Why This Fitness Expert Won’t Do Kipping Pullups

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

I’m not a fan of the kipping pullup.

This is a pullup variation in which you use momentum to get your chin above the bar. It’s a staple event in the CrossFit Games, and it allows competitors to do more reps in order to gain a higher score.

But outside of an actual CrossFit competition, I see no benefit to it.

Now, this isn’t to suggest that there’s no technique involved in the movement. Kipping pullups are impressive. And people who can bust out 50-plus repetitions and not blink an eye are in incredible shape.

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But let’s not think the exercise is something it’s not. After all, I can make a case for performing a rounded-back deadlift in order to lift more weight, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

The kipping pullup involves a lot of excessive movement in the legs and lower spine, and it takes a fair amount of practice to perfect the timing. As a result the lower back and shoulders take a beating. In my opinion, it’s not a good fit for 95 percent of the population—especially if you can’t perform a strict pullup first.

I’d make the argument that the kipping pullup is equally detrimental to gym veterans too. The forces on the shoulders and lower spine are off the charts, and I know many physical therapists who are paying off their mortgages with the kipping pullup injuries passing through their offices.

My rule: Always do a strict pullup.

Some may think I’m being an overly critical strength coach. There’s some truth to that: Unless I’m working with an elite CrossFit athlete, I’m never going to utilize kipping pullups in my programming.

But I know many CrossFit coaches who are also married to the same mantra. Many of them require their clients be able to bang out several repetitions of strict pullups before they can “earn the right” to kip.

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Not only does this ensure that you build the appropriate upper-body and core strength to perform an actual pullup, but it also helps to improve joint integrity and reduce the risk of injury before doing kips.

So how do you know if you’re doing a strict pullup right? Follow these tips.

1. Grab a chinup bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip.

2. Hang at arm’s length. With your feet together and toes pointing toward your shins, brace your abs and squeeze your glutes to create total-body tension. This will keep you from using momentum to bring your chin over the bar.

3. Lift your chest toward the bar by trying to pull through your elbows. At the same time, try to place your shoulder blades in your back pockets. These external cues will force you to rely more on your back muscles as opposed to your biceps, while also providing more stability in your shoulder joints.

4. Once the top of your chest touches the bar, slowly lower yourself—don’t dive-bomb—to the starting position. Your elbows will thank you.

5. Pause for a one-second count, and then repeat for the prescribed number of reps.