The Pros and Cons of the Kipping Pull-Up

September 20, 2015

The Pros and Cons of the Kipping Pull-Up

I’m a simple man. I enjoy bacon, eggs, and my pretty, blonde-haired girlfriend. I perform heavy compound lifts that don’t require much more than raw strength, proper form, and a solid mind-muscle connection. What I don’t do is kip pull-ups. Why, you ask, because I think they don’t build muscle, promote injury, and just plain look dumb? No. Because I don’t have to. Who does, then?

Why kip pull-ups at all, and when should you? If you’ve been able to read this far without going blind from a seething rage, I encourage you to read on.

What We Mean by “Kipping”

The kipping pull-up is unique to two widely disparate groups: CrossFit competitors and people without the upper body strength to perform an actual pull-up from a dead hang on a bar. Maybe it’s this distinction that’s made kipping pull-ups such an easy target of CrossFit haters, but it’s definitely unfounded. When a pull-up is “kipped,” it means that the performer swings their lower body in such a way that the momentum they generate is used to propel themselves upwards to help get their chin over the bar, thus completing the movement without as much effort from the lats, shoulders, arms, and every other minor muscle group involved in the movement.

Does it Build Muscle or Strength?

As my description might already have tipped you off, no, it really doesn’t build muscle or strength on its own. A kipping pull-up is essentially a more proper way of describing a cheated pull-up, albeit a very technical one. No matter what you call it, the exercise is marked by a concerted effort to use the lower body to assist in completing the exercise quicker and with less of an upper-body strain. Because of this, all of the muscles usually involved in a pull-up receive less stimulation, even though kipped pull-ups (or its advanced form, butterfly pull-ups, which can be chained together to create a nonstop momentum loop used to kip over and over) still result in eccentric muscle contraction—that is, the muscles bear the load of gravity as the performer lowers their body back to the starting position. Despite this, it is highly unlikely that performing 10 of these “cheating” pull-ups can equal the amount of neuromuscular stimulation generated from 10 strict pull-ups performed from a dead hang.

Then, What is Kipping Good For?

Before you begin to bleed from your eyes at the mounting fury, CrossFitters, please read this carefully: kipping pull-ups are good for, and were created for, one purpose alone, and that’s to complete more reps in a given time during CrossFit competitions.

Try to remember that before your niece, nephew, mom, uncle, grandma, little sister, and local hobo began doing CrossFit, it was a sport similar to strongman that only an elite circle of athletes participated in. The advent of CrossFit is not unlike that of Mixed Martial Arts; it wasn’t until it was branded and marketed as some new form of a preexisting discipline that almost everyone you knew—athlete and novice alike—began hopping on the bandwagon. And where MMA has the ground n’ pound, CrossFit has the kipping pull-up, a type of movement designed to skirt the rules of what constituted a pull-up, thus giving competitors a leg up on the competition where max reps under time is the goal.

Herein lies the rub: unless you have at least two years of solid weightlifting experience, NOT yoga, BOSU-related exercises, or jazzercise, but honest-to-god Olympic powerlifting, bodybuilding, advanced calisthenics, or some form of guided, strength-related exercise that has made you learn and respect proper form and the guiding tenets of what builds muscle and prevents injury, do not even entertain the thought of recreationally performing kipping pull-ups or butterfly pull-ups. To do that would be the equivalent of carb loading before a day at the office or, as Steve Martin might say, getting all excited to go to a yawning festival: counterproductive, and more than anything, just not using the right tool for the right job.

My Final Analysis

Do I think kipping pull-ups are pointless? Hell no. In fact, I don’t think about them at all, because I don’t do CrossFit. Why else would I? For its designated purpose—to complete more reps in a given time during competition—it is highly effective, and downright necessary. But if your goal is building muscle, whether you one day plan on going into CrossFit or not, and your upper-body is in need of a shock of growth, leave the kips to the people who need to do them and focus on dead hang pull-ups to get you where you want to go. Your shoulder joints, and your ego, will thank you.

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