The Position: Part 5—The Pull-up

By Kelly Starrett and Carl Paoli

In Coaching, Exercises, Videos

June 02, 2011

Video Article

This video series provides a fresh look at skill-transfer exercises and midline stability, combining the powers of Kelly Starrett and gymnast Carl Paoli. Both San Francisco CrossFit coaches use their expertise to refine basic CrossFit movements with the aim of improving power output.

In Part 5, the coaches examine the pull-up.

“It’s almost like a good pull-up reinforces his overhead position,” Starrett says as Paoli demonstrates the proper body position: active shoulders with elbow pits facing forward, neutral wrists, rib cage in and down, belly tight, and butt squeezed. When Paoli releases tension and breaks position, he falls into overextension and a grip that will likely tear his hands. Starrett says the broken position doesn’t allow the shoulder to safely support weight overhead, ultimately leaving the shoulder vulnerable to injury.

“The Position” is the same in the pull-up as it is in the push-up, kettlebell swing, straight jump, muscle-up and a multitude of other movements.

“Suddenly, pull-ups become a very potential … skill-transfer exercise for my overhead positioning,” Starrett says.

For more information, instruction and videos, check out Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD and Carl Paoli’s GymnasticsWOD.

12min 05sec

Additional reading: Kipping Pull-Ups by Greg Glassman, published April 1, 2005.

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23 Comments on “The Position: Part 5—The Pull-up”


wrote …

Best Journal series ever! Thanks for everything you do for the community, K-Star. Your Journal pieces and Mobility WOD have exponentially increased my knowledge as a coach.


wrote …

I have made MAJOR improvement in the last month or so in this core stability. Across the board improvement! I have improved my Hand Stand Push-ups more in the last month than the last couple years!

Awesome work!



wrote …

This has been an amazing series, I hope it continues. Stay neutral baby.


wrote …

K Star I want to come and sleep in your garage for a week and just learn!!! I want to be a supple lion!!



wrote …

Thank you K-star AND Carl! Love this series and look forward to more from you guys soon!



wrote …

Kelly/Carl, how does the shoulder part of "The Position" apply to throwing mechanics? As throwing motions frequently result in shoulder damage, I would think that some form of "The Position" might prevent some injury.
I work with young volleyball players and thought their might be some good stuff to help with hitting and serving. Not only for injury prevention, but for more POWERful hits/serves.

Anyone tried to throw while trying to externally rotate your arm? I will try it tonight and see what happens.


wrote …

These guys have great chemistry!! Thanks again for the insightful information!!


wrote …

Ok, so the dichotomy of CrossFit. On the one hand, I have been trying to work on Butterfly Kips and Kipping in general to "improve" power output and speed on WOD's with Pull Up elements. And though it worked and my times go down, but my hands end up shredded. Now, I am seeing that the over gyration of Kips is not functionally sound. So are a lot of athletes substituting speed for technique? Thanks.



great series!
thank you!


wrote …

Simplify/clarify this posting if you can. There is some useful and interesting information here that is totally lost by the attempts at info-tainment as opposed to information. Just show what the issue is, how to fix it and what right looks like. All the other banter/stuff is unnecessary noise.



wrote …

Easy there Elizabeth!! I actually enjoy the banter and it makes them real...not just professors in a classroom.


wrote …

great video.Chocked full of information. I love how they relate simple positions of the push-up and pull-up back to other exercises. I would love to train under these two phenomenal coaches.


wrote …

Talk more about SLAP tears in shoulders due to kipping and specifically how they happen and how to avoid when fatigued.


wrote …

@ James - great call... i was a victim of that.

My question - as a coach - is this: if you give me someone like Paoli to teach and cue, I could be an awesome coach. However most of the people I coach are not former elite gymnasts... and I would venture a guess that most people who walk into CrossFit boxes arent either. I would like to see these videos done with someone like Paoli AND a regular average Joe or Jane to help us see the common mistakes made and how to fix them. I know you guys try to simulate "bad" positioning but its not the same trust me... you guys are so good your "bad" is better than 99% of peoples "good".

thanks for all the help!


wrote …

I agree with Kyle, and I like how these coaches don't sound like teachers in a classroom. On the other hand, it is difficult for someone who isn't very experienced with body mechanics (like me) to fully understand what it is they are getting at. To them their explanation might be simplified but the gap in knowledge between these coaches and a beginner like me is vast. I would greatly appreciate a more simplified explanation. Thanks


wrote …

K-star and Carl, the Crime Fighting Duo of bad positioning! No matter what
movement, they can help you go from "Broken!" to "Get Tight"!
This is the best one yet...


wrote …

I agree with Ryan. I'd love to see you take someone who has been struggling to get pull-ups (me!) and correct bad positioning using these techniques.

I can't wait to get to the gym to try this out!


wrote …

For someone to get their first pull up would you recommend allowing them to violently kip (ugly as can be without injury) in order to get their chin over the bar, and then refine the movement to the 'tight' kip as seen in this video?

Or work on the 'tight' kip from the beginning with a band until the strength is there.

I guess this is really an intensity vs form question, but I feel like pull ups have the greatest potential for injury on the shoulders so intensity should be scaled back.



replied to comment from Michael Legrice

Get them doing dead hang pull ups before kipping so to keep the shoulder strong, and reduce the chance of injury.

If they can't do dead hang pull ups, super slow negatives are great to build the requisite strength to get dead hang pull ups


wrote …

This IS AMAZING!!!! I see so many people doing kipping in the gym and being new to Crossfit, I never know is that the "correct" form? Keep these coming!! This is so great..when can you guys come to my Crossfit in Illinois?


wrote …

I keep coming back to this series. Super helpful information.

Best "Funny Banter" Quote of the series:

"My butt's on like crazy" -Carl Paoli


wrote …

Should my abs fell sore the next day after doing alot of pull ups? Have I done the workout right.
Also what is the "fitness" guideline for no. of strict pull ups. Is it 20, 50? etc I can only do like 5 or 6 at a time


wrote …

I struggle with pull-ups. Can you please tell me are shoulders active while kipping? I understand armpits are out, externally rotated but are your shoulders relaxed or active? Thank you!

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