By the time most gym-goers get up to pull-up status, they’re already some way on their fitness journey. As a functional strength builder, it’s one of the best moves on the floor, effectively working and building your lats and biceps unlike many others.
But as with most other exercises you may eventually tire of the classic pull-up. It’s a tricky one to rack up the reps on once you’ve hit your limit, and as such, a lack of progress might lead you to look for new pull-up pastures. Introducing the kipping pull-up then, a strict pull-up variation that has become a mainstay in CrossFit, a strength and conditioning workout made up of functional movement performed at high intensity.
What’s The Difference Then?
Let’s start at the natural introduction and cross off what both pull-ups mean, starting with strict, or traditional, pull-ups. “The goal here is to hang on the bar, arms straight and core tight, and pull the body vertically,” explains Salton. “The rep is validated when the chin passes over the bar and finishes arms straight, in the starting position.”
While the traditional pull-up is all upper-body, the kipping pull-up works in your lower half to build momentum along with the need for some added technical proficiency.
Start by holding onto the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. Then push your chest outward, moving it past your shoulders, pull your shoulders backward to reverse the curve of your body, and after three swings pull yourself up for your first kipping pull up before continuing with a single swing for each rep. If you’re a gymnastics fan you’ll likely have seen the movement used on the horizontal bar.
“The kipping pull-up is a specific form of pull-up that uses momentum generated from the core to the extremity,” says Salton. “The goal is to alternate between two gymnastic positions — Hollow and Arch — in order to create forces that will then transfer into the lats and arms. We could say that the kipping pull-up is the ‘gymnasty’ version of the strict pull-up.”
Why Do Crossfitters Use The Kipping Pull-Up?
Gymnasts need to build that momentum to get up and over the bar, but why have CrossFiters co-opted the action? “In CrossFit, we often try to beat the timer in what is called a task priority workout, or do the maximum amount of repetitions in a specific time window, also known as a time priority workout,” explains Salton. “A high volume of reps is needed most of the time then, with the goal being to move well, while minimizing the cost of energy for the body, and all while being as efficient as possible.
“In a workout with 50 plus pull-ups to do, we could use the strict pull-up variation, but that wouldn’t be smart depending on the intent or time to beat of the workout.”
A strict pull-up is very slow and taxing for the body. The CrossFiter will naturally choose the kipping variation then in order to do bigger sets and keep movement under fatigue because of the speed and the lower impact on the arms and lats generated by the hips momentum.”
Master The Strict Pull-Up First
While swinging around on the pull-up bar might sound like something you did as a child, this movement is highly advanced and if not done properly can cause serious injury to the athlete.
“While we would encourage intermediate to advanced athletes to practice and develop their kipping pull-ups capacity, it could be a hard and unsafe movement for a beginner because of the over-utilization of the shoulder joint,” says Salton. “We would strongly recommend to a beginner to master the strict variation first, building your lats and arms strength, strengthening the upper joints, and working on shoulder stabilization, before trying to develop the kipping pull-up.”
If you are in that advanced category though there are a number of physical benefits to be had.
“The kipping pull-up is not a ‘fake’ pull-up. It’s just a different variation used for a specific purpose in our sport. If you are looking to develop upper body strength and get bigger arms, use the strict variation. If you want to work on your muscle endurance, develop good coordination and body awareness, and bring in more core control, you can use the kipping pull-up.”