The Truth About Kipping Pull Ups

Kipping Pull Up

It is impossible to post anything online about kipping movements without at least one comment about how they’re cheating, unsafe, or useless. Today, we will talk about their place in fitness.


Are kipping pull ups just cheating?

No. As an example, I want you to consider the split jerk. The strict press relates to the split jerk in the same way the strict pull up relates to the kipping or butterfly pull up. The split jerk utilizes momentum to lift more weight and has similar requirements as the kipping pull up: body awareness, mobility, timing, and power. Yet, most people would not respond to posts of split jerks saying “that’s a cheating strict press.”

So, why did the kipping pull up even become a thing in CrossFit?

It’s pretty straightforward. CrossFit workouts are typically about performing a given amount of work as fast as possible. For example, the workout “Fran” is 21-15-9 thrusters and pull ups. Around repetition 10-15 of 45 pull ups, if you’re trying to move as quickly as possible, you’re probably going to start using momentum. This a natural progression, especially if you’re trying to be faster than the person next to you.

Kipping pull ups also increase exercise intensity and allow you to stress the cardiovascular system in a metabolic conditioning workout (aka METCON), while performing the pulling movement. Certainly, the infamous Fran workout wouldn’t lead to “fran lung,” stressing the glycolytic system, if it were performed with strict pull ups.

Should everyone do kipping pull ups?

No. First, if you have no interest in developing this skill, and want to entirely focus on pulling strength, body building, etc. then there’s no reason to do kipping pull ups. Furthermore, the kipping pull up is also NOT a replacement for strict pull ups. In fact, even athletes who have and regularly perform kipping pull ups should continue to develop their strict pulling strength.

The kipping pullup is less about increasing strength and more about endurance. That being said, there is a certain level of strength that should be obtained before attempting a kipping pull up. There have been no studies to the best of our knowledge on the exact number of strict pull ups one should be able to perform, but the generally accepted rule of thumb is 5.  The reason for this is because we need to ensure the athlete has sufficient strength to control the descent at the increased velocity. It is also the same reason you’re not going to teach someone how to split jerk who cannot perform a strict press.

Aside from speed what else makes the kipping pull up worthwhile?

In order to perform a kip swing you must have sufficient shoulder mobility, a good hollow body and arch position, correct timing, and power. The kip helps to develop body control and awareness, which translates to sports performance. If you improve your knowledge of where your body is in space and how to control compound movements, you will become a better athlete.

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