There may not be anything more controversial than the kipping pull-up in Crossfit.
The kipping pull-up gets a lot of hype as being a “fake” or “cheating” pull-up, due to it’s use of momentum to get your chin over the bar. While it will never be the real deal STRICT pull-up, it counts, and there’s a good reason why it exists.
The kip has been used for decades in gymnastics movements, and starts with a dead hang from which the hollow body position is used to propel your body in front, then behind, the bar using primarily your shoulders and lats as well as your hips. It is a controlled, precise movement that requires practice and strength.
The kipping pull-up, then, uses this controlled swinging motion to efficiently rep out multiple pull-ups connected gracefully in a chain of force. It is recommended to most that you should have at least 5 strict pull-ups built up before you start kipping – rather than the other way around.
So why use kipping pull-ups at all?
- Strict pull-ups can be tough on the joints in your arms. The momentum factor involved in kipping helps take a bit of stress off your joints so you can do more reps or spare your upper body for different movements down the line. Don’t get me wrong through – without good mobility, this can actually be tougher on your joints in the short term.
- Kipping pull-ups are efficient and quick – you can pound out a lot more reps in a time-sensitive workout than if doing them all strict, and you’ll tire out much slower.
- Kipping helps spread the load of work through more of the body, since the hips and shoulders are involved in the movement. Because of this, fatigue happens slower (but at the same time, we get more cardiovascular benefit from involving more of the body)!
- This movement requires great body coordination and mobility – making it completely different altogether from the traditional strict pull-up. It is simply a separate skill – not cheating – that requires its own mastery. Kipping is a TOTAL BODY movement.
Where did kipping pull-ups come from?
While the kip itself originates from gymnastics, it was first credited to a male competitor in the very first Crossfit Games in 2007. In a pull-up heavy WOD, he chose to kip into each pull-up, thus linking one into the next, and making his timing more efficient. There were no regulations saying this couldn’t be done, so it flew. Now, kipping or butterfly pull-ups are practically the norm!
It’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume the kipping pull-up is the cheater’s way at getting in another rep – but when you step back, you understand how this movement is a separate mechanism from the strict pull-up – and it’s end purpose is different, too! Both require strength, and one requires added agility – but both need mastery.
The kipping pull-up, lastly, is a great example of “work smarter, not harder” – something one of my coaches says frequently!