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Kipping Pull Ups are either seen as a harmless pull up variation or as the world’s most pathetic exercise … Depending on who you ask. The truth is more nuanced than that, but in a straight shoot out between proper pull ups and kipping pull ups there is only ever going to be one winner.
If you’re expecting a character assassination of your Crossfit loving buddy then you might be disappointed, but you should have some ammunition the next time you get into an argument about whether kipping pull ups count or not.
But before you do, if you’re not up on what Crossfit even is, this BroScience vid breaks down how much of a joke the whole organization is.
So what are kipping pull ups?
Essentially the kipping pull up is a pull up performed with abysmal form! You grab the bar with a shoulder-width (or slightly wider) stance. Hanging from the bar, you violently thrust your chest towards the bar whilst pulling your shoulders back, this brings you to the bar using the momentum of the thrust rather than the back and arm muscles.
The kipping pull up is a much more dynamic version of the pull up, you swing your legs to gain momentum and then use that momentum to throw yourself up towards the bar. When performed correctly the kipping pull up looks like something taken out of a gymnastics event.
The kipping pull up came to be used by Crossfit a few years ago and is an accepted version of a pull up in their competitions, so in that sense it is a legitimate exercise. It is however not a pull up. If you want a strong back then these aren’t the exercises you want to use.
You know how in the gym some people perform bicep curls by rocking back and forth to gain momentum? Nobody has ever seen that and gone “Wow great bicep curl buddy”, this is because they are terrible for isolating the biceps. If the guy responded by saying “this is my own exercise it’s called the ‘rocking bicep curl'” it wouldn’t suddenly make it a good exercise.
Are there any benefits to Kipping Pull Ups?
Sorta. Kipping pull ups could be used as a good finisher for pull ups, so let’s say you’ve performed 3 sets of 10 reps of strict pull ups but you want to do one last set. You manage 3 reps but can’t perform any more. Throwing in some kipping pull ups might be a good option to reach true muscular fatigue. Kind of like a drop set.
It’s the same principle that many fitness experts agree can be useful in resistance training. Perform the majority of your repetitions with excellent form, but towards the end you can let form drop off slightly so that you can grind out a couple extra reps.
As a standalone exercise the kipping pull up is only necessary for Crossfitters. The exercise has a higher injury rate than any other form of pull up and there are few strength training benefits. Quality over quantity should be the mantra that you follow whenever you step inside a gym, so lower reps of good pull ups would make much more sense.
Feel free to use kipping pull ups as a finisher if you want, but even then you could probably get similar if not better results from a lat pulldown machine. Or you could try inverted rows, or assisted pull ups. All would be great ways to add a finisher to your pull up workout.
The Bottom Line
Kipping Pull Ups are an exercise that have their place in Crossfit but are an unnecessary addition to your current training program. Doing them week-in week-out would not help you improve your strength nor will they help you get better at regular pull ups. At best there could be some hypertrophic gains, but concentrating on regular pull up form would eventually yield far superior results.
If you are determined to actually grow your back muscles to their maximum potential then you should avoid kipping pullups and instead focus on the old-school classic pullups, of which there are multiple variations that target different areas of the back, and which will ultimately help you better achieve your goals.
*Don’t have a concrete wall to bolt-on a solid bar? No worries, there are plenty of great free-standing solutions (that have the bonus of doubling as dip stations) as well as bolt-free doorway mounted bars for those living in rented/shared apartments.