quipped that the movement pattern was simply how he learned to kip. Fast forward 10 years, and the butterfly kip is a staple of the CrossFit Games. It’s even been applied to Toes to Bar and Ring Dips.


Strict, Kipping, and Butterfly Pull-ups

In the 2011 Games, the kipping handstand push-ups was introduced. Some Regional level athletes discovered that by tucking their knees to their chests and kicking out (essentially doing a reverse ring dip kip), they could take some of the load off their shoulders and cycle through more handstand push-ups quickly. Thus, the rise of CrossFit as a sport led to the creation of kipping movements other than the pull-up.


Strict and Kipping Handstand Push-ups

Why We Kip

When we do a strict pull-up, or any strict movement, we are focusing on building strength and muscular stamina. After a certain number of reps (your ability level will determine how many), you hit a failure point and simply can’t do anymore.  In strict ring dips or handstand push-ups, you’ll feel your arms fail. In toes to bar, you’ll feel your abs fail.  It is a localized sensation that I’m going to call “local fatigue.” When we kip correctly, we spread this load through our whole bodies. This in turn slows the local fatigue, delays your point of failure, and allows you to do more reps.

Furthermore, by spreading the load systemically, we stimulate our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This allows us to train gymnastic movement variations and our metabolic pathways simultaneously. This is why you get winded during a set of 10 kipping pull-ups, but not during a set of strict. It’s also what makes “Fran” burn so much.


Strict and Kipping Muscle Ups

Finally, a proper kip requires mobility, balance and coordination. When doing a controlled kip, you should be able to stop moving on a dime while hanging from a bar. You should not have any residual swing, because a kip is NOT a swing. Many of you are strong enough to do strict variations of these movements, but haven’t yet figured out the kip. To you, the kip certainly isn’t “easier.” Kipping IS NOT cheating; it’s a completely different movement pattern from the strict variation. Both are valid, and both have their appropriate time and place.

Who Should Kip?

Because of the dynamic stress kipping puts on your joints and ligaments, it is imperative that you have the necessary strength before learning to kip. I’ve met 4 athletes who tore their labrums doing CrossFit. Every single one of them tore during a WOD with a high number of kipping pull-ups, which they were determined to finished. NONE of them could even do 1 strict pull-up. Kipping pull-ups should be reserved for people who already have the strength to do strict movements to minimize the risk of injury. The same is true for ring dips and toes to bar.


Strict, Kipping, and Butterfly Toes to Bar

This goes double for handstand push-ups. The cervical spine is designed to handle a very small load: the weight of your skull. If you can’t do strict handstand push-ups, you likely lack the strength to descend to the bottom of a handstand push-up under control. If you kip a bunch of them, you are essentially smashing your head into the ground and impacting your C-spine REPEATEDLY. Stop it!

Conclusion

Like it or not, kipping is here to stay. This is a good thing, and it is NOT cheating. Kipping is only one tool in our tool box, and like all tools, it has its uses. Build a solid strength base, and then you can safely learn to kip. Once you do, you’ll be able to take your WODs to a whole new level.