The Kip Swing

To be as efficient as possible on the pull-up rig and to be the most proficient at the higher-level skills, the Kip Swing is an important movement in CrossFit.

What is the Kip Swing:

The Kip Swing is used in CrossFit to produce momentum and generate more power to apply to the gymnastic movements.

In gymnastics, a Kip is a specific movement that looks like what CrossFitters know as a Bar Muscle Up.  To accomplish this movement, the body is accelerated through changing body shape rapidly by folding and then extending at the hips resulting in the body being able to glide up and over the bar.

See below:


In CrossFit, the same thing is done but on a much smaller level.  By shortening and lengthening body shape, momentum and power is generated to be applied to a movement.  If doing a pull up or chest to bar, the body passing through a lengthening phase then snapping into a shortened position produces momentum to assist the arms in pulling the chin or chest up to the bar.  For a toes to bar, the same is applied to propelling legs and feet up towards the bar.

How to use the Kip Swing:

In the non-CrossFit world, other fitness enthusiasts call the kipping-pull-up a “cheaters pull up” since momentum is used to produce much bigger sets than could be possible with a strict-pull-up.  It’s important to note that having the strength to do strict movements is very important to your efficiency and safety in the kipping-version counterparts.

CrossFit defines fitness, in short, as being able to do more, faster.  So, having the ability to do 30 kipping-pull-ups faster and unbroken compared to 30 strict-pull-ups in singles and slowly means that our workout scores will be faster and therefore represent greater fitness.  It also means you can complete those pull-ups in a shorter time frame and continue on to the next piece of the workout to keep your heart rate up consistently therefore improving metabolic conditioning.  If we only relied on strict movements, your heart rate would come down as you’re reduced to small, slow sets from muscle fatigue and failure setting in.

So, the Kip Swing can be used to create more fitness.  However, it is very important that you have a good foundation of strength and stability, especially in your shoulders, before trying to utilize the Kip Swing for generating large set sizes of the gymnastic movements.

The importance of the Kip Swing:

There are two phases of the kip swing, we typically call them the “hollow position” and the “superman position”.  The “hollow position” refers to the back-swing portion where the body is concave, rounded out behind the bar and looks like the same hollow-hold position we do on the floor for core work.  The “superman position” is the forward-swing position where the body is convex, extended forward under the bar and again looks like the superman-hold we perform on the floor as well.

When you first jump up onto the bar to begin any movement with the Kip Swing, you should start in a hollow position or even a more extreme piked position for even greater momentum (not quite as extreme as the gymnast video above, but that same idea!).  This initial hollow position is important because:

  • It sets up your positioning to maintain hips and shoulders on opposite sides of the bar which will then prevent pendulum swinging
  • Starting a movement with tension already created makes the rest of the movement much stronger and safer (think of a deadlift…bracing and engaging hamstrings and upper back before lifting the bar is a much better deadlift than setting up like a noodle and trying to pull it off the floor).

In all other subsequent hollow positions, maintaining this helps:

  • Keeping the best position to “string together” multiple reps of movements
  • Maintaining tension and a strong core position to not waste any power or energy be becoming a noodle

After this initial hollow-position jump to the bar, you’ll swing forward into the superman-position.  This phase is important because:

  • It makes your body “load up” for maximum power.  You need equal amount of extension forward here in order to “snap” into the following hollow position and move your body to the bar how you want.
  • It also gives a moment of lesser tension throughout the movement for muscle recovery throughout multiple reps, instead of arms staying bent and shoulders staying closed and fatiguing.

Throughout multiple reps strung together, the superman-phase is important each rep to:

  • Explore maximum range-of-motion of lumbar, shoulders and hips
  • Maintain proper timing/tempo to string consistent reps together

It is important to note that these two positions don’t only apply to movements on the pull-up bar (pull-ups, toes to bar, muscle ups).  The same positions create power when upside-down too!  Performing a kipping handstand push-up, as seen below in the athlete in gray, mimics the superman-position at the top of the rep (arms extended, hips and shoulders open) and the hollow-position at the bottom of the rep (head on floor, knees tucked to chest, body closed and rounded).  In this movement, the power is generated the opposite way as on the bar…snapping from the hollow-position to the superman-position is what produces the momentum to press!

The first step to accomplishing the Kip Swing is by first understanding it!  We will get into how to improve the Kip Swing in another blog post soon!