What is the point of kipping pull ups?

What are kipping pull ups?

Not sure of how to start a conversation among a group of gym go-ers? Try bringing up the topic of kipping pullups and see how that goes for you! When you mention the word Crossfit, it elicits some strong (and often polarizing) responses in people. Those who participate in it or enjoy the competitive level athletes as a spectator hold Crossfit in high regard. It is widely recognized as a thorough test of whole-body strength and endurance. However, for every one of those people, there is at least one who poo-poo’s the Crossfit community. The most common points of concern are the high rates of injuries as the focus on massive numbers of reps can result in poor technique due to fatigue. The culture of pushing your body to complete the “WOD” (Workout of the Day, for the uninitiated) at any cost has been frowned upon as being unsafe and many fresh-faced “Crossfitters escalate their weights too fast without developing good mobility and connective tissue strength resulting in injuries too.

I’ll write another article about injuries and Crossfit, because I think there’s a lot of misinformation floating around, but for now, let’s just talk about kipping pull ups. One of the biggest bugbears of the Crossfit haters is the kipping pull up. The “kip” is the introduction of the lower body into the pull up movement, creating momentum, which helps to drive your chest towards the bar.

Kipping pull ups are often sneered at as a “cheats” pull up and branded a dangerous movement, yet features regularly as a standard part of Crossfit workouts. It’s sparked many passionate discussions at my own gym over the years, so I thought I’d answer some of the frequently asked questions about kipping pull ups here.

The official Crossfit opinion is that “the kipping pull up is a full-body movement that increases the demands of coordination and agility compared to a strict pull up”.

It’s important to note that strict pull ups are also included in Crossfit, so there is no argument that they are a substitution exercises or that developing the strength and technique to perform strict pull ups isn’t important. In fact, kipping pull ups are intended to be learned after you’ve mastered strict pull ups – they are not designed as a progression to strict pull ups, although that is how many view them.

What is the point of kipping pull ups?

Essentially, kipping pull ups are faster than traditional versions, allowing the athlete to perform more reps in the allotted time frame. They also serve as a foundation to muscle ups and can be useful in developing agility and explosiveness.

what is the point of kipping pull ups

The pitfall to watch for here is that the kipping version of a pull up should not be attempted until you can perform at least one perfect strict pull up. (Personally, I suggest getting to 5 reps of strict before attempting the kip). You need to develop the upper body strength to control the movement first.

The kipping thrust propels you upwards, meaning it takes less effort through the back muscles to get you to the bar, but the load on your shoulders if you can’t control the lowering movement properly is B.A.D. I’ve watched on in horror seeing people who can’t do a single strict pull up pump out 20 kipping pull ups, slamming their body weight down onto their shoulder joints.

For time-pressured workouts such as EMOM or AMRAP style, the kipping version is favored to reduce the amount of time their muscles are activated for and speed up the pace and max out their number of pull up reps.

Are kipping pull ups easier than strict ones?

Yes, in that there is less upper body strength required. However, if you are performing as many reps as possible in an allotted time, you could argue that performing 3 times as many explosive kipping movements can be just as exhausting as fewer strict pull ups.

Once executed correctly, kipping pull ups can also be kinder to your shoulders that traditional variations because you actually end up more horizontal than vertical to the bar thanks to the ‘kip’. When done poorly, however, these babies are death by a thousand kips to the shoulder joint.

Kipping pull up benefits:

The kipping pull up is an essential building block to difficult movements such as the muscle up. It’s a foundational skill to have for gymnasts working on bars or rings and also for those who compete in ninja warrior style events. Rockclimbers can benefit from developing the ‘kip’ movement as well. So, what is the point of kipping pull ups? I guess the main thing here is to weigh up what your goals are. If you are a competitive Crossfitter then of course you need to work towards learning all the potential movements you could be required to perform. The muscle up is one of the hardest movements to execute, and you will need to nail the kipping pull up first as a progression towards the muscle up.

If you are training for any sorts of gymnastics, parkour, circus or ninja warrior activities, this is also a worthwhile endeavour – or maybe you just want to mix things up a bit in the gym?

If developing strength is your goal, however, you are better focusing your time and energy towards strict pull ups, with variations on your grip to challenge different muscle groups.

Are kipping pull ups dangerous?

As I said before, kipping pull ups are something to learn after you’ve already mastered strict pull ups and can perform around 5 in a row. With any new movement, I recommend getting some guidance from a qualified coach to make sure you start off with the correct form.

It’s also super important to do work on your shoulder and thoracic mobility throughout your training. If you’ve neglected this stuff (be honest), /I highly recommend putting in the hard yards in improving mobility and connective tissue strength before loading up on any new movements. I love this article by The Prehab Guys, on the stages you should progress through before the kipping pull up.

I hope this has cleared up some questions for you and allowed you to have a robust discussion around the pull up bar. If you’re still working on the strict pull ups for now, check out my other articles for some training tips.

The Best Pull Up Alternatives without a Pull Up Bar

Obviously, if your goal is to be able to do pull ups, then you will need to get access to a pull up bar of some sort, whether it’s at home, the gym or even at a local park. There may, however, be times when you can’t access a bar for a period and need to find an alternative for pull ups… what should you do? Fear not! I’m here to share some of the best pull up alternatives yu can do without a pull up bar:

Row, Row, Row your boat
(however you can!)

Rows are an excellent movement that engage your back muscles, shoulders, arms and core. The great thing about rows is that they can be modified depending on what equipment you have available and also your ability. The most common ways you can do rows (without and fancy cable machines at the gym) are:

Doorway Rows

  • These are best suited to beginners, who might not be up to doing full pull ups yet.
    With your feet in line with the doorway, use a broom handle horizontally braced against the other side of the doorway or even hold onto the insides of the door frame with your hands.
    Note: Place a towel between the broom handle and the door frame to avoid damage and if you’re a really big unit, maybe consider other options, so you don’t go doing any damage.

Inverted Rows Using Furniture

  • Stuck at home? Grab a couple of dining chairs and sling a bar of some sort (broom handle) across them, leaving a gap between the chairs.
  • Lying on the floor, grip the bar and pull yourself up so your chest touches the bar.

Towel Pull Ups

  • If you can already perform a proper pull up, this alternative will be good for your grip strength. You will need two smallish towels. Tie a knot in each towel and place over the top of a door.
  • Close the door, so the knots act as an anchor and the rest of the towel hangs over the closed door for you to grip on to and pull yourself up.
  • If you have some sturdy straps such as car tie downs, these also work well.
    Note: Set yourself up so the door opened away from you, just in case you manage to force it open…my best mate cringed when he saw me doing this as he thought it placed to much strain on my door…I’ll let you be the judge!

Ring Rows

  • If you have somewhere you can fasten a set of rings (even over a tree in the backyard), you can do a killer workout as an alternative to pull ups. Lean back with your feet on the floor and row yourself up, adjusting the height of your rings to make it easier if need be. You can really drill down and target different muscles by throwing in some straight arm strength work here.

Bent Over Rows

  • Got a set of dumbbells? Great! If not, see what you can work with – I use a 15 litre water bottle, but maybe you have a jerry can in the shed or a chainsaw you could lift instead? (Not turned on!)

Renegade Rows

  • Harder to do with a chainsaw, I’ll admit!

Resistance Bands

  • One of my all time favorite pieces of low cost, yet versatile fitness equipment. Any of the ring row exercises of dumbbell exercises can be performed with the help of some resistance bands.
best pull up alternatives

Mobility work to improve your pull up performance

You’ve heard me banging on about it before – work on your mobility! Use this time without a pull up bar to really focus on strengthening your connective tissue and improve your range of motion. The most common injuries from pull ups are due to poor preparation. Work on your wrists, your shoulders and even your hips. Trust me!

Use a resistance band or a simple broom handle to get your arms moving freely over and around your head and incorporate dynamic stretching (that is, stretching the muscles while moving) in to your routine.

My favorite exercises that help with mobility, while also giving your muscles a hard time include:

  • Elephant walks
  • Back Bridges
  • Prone Trap Raises
  • Prone Swimmers

The main thing to take from this is understanding that you can still train specifically no matter what equipment you have access to. These pull up alternatives will keep you on track to improving your strength and fitness without a pull up bar – you can only work with what you have available, so remember SOMETHING is ALWAYS better than nothing!