If you’ve ever walked into a CrossFit gym or watched videos of people doing CrossFit, then you have seen people doing kipping pull-ups. This is one of the most controversial movements commonly programmed in CrossFit as it is not really seen in traditional strength training and to most people it seems dangerous. Some question whether it is appropriate to train pull-ups with such momentum and high volume.
What are kipping pull-ups?
Here is a video from CrossFit HQ reviewing kipping pull-ups.
Who should do them?
While kipping pull-ups may not be appropriate for some people, it can be a safe and effective way to train. In order to do kipping pull-ups safely, I recommend that an athlete hold off on attempting them until they can demonstrate 3+ strict pull-ups, a proper hollow position, and a proper arch position.
What are the benefits of kipping pull-ups?
It comes down to increasing the intensity and volume of your training. Strict pull-ups work strength. Most people are limited to only a few strict pull-ups before failing due to fatigue. Kipping pull-ups allow you to use momentum to string together more pull-ups in a workout with more of an emphasis on positioning and core. This allows the heart rate to spike or remain high while improving your upper body pulling strength and gymnastic capabilities.
According to CrossFit, intensity is equal to power. Power is work over time. Work is force times distance. With a pull-up, your force is your body weight and number of reps, and your distance is how far you travel to the pull-up bar. Power will increase if your number of pull-ups increases or your time to perform them decreases. Power will decrease if you perform less reps or take more time to do the same number of reps. Kipping pull-ups allow you to perform MORE REPS over LESS time, thus increasing your power. More power = higher intensity workout.
Higher intensity exercise will always beat out lower intensity exercise with regard to health benefits. It’s all about becoming as healthy as possible and staving off chronic illness.
Are they safe?
This goes back to what I stated earlier. I would like to see someone demonstrate 3+ strict pull-ups, a proper hollow position, and a proper arch position before attempting kipping pull-ups. If you are able to own these positions and have the strength to control your kip, then kipping pull-ups are safe. Another prerequisite will be having enough thoracic extension and shoulder flexion mobility. You will need this to be able to get into the arched position safely and effectively. I don’t see injuries from people kipping properly on a rig. I will see injuries if the programming is poor or if the person hasn’t met the appropriate prerequisites and attempts kipping pull-ups too soon in their training.
Kipping pull-ups are not for everybody. If you have adequate mobility, can perform 3+ strict pull-ups with good form, can demonstrate a proper hollow hold position, and can demonstrate a proper arch hold position, then it is safe to perform kipping pull-ups. You should have a coach watch your form with kipping pull-ups before incorporating them into your workouts. Kipping pull-ups are a great way to increase the intensity of your workouts and create meaningful changes in your health. Even when you are able to perform kipping pull-ups, you should still train strict pull-ups and work on your hollow and arch holds.
Corey Hall, PT, DPT