Kipping Pull-Ups, Yes or No?

Kipping Pull-Ups: Yes or No?

This is going to be a love it or hate it topic I discuss in this post! But I’ll try to be balanced in my views (Just a little). 

Whilst talking shop with Physios (PT’s) and Strength & Conditioning Coaches (The accredited ones), this topic has been discussed a lot, as well as with people in the gym, good old ‘bro-science’. The simple question being – What do you think of kipping pull ups? Before I impose my 2 cents I’ll lay out the context first. 

Firstly the kipping motion regardless of who wiggled their body mass against gravity first has been popularised by the rise of Crossfit. I’ll start off by saying regardless of whether you agree or like Crossfit, it does appear to be staying where it is and not just a short term fad. My personal opinion is Crossfit at its best creates good social communities, drives down the price of lifting equipment (always good news), and ultimately has good intent regarding conditioning. 

Crossfits integration of pull-ups basically specifies a set numbers of reps to be completed. This is combined with ‘Movement Standard’ for each exercise. For the pull up the rules are as follows:

– Arms fully extended at the bottom, with the feet off the floor.

– Over/Under/Mixed grips are all permitted.

– At the top of movement the chin must break the horizontal plane of the bar.

As you can see not a lot of technical rules or more importantly specific physical qualities are being enforced or encouraged. The reason the kipping motion is utilised so much in Crossfit is simply it is the fastest and most efficient technique to complete a movement that adheres to their ‘Movement Standard’ or rules for a better word. It expends the least amount of energy. 

Personally and like many of the critics of the kipping motion, I am from a Strength & Conditioning and Physiotherapy background and like everyone have a bias or reason for my point of view. The shorthand language the professional communities I belong to would describe the kipping motion is… Cheating! Of course within the context and rules of the Crossfit movement standard it is not cheating, In fact the more proficient you are at kipping / ‘cheating’ the greater your performance in that movement pattern. 

The point I am trying to illustrate is like many exercise selection decisions, they are contextual and not black and white. However, to give my final thoughts – Strict or well controlled pull-ups elicit specific muscular and motor pattern qualities that can be worked up to, regressed and progressed. They can be periodised, objectively measured and implemented within a training program. This is my most subjective thought but the kip is a programming cul-de-sac and may be better suited to stay within the context of the Crossfit class/wod/competition. 

This is not to say don’t ever try them. They do require co-ordinated force transmission through the body, but understand their limited reasoning and programming flaws outside of crossfire-esque reps-for-time or max reps events. 

Andy McDonald BSc MCSP CSCS

Andy McDonald BSc MCSP CSCS

Strength & Conditioning Coach,
Inform Performance Podcast Host