I tried the 3-minute CrossFit kipping exercise every day for a week — here are my results

Man performing a pull up in the gym
(Image credit: Getty images)

Considered a “cheat,” kipping is essentially the swing energy that helps you convert to exercises like pull-ups and muscle-ups. In the simplest terms, it means swinging back and forth. I built up three minutes of kipping swings every day for one week to see if the intensive practice would make a difference to my training — and here’s what I learned.

To kip or not to kip, that is the question. The CrossFit community loves a kip, but it divides opinion elsewhere, especially for some who think kipping momentum cheats you out of strict pull-ups and working your muscles properly through time under tension. I already have experience with kipping, but this time, I decided to drill down on my technique. 

What does kipping mean in CrossFit? 

You can practice kipping as a standalone drill, but during class, the kip most often accompanies other moves like muscle-ups, chest-to-bar, toes-to-bar, butterfly pull-ups, or pull-up variations. It wouldn’t be fair to call it a transition, as it takes skill — but it kind of is. The kip introduces lower-body momentum by swinging your body forward, then backward; this momentum helps you drive up to the bar (depending on the exercise you’re practicing).

According to CrossFit, it “derives from a powerful and athletic reversal of hip direction” and “expands the primary movers from just the back and arms down through the torso and hip to include the power zone.” Imagine drawing a line from over your chest and then over your thighs — that section between is your power zone.

When practicing the kip, you’ll notice that you can generate momentum through both phases of the exercise, but it’ll test your grip, forearm strength and muscular coordination. Whether you plan to use the kip or not, it’s considered by many as a worthwhile gateway skill to learn, especially if you plan to take part in CrossFit competitions or play around with bars and rings. 

How to start kipping

Whenever I’m asked what kipping means, I tell them to imagine the hollow rock exercise (hollow position) combined with the Superman exercise (arch position). But it’s more technical than that as you transition from one to the other. As per the CrossFit beginners video above, it’s easiest to try from the floor, and then transition to the bar. 

Here’s how to do the kip swing in the hollow and arch phases. 

Hollow:

  • Start on your back, extend your legs away from you and arms behind your head.
  • Softly crunch your stomach.
  • Lift your arms and legs, keep them straight and practice engaging your whole body to keep a tight position.
  • If done correctly, you’ll create a banana shape with your shoulders and hamstrings lifted away from the ground. Hold the position.
  • Lower to the floor and relax.

Arch:

  • Roll to your stomach, extend your legs away from you and reach your arms overhead.
  • Again, engage your whole body to create tension. Squeeze your glutes and lower back, then lift your arms and legs so your feet and chest leave the floor.
  • Hold the position, then lower to the floor.

During CrossFit classes, I’ve always been taught to move between hollow and arch on the floor using a 20-second hold followed by a 10-second transition and repeat. 

According to the guys at WODprep, you’re then ready to practice on the bar. Remember to use your core, glutes and hips to generate power, moving from hollow to arch so that the momentum builds in your power center and travels outward to your arms and legs. In other words, don’t resort to flailing around like Mr Tickle of Mr Men fame.

Start on the bar with hands shoulder-width apart, then practice holding your hollow position, then the arch. Slowly gather momentum while keeping the movement tight and controlled as you stay under the bar — when you get the rhythm, this is called a beat swing. 

In hollow, your feet should be in front of the bar and shoulders behind, then in arch, shoulders forward and feet behind. Press your feet and legs together to maintain tension through the lower body. There are progressions to take onward, but I decided to stick to this exercise for the week. 

I tried the 3-minute CrossFit kipping exercise every day for one week — here's what happened

I enjoyed it

Despite the hate that kipping gets, I love it. Kipping helps you achieve more in less time, especially if you’re trying to hit high rep numbers during class or competitions. So, while it’s called a “cheat exercise” by gym purists, many of us out there think it’s a skill worth banking. 

I’ve been practicing kipping for a while at CrossFit, but because I don’t have a bar at home, I could never drill down with any intensity outside of classes. I really enjoyed getting some dedicated practice time in. Once I’d gone back over the fundamentals for myself, I asked for help from CrossFit-qualified instructors to tighten things up; it helped me think about every part of the exercise more carefully and have more awareness of my body. 

It's exhausting

The exercise might look easy, but it’s taxing on your grip, wrists, forearms, arms and shoulders. I set a three-minute timer every day, then paused every time I had to jump down, rest and reset. I continued this until I had accumulated my time on the bar, having also completed a Tabata style 20-second on and 10-second off warm-up on the floor using the hollow and arch exercises. 

After a week’s worth of practice, my upper body — particularly my shoulders and arms — were smoked. Haters say the exercise requires less exertion because your lower body helps drive movement, but if you consider that the power center drives the car (think core, hips and glutes), I disagree that your lower body takes over.

The kip most often accompanies other moves like muscle-ups, chest-to-bar, toes-to-bar, butterfly pull-ups, or pull-up variations.

I feel more prepared

Sadly, I don’t yet have muscle-ups or kipping pull-ups in the bank, but I’ve tightened up my skillset in the short week I’ve been practicing, and with the foundations solidly set in place, I feel more prepared as I transition back into my regular routine. 

That said, it’s worth remembering this was a short-term challenge, and I don’t plan on kipping every day. Remember that your body needs time to rest and repair; overexercising muscle groups using constant repetition of one movement pattern could lead to injury, so if you plan to practice kipping for yourself, check in with a coach (or similar) to help guide you on the best way to program it. 

Verdict

I’ve enjoyed dedicating more time to the bar and a specific skill. My grip strength isn’t great, and that hasn’t miraculously changed in one week. Practicing hanging from the bar and building upon the kipping skill set has also taught me I have more work to do on my shoulders, forearms and grip to get where I want to be. But I enjoyed it, and kipping holds value — getting the technique down will help you nail other popular CrossFit and gymnastics exercises like muscle-ups and toes-to-bar.  

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.