The kipping pull-up has grown popular through CrossFit. It relies on a kip, an explosive body swing initiated from the hips to drive the body upward. You follow this with a quick pull to get you over the bar. It aims to boost functional fitness by completing the movement in the most efficient manner possible.
While the kip may generate more power, does this give a reward greater than the risk? Exercise should be safe first and foremost. For every aspect of fitness that the kipping pull-up develops, a better exercise exists as well.
Remove kipping pull-ups for these reasons.
The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
– Winston Churchill
- You should never use a wide, overhand grip for any form of pull-up.
Kipping pull-ups use this setup, which reduces their safety and effectiveness.
Any time the wrists place outside your elbows for your grip, you irritate each of these joints. The shoulders suffer too, since it leads to shoulder impingement. Use a medium grip instead.
The overhand grip prevents the biceps from contributing much, so use an underhand grip as well.
- They force you into extreme ranges of motion.
The middle portion of the range of motion for a good movement creates the most tension, the main stimulus for size and strength, according to the length-tension relationship. You only need a slight stretch in the muscles beyond this to get the benefits of enough range of motion due to the pre-stretch and other factors. If you feel any sort of pinch in the joints, you likely went too far.
The start of the kip forces your lower back and shoulders into hyperextension. Any position away from neutral can harm the spine. The shoulders should go neither overhead nor behind-the-neck, especially into these positions with force, to prevent harm to the rotator cuff and the labrum.
The dead-hang at the bottom can elevate the shoulder blades too much. This prevents the scapular muscles from staying tight and fixing the shoulders into place. The non-linear path your body moves through, with your body far beyond your hands at the bottom, also causes the involved muscles to contribute unevenly and weakly, so the joints bear most of the stress.
- They are performed too fast.
Any exercise performed too fast will exact wear and tear on the joints and lead to dangerous spikes in forces. The quick drop from the top to catch yourself at the bottom causes a jerk. It also reduces tension, since slower speeds associated with lifting heavy must occur for optimal strength training. The kip would fail to help much for a weighted pull-up, as the resistance would slow you down too much.
The hip motion looks similar to the action for a clean and snatch. They carry the same flaws as Olympic lifting. The kip requires you to move fast, instead of balancing the speed between neither too fast nor too slow.
Kipping pull-ups are meant to boost overall workout intensity. Proponents argue you produce more power and therefore stimulate more change. This is a poor way to view intensity.
The continuous, rhythmic, and fast motion of the kipping pull-up is a movement pattern associated with raising the heart rate for cardio and not heavy lifting for strength. View intensity as doing well on each exercise within your workout. Avoid trying to rush through everything. If you want to focus on elevating your heart rate, perform intervals.
- It feels too complex.
Simple and safe movements work best for strength training. You can concentrate on working hard and not worry about skills. The kipping pull-up requires extensive instruction, which leads to overthinking and less effort directed toward good use.
Speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy, qualities that CrossFit aim to develop, do not belong in exercise. Exercise should stay basic. Skills are specific and no degree of transfer exists. CrossFit just makes you better at CrossFit.
You can transfer the general strength gained through training toward sports and everyday life though.
- They allow cheating.
Your body will seek to use as much muscle as possible. We should not prevent this, as muscles contract harder when working alongside other muscles and work most safely this way.
If an exercise allows you to use more muscle in a way that jeopardizes the joints though, you should avoid it.
For example, our bodies will try to form a sort of incline bench for the overhead press. Good exercises minimize cheating by nature.
- Better options exist.
Kipping pull-ups often get added to exercise complexes that can elevate the heart rate but reduce the loading needed to add the most size and strength. They also fail to involve enough of the large lower body muscles needed to develop cardio best. They are suboptimal for both qualities.
Instead of reducing the results for both, separate your strength training and cardio. The body cares not how the heart starts pumping, so instead of a complex, consider weighted sprinting or stairclimbing. Use a row or a regular underhand pull-up with the right safety precautions to build muscle.
Avoid the Kipping Pull-Up
The dangers of kipping pull-ups are often acknowledged but then defended through relativity. This states that we are all different and therefore what one can do safely another may not be able to do. Anatomy and biomechanics show some movements to be unsafe for everyone though, just more or less so. The issues have nothing to do with establishing a sufficient strength base or seeking out a good coach. Form matters not if the exercise is inherently dangerous.
The kip originated as a technique for gymnastics, which CrossFit extracted for its own purposes. CrossFit attempts to draw upon elite athletic methods out of context. Skills can prepare athletes for their sport but themselves give no special advantages beyond more simple exercises. They may even add to the risk of injury.
You can be explosive by training like an Olympic lifter, or muscular by training like a gymnast, so they say. The techniques of these athletes did not make them this way though. Genetics and dedication to consistent training expressed their potential. Drugs often play a role as well. Anyone that fails to fit the criteria to become a top athlete gets removed by the competition. The leftover champions then all look alike, and many assume the elite sculpted themselves to look or perform a certain way. In reality, they succeeded in part because they survived.
Ignore the kipping pull-up.