Can’t kip (yet)? Here’s how to get strong enough to touch your toes to the pull-up bar

August 30, 2019 at 01:01PM by CWC

I sometimes wonder if certain people at my gym are secretly wizards. The physical fortitude required for pull-ups, push-ups, and contortionist abs moves is more impressive than any spells found on the pages of Harry Potter. One such enchanting movement is “kipping”—or, bringing your toes to your fingers while hanging from the pull-up bar.


Because I, too, would like to be in on the magic, I asked Maillard Howell, owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights and founder of the The Beta Way, how to master the trick, er, “move.” He tells me that the move is totally achievable—so long as you have a baseline of fitness.

“I generally don’t have beginners swinging from the bar with their body weight if they can’t pull their own body weight maybe two to three times,” he says. “Until you can do a strength pull-up two to three times, I generally don’t let my clients hang from the bar and start swinging their body weight. That’s my baseline to know the musculature in the shoulder is strong enough to pull the body weight. Then you can start dabbling with the kip.” Once a trio of pull-ups feels doable—even, gasp, natural—for you, you’re ready to start training your kip. Below, Howell breaks down the six training steps that will get you there.

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Table of Contents

Learn how to bring your toes to the bar—AKA, “kip”—in just 5 steps.


1. Dead hang from the rig

Howell says that the pull-up bar can pretty darn aggressive on your hands. So before you do anything else, just get the feel of hanging.

Complete 3 sets of 10 seconds on, 20 seconds off

2. Scapula activations

Hang from the bar, shrug your shoulders, and release. “We call these turtle giraffes because it’s, like, long neck, short neck; long neck, short neck.”

Complete 3 sets 10-12 reps

3. Hanging knee raises

Tuck your knees up toward your chest and hold. “When feeling strong here and you can pull your body weight two to three times, then I would start working on the kip,” the trainer says.

Complete 3 sets of 10 seconds on, 20 seconds off

4. Kip

“The kip is all lat activation,” explains Howell. “It’s a hinge from the shoulders, not a hinge from the hips.” While you’re hanging from the bar, pretend you’re in vertical plank form, then “from this hollowed out position hanging on the rig, poke your head forward and your feet will go backward. Then you’ll poke your feet forward and your head will go backward. So it’s kind of like a seesaw,” he adds. Make sure your feet and head are always (always!) in inverse positions here.

Complete 3 sets of 5-10 reps

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5. Active knee tuck

Steps three and four come together for step five. “As you swing backward, tuck your knees up,” says Howell. As you swing forward, your feet will return to neutral.

Complete 3 sets of 5 reps

6. Kick up

Bam. With your knees tucked in, you’re ready to pike your legs up toward your fingers. The more control you can muster here, the better. So if your feet are swinging in every which direction, you may want to backtrack and spend a little more time mastering the other steps.

Complete 3 sets of 5 reps

Want to kip (ha!) up with more Well+Good sweat content? Here’s why pushing a sled is so good for you, and why power walking is just as good of a workout as running

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Author Kells McPhillips | Well and Good
Selected by CWC