Article updated April 2023.
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 feature 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.
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 toward the muscle up.
If you are training for any sort 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.