Tony Gentilcore

Because heavy things won't lift themselves

All the Hype Behind Kipping Pull-Ups

kipping pull-up

I’ve got an interesting topic today that may or may not win me some friends. I’m guessing the latter, but that’s okay.

Below is an email I received a few weeks ago about kipping pull-ups (what are they, is there any efficacy behind them, would I ever program them? Short answer:  Um, no.), and I’ve been sitting on it for a while now trying to think of a judicious, fair, and un-biased way to answer.

Most people who read this blog probably already know what I’m going to say, but at the same time I feel I’ve done a damn good job in my career keeping an open mind and not pigeon holing myself into one thought process or the other.  So hopefully I won’t come across as stepping on too many toes.  We can all get along, right?  Right?

Okay, let the madness begin.

Q: Hoping that you might be able to help me out with this topic that has been coming up a lot lately in my area and facility. Could you give some detail on what a kipping pull-up is good for?

A lot of people having been asking about its advantages and disadvantages. Is there even a scenario where you would add these into a program? What are the major differences between a standard pull-up and a kipping pull-up?

Sorry, I don’t mean to throw a ton a questions at you but I am pretty lost on how to answer. People keep asking me saying, “they seem more functional as it incorporates a total body movement, and that it helps with muscle timing,” (WTF is that?).

I have held out for a while, but the more people keep talking to me about it, the more I’m getting confused. Might not be the worst blog post, even though 99% of the people that read your site would just get a good laugh out of it.

Lets face it Crossfit isn’t going anywhere and I would like to be armed with some serious knowledge about how to answer. Thanks for the info that you consistently post on here. I enjoy reading your site on a daily basis.

Thanks 

A:  Okay, lets kick things off with the nicey nice stuff.

There are a fair number of CrossFit peeps and affiliates who routinely read my blog, support it, and go out of their way to link back and spread my message, and for that I am always appreciative.

I like to pride myself that I am a “middle of the road” kind of guy, and I’ve never gone out of my way to openly bash CrossFit or insult the people who enjoy it.

Contrary to belief I’m with you dear reader: I agree that CrossFit is here to stay and I’m perfectly fine with that. There are a lot of things about CrossFit that I really like and respect.

Case in point: I was walking in downtown Boston the other night in the pouring rain running some errands.  It was miserable outside, the kind of weather where you think to yourself, “I can’t wait to just get inside, plop down on my couch, put on my Pjs, and watch The Notebook, Steel Magnolias, The Matrix,” when I happened to walk past the doors of CrossFit affiliate.

I peeked inside and saw that the place was filled to the brim with people getting after it.  Granted I can’t say I approved of the exercises nor the technique involved, but it was impressive nonetheless.

I dig that!  I dig that people are so excited and jazzed up to train that they’re willing to brave the elements and train no matter what.

Even more the point, CrossFit has done an outstanding job at building an overwhelming sense of passion, unity, and camaraderie amongst its members and it’s hard for me as a fitness professional to poo-poo on that aspect.

Moreover, you’d be hard pressed to find any population that works harder. Like I said, people GET AFTER IT, and I really like that CrossFit advocates people to incorporate compound movements and introduces people to a wide variety of training stimuli (and gets them off the elliptical machine!!!).

Additionally, I have some good friends and colleagues who are CrossFitters who speak very highly of it.  One such person is Jen Sinkler, fitness editor of Experience Life Magazine and overall badass.

To her credit, she dabbles in everything (Olympic lifting, Parkour, yoga, every sport and hobby imaginable) and I can’t say for certain whether or not she still participates in CrossFit, but she did write an AWESOME article a few years ago titled Confession: I’m a CrossFitter which I felt shed positive light into the discussion.

Too, I also recognize that there are plenty of CrossFit affiliates out there who go out of their way to actually assess people, coach them up, and offer proper progressions and more importantly, regressions, depending on one’s ability level and injury history.

Unfortunately, at least in my eyes and experience, this is generally the exception and not the norm.

And frankly, if me stating that happens to offend you, and you’re going to get your panties all up in a bunch, then you’re probably one of those affiliates that does stuff like this.

I realize the above is a bit of an extreme example, but that kind of stuff happens in the CrossFit culture a lot, and to me doesn’t even come close to passing the eyeball test.

If it looks like shit, and smells like shit…… then it’s probably shit.

And let me just state before I move on:  I also recognize that there are a lot of strength and conditioning facilities who do a crappy job too and don’t coach their athletes properly nor provide an iota of sound programming, so I’m not insinuating a “holier than thou” mentality here.

But I don’t want this post to turn into a walking ball of fail here, so lets get to the heart of the matter here.

Kipping Pull-Ups – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

If asked what they are, I’d reply, with a straight face:  it’s where someone looks like they’re having an epileptic seizure in order to cheat a pull-up.

Done.

Listen, I don’t doubt that there’s a certain technique to perform them properly, nor do I think it’s unimpressive that there are some people out there who can bust out 50+ reps and not blink an eye.  But lets not delude ourselves into thinking that they’re something they’re not.

Funnily enough, I was having a similar discussion with Boston University head strength coach, Glenn Harris, earlier this week and he mentioned to me a conversation he had with a family friend of his.

When asked his thoughts on kipping pull-ups, he replied, “well, they’re a way to cheat.”  To which she replied, “yeah but, they allow you do more!”

Uhhh, exactly!

Why do people cheat on tests?  To theoretically get a higher score.  Why do powerlifters use bench shirts?  To theoretically bench press more weight. Why do people continue to buy Nickleback albums?

Seriously, why? I want to know!

And, taking it a step further, fellow CP strength coach, Greg Robins, noted to me that the above CrossFit video (the one where all those women are performing the clean and press) demonstrates how strongman competitors “cheat” the clean and press in order to do more reps.

Does this cheating apply to Strongman and CrossFit?  Well, yeah, kinda.  The objective is to do more reps for the sake of doing more reps.

Does this apply to general fitness?  Hell no!  Why would I want to coach someone how to cheat?

As I noted above, I don’t doubt that there’s a bit of “mastery” involved when it comes to performing a kipping pull-up properly.  But that doesn’t mean they’re a good idea for about 99.5% of the population.  I mean, I could make a case on how to perform a rounded back deadlift correctly (in order lift more weight), but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Lets look at a video I came across on Youtube:

Pretty innocuous video for the most part – nothing that made my eyes bleed or made me want to throw my face into a wall (that much).

In fact, the guy coaching seems like an awesome coach.  His cues were spot on; he was concise; and I really liked how he broke everything down.  He’s obviously someone who takes the time to properly coach his athletes.  Weird how that works!

And on an aside:  how cool is it that a husband and wife are at the gym together and enjoying themselves!?!

This is in stark contrast from many of those couples you see eating at a restaurant together not even acknowledging each other’s existence.

Nevertheless, why not just coach/teach someone on how to (eventually) perform a strict pull-up?  What’s wrong with that?

Of course, I get it:  not many programs (outside of CrossFit) call for 10-50 rep pull-ups, so it kind of makes sense why kipping pull-ups enter the picture. As well, I don’t know many people who could perform ten strict pull-ups, let alone anything higher than that.

So again, the whole “cheating” aspect enters the picture here.  Don’t deny it.  Don’t you do it!!!!

And this isn’t even taking into considering the joint distraction forces taking place.

Holy mother of god, I haven’t even touched on that yet.

In the context of the population that I work with (baseball players), kipping pull-ups would be an absolute nightmare.

Throwing a baseball is one of the more violent motions placed on the human body - in particular with regards to what’s going on in the shoulder and elbow.

Baseball pitching is the single-fastest motion in all of sports, as the humerus internally rotates at velocities in excess of 7,000°/second.

What’s more, if we look at the elbow, the amount of valgus stress placed on it is equivalent to if we hung a 40 lb dumbbell from the hand towards the ground.

It’s pretty significant stuff, and explains why we’re very, very careful with the type of exercises we place into our programs at Cressey Performance. Kipping pull-ups would be a disaster.

In fairness, most people don’t make a living staring down professional hitters and could care less about throwing a baseball 95 MPH, so what about them?

Well, the same thought process still applies.  Most (not all) people have really poor tissue quality, move about as well as a pregnant turtle, have the joint integrity of a paper cloth, and can barely press a barbell over their head without some major compensatory patterns.

Looking at the amount of “stuff” that takes place during a kipping pull-up (repetitive lumbar hyperextension, as well as the joint distraction forces mentioned above), it’s just something that’s not worth the risk or effort in my eyes.  For many, they’re  just not capable or “ready” to do such an advance movement without hurting themselves.

If that doesn’t apply to you, fantastic!  I’m certainly not implying that these can’t be done safely and without incident.

Even still, I can think of a thousand and one different ways that my time would be of better use to my athletes and clients.

I’d much rather spend my time working on helping people move better, get them stronger, and, if it’s something they want, progress them to performing a STRICT pull-up.

So, to Recap

1.  I’m not adamantly against CrossFit.  I recognize that there are some redeeming qualities about it that I like and think are pretty cool.

2.  Conversely, there are a lot of things about it that are less than to be desired.

3. Nickelback is just god-awful.

4.  As with anything, it comes down to coaching.  I’d much rather someone perform a crappy program really well – and get coached really well through it – than to just do “stuff” for the sake of wanting to feel like you’re going to shit your spleen or to feel tired.

5. I “get” why kipping pull-ups are a part of the CrossFit culture, and that’s not to belittle anything.  It is what it is.  How else is one supposed to perform 25 pull-ups after running two-miles (on your hands) after deadlifting a tank 47 times?

6.  If you’re a CrossFitter and that’s your bag – cool, have at it. I respect you and the things that you can do, and I’m really happy you’ve found something you’re passionate about.  But please don’t delude yourself (or others) into thinking that a kipping pull-up is some magical exercise that makes you better than everyone else.

You’re cheating – get over it.

NOTE:  An important distinction that I should make (and something Alison commented on in the comments section which I should have hit on in the first place) is that CrossFit does differentiate between pull-ups and kipping pull-ups.  Which is to say, they do actually program “regular” pull-ups as part of their programming.

Did I just blow your mind? Make (or ruin) your day? Leave a comment, then share this with EVERYBODY.
  • Bill

    Tony, I’m a Physical Therapist, a CSCS, CPT, and (whispers under breathe) a crossfitter. In the end, though, I whole heartedly agree with you. At the CF gym (I refuse to ever, EVER refer to it as a box…) I go to, the coaches are good and have also fully accepted me helping out to correct form and such. I really push for the people to work on band assisted strict pull ups during a workout rather than attempt kipping pullups. The reasons I enjoy going to Xfit are the ones you listed. I enjoy the challenge, I love the sense of community and encouragement. It’s a nice refreshing change for me after years of working out in different facilities. Not something I’ll do forever, but it added something fresh for a while. I would love to see more facilities push working on assisted strict pull ups and save the kipping for fit, well instructed individuals that want to do it for the sake of doing it. But you’re right, quit the advertising as some “Full body pull up.” You want a pullup, do one, you want a full body movement, there are better ones to spend your time on that won’t result in bilateral labral tears!

    • bill

      oops, under my breath, not breathe..

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks for chiming in Bill – really appreciate someone who’s job it is to fix people up to give his opinion on this topic. Even better that despite being a CrossFitter yourself, you’re still able to take an objective viewpoint!

      • Steve

        whose not who’s :)

        • TonyGentilcore

          Touche…..;o)

          • Nathan

            From a new (<3 months) crossfitter, my experience has been great s far. I'm an ex-regular gym guy but I could never get strict pull ups sorted. What impressed me most about joining a Crossfit gym (Box….lol) was just how concerned they are about my form before trying to make me feel good about my numbers.
            They won't stop me from doing anything I want to do…but they very strongly insist that I don't do kipping pull ups until I can do a good number of unassisted strict pull ups.
            If my form is slipping on an exercise, they'll stop me before I even realise and correct me, even if it means I don't get the workout finished.

            My opinion on kipping pullups is that they aren't for the usual "gains", but to build flexibility and endurance, where strict pullups are for strength. If your goal is to build strength and you're doing kips then it's definitely a cheat.

            Just my 2c :)

          • TonyGentilcore

            Glad you found a place you like Nate, and that you thoroughly enjoy training there. In the end that’s all that really matters.

            I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about the benefits of kipping pull-ups…….flexibility is one thing. Flexibility in the WRONG areas is another.

            But that’s great that they’re putting on the brakes so to speak and making you progress properly. They have your best interests in mind….;o)

    • Oh god no.

      That you are a physical therapist and happen to approve of crossfit is a disgrace to the profession. I’ve never seen a more irresponsible training program in my life. Clients who regularly play full contact sports don’t get injured as frequently. These people also train in the gym, where they increase strength and conditioning and DON’T get injured doing it. You’d have to be a shmuck to opt for crossfit.

      • TonyGentilcore

        Well, I think that’s a bit harsh and overstated. There ARE plenty of people who perform CrossFit and do well with it. As well, there ARE plenty of affiliates who do it well and don’t make it their goal to crush people.

        But, my statements in this article still stand. Kipping pull-ups, and all the other kipping exercises out there like dips, are pretty useless if my eyes. All designed to increase one’s score on a test that only CrossFitters care about.

        • Oh god no.

          I understand some trainers look at crossfit, see something inappropriate and alter the course to turn it into something more sensible. Why then should those same trainers turn around and pay lip service to the original training programing they deemed irresponsible? Is it even still crossfit?

  • Sean

    #3. Agreed, if you disagree, you are whats wrong w/ the country (jk, maybe not)
    Great job Tony, I get asked this question all too often and sans for being blunt and not terribly rude, “you are cheating” is all I can muster. Thanks.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, sometimes the best approach is to give people a little dose of tough love. But in it’s defense, the kipping pull-up IS different than a regular pull-up and some CF coaches DO differentiate between the two. I think the larger issue (and conversation) is whether or not kipping pull-ups have any efficacy in NON-crossfit program. To me, no.

  • http://twitter.com/jonner6 Jonner Carroll

    Good article Tony. I think you addressed the topic in a fair manner. Yes the kipping is a way to cheat and YES Nickelback should never make music again. EVER!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Jonner!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbzero John J Brooks

    Could not agree more with #1,3, and 4.

    Three things that will kill crossfit if they are not careful and change their ways:

    Achilles tendon tears from high volume jumping.
    Slap/cuff tears from kipping pull-ups
    lumbar disk issues from lots of other things.
    If they corrected those things I think a lot of us nay-sayers would shut the heck up.
    I know that I would.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Slow clap!

    • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.pope.980 Daniel Pope

      Good points, The competition I went to last weekend had mandatory step-down after completing a box jump for safety reasons.

    • http://twitter.com/rodliberal Rod

      I used to go to a jiu jitsu gym that was trying to incorporate CF into their training program. My first time through I ended up in the ER that night with incredible amounts of pain on my ankles/heels from high box jumps. What a nightmare that was.

  • Liz

    Well said. I’ve been hoping you’d write more on CF specific movements. I’d never consider myself a “crossfitter”, just someone who enjoys it as a hobby (much like Jen, except not quite as badass). Its difficult to just chill in the middle ground with all the extremist. Thanks for being a reasonable and objective voice.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, I try not to ruffle too many feathers. Like I said, I feel there’s some redeeming qualities about CF that I like. Not a lot, but some…..;o)

  • Barath

    I recently started training at a crossfit gym to learn the olympic lifts (haven’t done crossfit yet, though I plan to indulge in it at some point :) ). My coach is wonderful, and he has taught me to clean and snatch in a nice progression. I was particularly worried I’d never be able to clean because of awful shoulder mobility, but all it took was some simple corrective exercises and cues.

    By the way, before the first youtube video you linked, you said “…that does stuff like this”. I guess you were referring to the fact that the lifters had too much weight on the bar and kept missing regularly, and not shitting the lift itself. Though it looks a little clumsy, the continental clean and jerk is a pretty badass exercise (I read somewhere that it existed even before the strict clean and press, though I couldn’t be sure about this). Check this dude doing it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zci2JBzHca0

    As usual, I enjoyed this post :)

    • TonyGentilcore

      Barath – VERY refreshing to see that you’ve found a coach that you like and that he’s taking the time and effort to take you through the progressions properly. Awesome! Keep us posted!

  • Alison Minton

    Hi! Long time no comment. You know I can never resist chiming in on this stuff :) One major point that you miss is that CrossFit does NOT, I repeat, does NOT consider a kipping-pullup and a strict pull-up to be the SAME movement. They are not the same. Different purposes/intentions completely. There are main-site CrossFit workouts that specifically program strict pullups also. We also use them for strength building purposes (ie 5×3, max weight. Yes working on getting stronger is still CrossFit).

    Recap: CrossFit has not ditched the strict pull-up and a distinction between the two exists.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Gotcha – but that doesn’t mean I’d still program them……;o)

      • Alison Minton

        Haha, no reason for you to! Seriously.

  • Chase

    But what about that Spiderman song HERO the guy from Nickelback did with the guy from some other band? that was a pretty good song right? :-) http://youtu.be/1O3-fm1cuMM

    • TonyGentilcore

      You’re banned from making any more comments for two weeks for that!!!!!…….;o)

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.tangredi Chris Tangredi

    *Insert Bret Contreras’ Tnation article on the “strong case” for the rounded back deadlift.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.tangredi Chris Tangredi

      don’t get me wrong I like Bret’s stuff, just that one article was a real curve ball in his normal repertoire.

      • TO

        You do know that TNation regularily changes the names of these guys’ articles to make them more appealing/controversial and ultimately attract more readers eh? Wasn’t necessarily Bret’s intent of the article, at least by way of the title.

  • Dan

    First off, I agree Nickelback is God Awful but they are no worse than their fans.

    Second, I’m a former Marine and when I was going through boot camp at Parris Island back in the 90′s they allowed kipping for pull-ups during fitness evaluations and testing. Not knowing any better, I would easily knock out 30+ reps even though we stopped counting them at 20. It was easy.

    In 1996 the Marines as a whole banned kipping since it artificially inflated test scores and perceived stamina. My score went from 20 (plus ten extra) to 11, and increased from there after training correctly. Here’s the regulation:

    “…the intent is to avoid a pendulum-like motion that enhances the ability
    to execute the pull-up. Whipping, kicking, kipping of the body or legs,
    or any leg movement used to assist in the vertical progression of the
    pull-up is not authorized. If observed, the repetition will not count
    for score.”

    They figured this out in the 90′s… maybe Cross-Fitter’s should take notice.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DocCrisis Zac Crites

      We don’t all do this. Kipping is done when you need the most efficient movement and are racing the clock. they aren’t trying to build massive lats with them. I don’t kip but it has it’s place.

  • RyanHurst

    Great article! Thanks for posting this. I am also a huge fan against kipping pull-ups and the same goes for kipping muscle-ups. I call them “cheats” because it cheats you into thinking you can actually do it.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Ha, nice! “I call them “cheats” because it cheats you into thinking you can actually do it.” Brilliant.

  • FreakSammy

    When I was younger and couldn’t perform a real, strict pullup, I kipped my way up. I eventually gained enough strength to do real pullups and now can do them with added weight. That tells me one thing: kipping has one purpose: to cheat. (Momentum is not a body part.)

    • TonyGentilcore

      Nice perspective Sammy…..;o)

  • Alonso Herrera

    I prefer Nickelback over kipping pull ups :P

    • TonyGentilcore

      Fair enough.

    • http://twitter.com/kl_0 Kelly

      I just can’t get behind you on this. At least kipping is relatively more enjoyable.

  • Dag-Are Halland

    I’d hope you (Tony) could describe in a anatomic/physiological sense why the kipping pull-up is being mean to the body.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Um, well, I don’t actually have a “meanness” machine or anything, but as I suggested in tje article, throwing a baseball is pretty “distracting” to the shoulder and elbow (I gave actual numbers in the article), and I’d have to assume that with the amount of traction and other forces being placed on the shoulder is right up there.

      Sorry I don’t have any concrete numbers to back up my statements – just more observational.

  • http://www.facebook.com/callie.durbrow Callie Durbrow

    Great points Tony. Nickleback = awful. Strict pull ups = awesome and bad ass. I think there are many other ways to build up to a pull up without the “cheat”. Keep up the great stuff.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Callie – glad you liked it.

  • Alicia

    Tony, do you ever consider (for those athletes that won’t hurt themselves) allowing one or two ‘cheat reps’ during a set as a way to further tax the muscle just a bit more? I ask because in my slow (soooo slow) quest for 10 beautiful pull-ups I have wondered if spastically heaving myself up a time or two does any good toward building the muscle and tolerance for more good ones. These days when I’ve reached exhaustion I’ve only held myself at the half way point or hung there on the bar in defeat, cursing the exercise, but would ‘kipping’ another rep or two ever be beneficial to us mid-range pull-up warriors just trying to get stronger? Thanks in advance!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Sure! Listen, I understand that lifting heavy stuff and pushing yourself isn’t always going to look pretty. I don’t mean to come across as if I’m some technique nazi who won’t let people grind out reps or round their back on anything. I do feel that it’s important to coach people properly. I’ll definitely let people “kip” out a rep or two to shimmy their way up if need be, but that’s COMPLETELY different than what the original post speaks to.

  • http://twitter.com/slmb Mark Brostman

    This list is perfect, especially the nickleback comment

  • Richard

    Hi Tony thanks for raising this topic. Everyone knows that CF is neither innovative nor original as they just take skills and movements from other sports and try to teach some generalised form of it to the public. And the KIP is another example of such. I am an exgymnast and coach of 20 years and in the sport of gymnastics the kip is actually a transitional skill used on the girls uneven bar and men’s parallel and horizontal bars and rings. You can google kip to see some of the different types (I’ll include one here thoughs its of kipping errors).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=3WlgnnNJzro

    The kip action is one which describes the consecutive actions of hip flexion, hip extension, and hip flexion again combined with an arm pull to transfer the gymnast from below to above the bar or rings.

    As you know strength is an important component of gymnastics and it is often found that young gymnasts, normally girls, who are unable to do correct chin ups will do a form of kipping chin-up to aid in the chin-up development but usually only until sufficient strength is developed to train them strictly with correct form (no kipping). You will see some similar hip action in kipping chin-ups to the actual skill of a Kip, but as a goal in it’s own to just do kipping chin-ups, I doubt it has any real utility other than to allow a person to cheat on performing real chin-ups as you say, and the person should progress to real chin-ups as soon as they can if they wish to develop better strength.

    However, I have heard in the CF circles that kipping creates power, but I argue that power can only be achieved after one has first developed strength and then applied that strength with speed and control which is clearly not the case if someone starts strength development by doing something so dynamic as kipping chin-ups. Here is some developmental drills of young girls learning to Kip correctly and I challenge any CFer that if they wish see how much work goes into learning something correctly to take a look at these videos.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vhhkhB4S0E&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCnuXaGmMJ4&feature=fvwrel

    Happy training people.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Richard -

      Thank you for that wonderful response and for sharing some of your expertise and knowledge! I understand that kipping pull-ups CAN be performed safely and that they’re a teaching tool in some sports. I think my main beef is when they’re used inappropriately or when people pawn then off as some innovative way to perform (more) pull-ups.

      Thanks again Richard. That was awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.pope.980 Daniel Pope

    Cool post Tony, glad you’re on board with crossfit. At our box we coach strict and kipping pullups. We do as much technique work coaching the kipping pull-up as you would with the oly lifts. The kip lends itself to muscle-ups as well (which we also teach strict by the way, as they do at crossfit certs) By the way the coach is Jason Khalipa and his wife. Pretty badass athlete.

    P.S. Nickelback sucks

    P.P.S I might have accidentally given you -22 stars on this post. I started clicking on the box and it kept giving me negatives stars, no idea what this means. Sorry if I accidentally just sunk your career with negative stars.

  • Ddog

    I do Crossfit and am a trainer who thinks about what he programs people
    without blindly following someone else’s opinion or views. I don’t
    program kipping pull ups for those that I train (i’m not a crossfit
    affiliate) and wouldn’t program them in huge amounts if i were an
    affiliate (I would build up strict first).
    I do feel that some of the points you make are somewhat
    contradictory. Due to the huge forces baseball players expose their
    elbows/shoulders to i don’t think anyone should be playing baseball
    because the risk is too high. People shouldn’t play rugby/nfl/any
    other contact sport because there is far too much risk involved for
    all parts of the body….these are just some points that can be made
    in response to your post. EVERY single sport/game poses risk to those
    that play it. Crossfit is a sport and with it comes risks, however if
    coached properly like you say, risks can be minimized.
    I don’t get the whole idea of people feeling they need to cut it
    down because they disagree with it (i am aware you weren’t
    cutting it down, i’m speaking to some of the other commenters)-there
    are lots of things i disagree with in sports but that is
    how the sport is played, so i get over it.
    I also disagree with you calling it cheating. Is doing a push
    press cheating??? How about a jerk??? How about doing partial reps
    in squats or bicep curls to chase the pump for hypertrophy???
    etc. No they are not-the intention of each thing is different. I
    wouldn’t make you stand there and perform 15 strict presses with
    185lbs because if you did a push press that would be cheating-that
    would be stupid.
    There is considerable coordination involved with performing kipping pull
    ups and particularly the other controversial style of the
    butterfly pull up. During a “metcon” the idea is to
    complete the work quickly. Try doing 21 strict dead hang pull
    ups while your heart is beating out of your chest-very difficult and
    you lose the purpose of the workout-to complete work
    quickly with the highest power output. Kipping and butterfly
    pull ups are still very demanding in a fast high paced
    workout. I also have never seen anyone injured doing
    kipping pull ups.
    I appreciate the fact that you didn’t feel the need to try to rip
    crossfit apart but I felt i could add some points to the discussion.
    Cheers

    • Ddog

      Having re-read my post I sound like i’m talking down to you so my apologies-didn’t mean to sound condescending-just trying to keep discussion going

    • dowplow

      FWIW, the “Kipping pullups aren’t cheating because that would mean X/Y/Z are cheating too” is a bit of a flawed argument. Within your metcons, do you refer to the programmed pullups as “kipping pullups”, or do you just call them “pullups”? If you refer to kipping pullups as such, then sure, fine, it’s a “legitimate” exercise (albeit one that makes whoever is performing it look absolutely ridiculous). It’s when they’re passed off as regular pullups when it becomes kind of ridiculous and where the idea of cheating comes into play. You don’t push press a weight and claim you military pressed it – they’re two different exercises.

      • TonyGentilcore

        Nice retort and saved me some typing…..;o)

      • Ddog

        No I personally wouldn’t refer to them as pullups I would refer to them as kipping pullups-but that’s really just semantics. So can I say that the article the other day on bench press and using hip drive is cheating and not actually bench press because you’re using your lower body and legs in the lift? We still call it bench press and i believe people were ridiculed for taking their legs out of the movement to isolate the pecs etc? So in one movement (bench press) we are advocating the use of the legs, still calling it the same lift and praising that technique (all in order to move more weight). But in the next movement, the kipping pullup, we use the legs and hips and are ridculed for it, and are wrong for calling it pull ups (in order to get more reps).
        Can you justify this? Not being a smart arse just interested in others opinions.
        PS first time online discussion for me and it is definitely entertaining.

        • TonyGentilcore

          Well, how does hip drive allow you to “cheat” the bench press. I mean, I always tell people that the bench press is much more of a full body movement than lead to believe.

          And I understand that some “body english” comes into play when trying to eek out a few reps or two – I’m not THAT much of a form nazi. But that’s a different topic altogether.

          • Ddog

            I agree with you entirely about the bench being more of a full body lift. I guess all I’m saying is that in the case of a kipping pull up, why is it deemed cheating for doing the same thing to achieve a purpose within that sport (Crossfit)? Powerlifters and anybody looking to increase absolute strength use hip drive-in a lot of cases bodybuilders don’t use hip drive to isolate upper body more etc. two different sports that use two different methods to achieve two different things. In my opinion neither one is cheating as they both achieve what they set out to do. I think it’s the same with Crossfit and kipping pull ups.

            Really appreciate all your work and the fact that you get involved in the discussion and I have learned a lot from your website.

            Cheers

          • Matt

            Started looking at this recently to compare my non crossfit workout to a crossfit workout (using a 45/45 version of Fran).I think kipping pullups are dangerous and lame so did dead hangs for this. I think the difference is momentum. You use leg drive in a bench press to move the weight but you are generating that force from your legs and glutes for the first few inches. With kipping pullups you are swinging and the force comes from gravity and you are just managing it. Incidentally, a power lifter style bench uses back arch to in order to get you in a position to get a better cross section of muscle fiber with which to press. You can get roughly the same effect with decline without the need for freakish spine flexibility. As for kippings I think most people would be better served to learn how to pull with their backs and not try to “curl” themselves up.

        • zh
          • TonyGentilcore

            The intent of my article WAS NOT to shit on CrossFit – I’ve actually written several pieces defending CrossFit. It’s my OPINION that kipping pull-ups aren’t, in fact, pull-ups. That was the point of the article.

            For the .1% of people who do CrossFit and are able to do them without injuring themselves, cool…do them. But for everyone else, there are MUCH better options.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DaddyAmos Christian Lauer

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csOGw4doj1Q
      @ 2:26…I’ve never seen this happen to someone doing real pull ups.

  • sandiegopete

    Nailed. It. Again. Love reading your posts, insightful with the right amount of Boston attitude to appeal to us slacking west coasters. BTW I heard that you can do more biceps curls by using the same motion of “hip drive” and back lean….the big guy at the gym wearing the string tank top and zebra pattern pants told me that….

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  • Brian t

    Great article. I agree with your sentiments. I find it is interesting that most crossfit gyms teach/program the kip before the strict. I find this as an issue because if you don’t have strength how can you expect to have control over a dynamic movement (especially at such a mobile joint as the shoulder) It could be similar to performing an advanced plyometric drill like a depth jump before having a prerequisite lower body strength. I think the problem is when the kip is used as some shiny trick to show progress, such as the new client being able to say they got their first pull-up. Add into the fact that women already have a deficit in upper body strength comparative to men and you have a recipe for disaster. That is why the preferred form of clothing at most crossfit events is kinesio-tape.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Those are all valid point, Brian. On all accounts. And I couldn’t agree more.

  • http://twitter.com/CapitalStrength Capital Strength

    Kipping Pull-Ups? Butterfly pull ups? I call them what they are: pull ups for weak people.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nick.goldpenny Nick Goldpenny

      I can do 15 strict pull ups. Now I took a few personal training sessions with the X fit trainer and he had me attempt some kipping pull ups. I didn’t have proper firm, I swung to much, was trying to pull upward while having downward momentum. I was able to do five, it took me twice as long. But then again I’m sure you can’t even do 5 actual pull ups after you’ve done 30 push ups 15 dead lifts and 20 squats while throwing a medicine ball.

  • Todd Nief

    Someone started to touch on this with the push press analogy, but allow me to elaborate.

    I think a better comparison would be a burpee with a strict push-up versus a “get down get up anyhow” burpee.

    If one were to perform 100 “strict” burpees for time, the limiting factor would almost certainly be fatigue in the triceps and posterior shoulder.

    If a well-conditioned athlete were to perform 100 “anyhow” burpees for time, the limiting factor would likely be the body’s ability to handle metabolic waste from anaerobic lactate metabolism.

    This is the idea behind utilizing kipping pull-ups in conditioning workouts: to train energy systems rather than local muscle endurance.

    Is this the most intelligent way to target this energy system for everyone? No. An airdyne is quite a bit safer and is probably more effective. Still, CrossFit provides a framework for general fitness that motivates people to achieve goals. People are more likely to care about their Fran time than their airdyne mile time.

    Is there value in teaching people to control full-body flexion and extension with their shoulder joint? Yes. Is there ever a reason to train the anaerobic lactate system using an upper body pulling motion? Yes. Should people have the upper body strength to perform multiple strict pull-ups before they attempt to perform kipping pull-ups in a conditioning workout? Yes.

  • RDS

    Probably one of the most fair and balanced (yet factual) articles I’ve read in a long time. Outstanding.

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  • Ben

    Do you think kipping pullups are a good exercise to do if you’re not strong enough to do pullups? My understanding is that the CF scale/progression is jumping pullup, kipping pullup, pullup. It seems like both the strength and weakness with some WODs. That is they’re inclusive, so everyone can do something similar, but if a pullup is in a WOD, you can’t sub in something like eccentric-phase pullups or inverted rows or something that would train you more directly to do pullups.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Nope, I don’t. I think there are better (and less taxing) ways to progress someone to a proper pull-up.

    • Dave

      Just my two-cents,

      When I started CF I had the strength to do a FEW pull-ups, but with the lack of a lat pull-down machine, this was the scaling I used: jumping/banded/strict/kip/butterfly. I still do the fighter pull-up program to continue developing strict pulling strength.

      While strict pull-ups are obviously crucial to strength development, and should always be a part of any well-balanced programming, kipping/butterfly is more concerned with a coordinated gymnastic movement to increase power output. IF an athlete has the foundational strength for strict pull-ups, there is very little risk for injury while kipping properly. CrossFit uses the idea that power is equal to intensity, and that intensity drives results. So by effectively using a kip on pull-ups an athlete is able to do more work in less time, which increases their power output or intensity. Increasing metabolic conditioning as opposed to ‘pure strength’.

      If strength is the focus, certainly strict pull-ups or weighted pull-ups, no question.

    • Ryan Lockwood

      My opinion is that if you’re not strong enough to do pullups, then a kipping pullup has a good chance to cause injury.

      • TonyGentilcore

        I agree with Ryan. 100%

  • Demi

    What a great article!!!! I think a real test for people who do a lot of kipping pullups is to see how many deadhang pullups they can do. If the answer is a just a few or god forbid, none, that is a problem. I got frustrated trying to do the kipping motion, so I focused more on deadhang pullups, chinups, pullups with towels, pullups with the v-bar, and I must say I am kind of glad I did. I feel by concentrating on true pullups, all my other lifts have gotten better too. I dont think, in my humble opinion, the kipping motion would have the same effect on my overall strength.

  • mrpinto

    This “cheating” talk is silly. Kipping and strict pull-ups are completely different exercises. A power clean isn’t a “cheating” version of a snatch – it’s just a completely different exercise. Is a jerk just a “cheating” press?

    Crossfit programs all of these things: cleans, snatches, jerks, overhead presses, strict pull ups and kipping pull ups.

    To repeat: a kipping pull-up isn’t a “cheat” for a “real” pull up. It’s a different exercise that recruits different muscles and movements. They’re both worthwhile. The notion that exercise A is useless because it isn’t exercise B is just silliness.

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  • Patty (reach-yourpeak.com)

    1- totally agree with you regarding kipping pullups. I trained a group of client who left Crossfit and just wanted 1-1 training with me. I had them doing band-assisted pullups and they were like “wow this is so much harder!” uh yeah!

    2- your comments about nickelback made me “lol”

  • Zach

    Hello. There is no cheating in life. Yes, sometimes circumstances will come about where SOME people ( fire fighters? rock climbers? people in the armed forces?) will have to be able to do a pull-up. When that time comes, I assure you that you will not care if you are ‘kipping’ your pull-up. You will do whatever god forsaken movement that you have to do to survive. And yes, it does require some amount of “timing” or coordination (acuracy?), which you seemingly scoffed at the beginning. Good day!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Great point Zach. I recognize that there is some timing or coordination to doing the kipping pull-up, I don’t doubt that. At all. But the point is, a lot people who “prefer” the kipping pull-up end up hurting themselves in the long run. All about progressions, right? Or, actually learning how to do things correctly, right? I respect your argument, but when the time comes that you have to “kip” your way through a fire, I’ll give you a mulligan….;o)

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  • Dave

    I am a former college football player from the late 80s early 90s era and was a personal trainer in college during the summers. I recently got into cross fit and cannot believe the gains I have made. Like you I was somewhat skeptical at first, but they scaled the workouts for me at first (modified the movements so a fat out of shape newbie like me could do them). I also thought kipping pull-ups where cheating, but I was way wrong. When combined with other exercises in a daily workout they can provide and amazing workout that I could not get from strict pull ups. The key is combining exercises properly to play off each other.

    At the CC gym I go to they do both strict and kipping. In fact, strict is taught before kipping pull ups. There are always between 2 to 4 coaches depending on the size of the class and they are constantly on people about form. I haven’t ever been to another CC gym, so my gym may not be the norm. Many work outs call for strict pull ups, and it will be spelled out in the workout what kind of pull-up to do.

    With respect to kipping and strict pull ups, strict actually hurt my shoulders more. With kipping pull ups I have to keep active shoulders and and active core so I am always under control. Just yesterday I did 75 kipping pull ups and let me tell you, I got a much better workout than if I had done 20 strict pull ups. My entire shoulder girdle and core got one helluva a workout, that I would not have gotten with strict pull ups.

    With beginners, they are always using heavy bands and always start on strict pull-ups before moving to kipping. It takes a while before someone can learn to kip. Also, when kipping and using the bands you are not putting that much force on your joints.

    On another note, it looks like the people in the photos above are doing muscle ups where you do an exaggerated kip. To do a muscle up takes a heck of a lot of strength. A newbie isn’t going to walk in and do a muscle up. And for the record, muscle ups are a heck of a lot harder than a strict pull up.

    As to the rounded back dead lift, if you are caught with a rounded back you will be told to take some weight off the bar and will have a coach or two with you going over form for 5 to 10 minutes or more to make sure that you are doing it right. I was busted recently (in my mind I still think I can dead lift 500 pounds LOL), and we have been working for a month on keeping a flat back with lower weights. Another issue that I was always getting coached on was flexibility issues causing my knees to go in on squats and other lifts. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Needless to say the past month has been frustrating (with constant coaching getting on to me for bad form), but my form is coming back and with it heavier weights again.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Dave – glad to see you found something that works for you. Mind you: I wasn’t shitting on ALL of CrossFit. You’ve obviously found a place that does it right and I commend that. So hopefully you’re assessment of me is that I’m adamantly against CrossFit. There’s a lot that I abhor, true. But I do understand that there are plenty of boxes and coaches out there who spread the CF brand and do it right.

  • Ross

    I think the only things that will ever make this go away are a) hard research showing that crossfit even properly applied is harmful to oneself or athletic performance, and/or b)have a crossfitter outperformed by a non crossfitter. To this end, i recently watched a vid that pitted an olympic lifter vs a marine crossfitter. At first I thought this vid was showing the difference in technique and how the crossfit guy was doing it wrong. But as it turns out this video was made to highlight how quickly he got done with shitty form. Did he get a better workout? Is he more fit? Is he stronger? I have no idea. What i do know is that if he took that level of form into an olympic style competition he would get hammered.

    I guess what I would have to say is if getting your heart rate up to be more “metabolically challenging”, there is any number of things that can be done to do that and that form would never matter when performing metabolic exercises. I think most strength coaches would agree with that as being a bad route to go. I also dont see how some folks swear that there is less impact from kipping pullups vs traditional pullups….I dont expect crossfitters to stop kipping pullups, i just wish they would stop trying to infect other people with it.

  • CY

    One thing I would say in the defense of the kipping pull up is that it is training for other maneuvers that do build strength such as bar and ring muscle ups. In addition, kipping does help build the muscles that lead to dead hang pull ups. I find that typically most people get frustrated and give up trying to learn the dead hang since it takes so long to see even the slightest results. With a kip there is that sense of satisfaction that you “see” results. Then after time you work into dead hangs to help your kip and your overall fitness.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Does it REALLY take that long to learn a dead hang pull-up? I “get” that the kipping is an entirely different movement than the dead-hang pull-up. But even outside of that, the joint distraction ramifications (especially for those who aren’t nearly ready to perform such a violent movement) just isn’t worth it in my book.

      If you’re working with a healthy person with a fair amount of training experience, cool. Kip away. But lets try not to be delusion into thinking that it’s THAT hard to teach someone how to properly perform a dead-hang pull-up. There are plenty of regressions.

      • Hamze

        I agree with Tony here. If it takes you more than a week to get your first pullup, you’re doing it wrong. After trying a new routine, it took me 2 days to get my first pullup.

        • TonyGentilcore

          Well, I wouldn’t say a week would be the cut-off point. But it stands to reason that if people made an ACTUAL concerted effort to get better at them (ie: did them more than once or twice a week), they’d see marked improvements.

  • Nick

    I find much of what you say contradictory and I don’t think you really have added anything of value. You obviously don’t like crossfit and you aren’t really saying anything other than that in this article (as much as you are trying to appear otherwise). You present the reasons why kipping fits crossfit training and really only say that it is cheating to do a kipping pull-up instead of a strict pullup because it is possible to do more kipping pull-ups (but kipping pull-ups aren’t strict pullups – they are kipping pull-ups, right?) and then you equate doing a kipping pull-up to throwing a baseball? I am sorry but I just don’t see the relationship between the two. And if doing kipping pull-ups is ‘cheating’ why do you say: “For many, they’re just not capable or “ready” to do such an advance movement without hurting themselves”. How is doing such an “advanced movement” considered cheating? Advanced doesn’t sound easier to me – or do you mean once you have properly learned how to do the advanced movement required for a kipping pull-up it will be easier to do more kipping pull-ups than strict pull-ups? But again, you are comparing apples and oranges – sure they are both fruit (or in this case, pull-ups), but they are so obviously different. Also my experience with crossfit has been more along the lines of former college football player Dave’s comments. My trainer is very careful about proper form. And we do both strict and kipping pull-ups – because they work in different ways. I don’t care what physical fitness regime you follow – bad form = trouble. This is not something specific to crossfit. All I get from your article is that you personally don’t like crossfit/kipping pull-ups and you don’t like Nickelback; i.e. you don’t like things which the masses like for no apparent reason. I agree about Nickelback, but I disagree about crossfit. That is my opinion from my experience – worth about the same as your opinion I would say!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad we agree on Nickleback……;o)

  • Steve

    Cheating? I know this analogy has been brought up in this post, but, I’d like to get Tony’s take on it…if a kipping pullup is cheating, what do you refer to Olympic weight-lifting moves such as the Clean? Or what about the clean and jerk? Is cleaning the bar to your shoulders the “cheating” form of a doing a bicep-curl? And is the jerk a “cheating” form of doing a strict overhead press? Or are they just not referred to as “cheating moves” because they’re sanctioned Olympic lifting movements? The clean and jerk both utilize hip-extension to finish the movement. Please explain the difference Tony. Do you refer to all Olympic lifting athletes as cheating their movements?

    • TonyGentilcore

      I understand that the kipping pull-up and a “standard” pull-up are two distinct entities, Steve. But are you really making the argument that a kipping pull-up and an Olympic clean are on the same totem pole?

      And who really compares a clean and an explosive reverse curl as one in the same?

      To answer your question: no, I don’t feel OLY lifts are cheating.

      And even if we can agree to disagree on the topic of whether or not kipping pull-ups are cheating, I also made the argument that kipping pull-ups – for many uninitiated and unprepared people – place the body into compromising positions.

      As do the OLY lifts, of course.

      Both need extensive coaching.

      But considering there are FAR more people out there including pull-up variations in their programming, I’d still rather take the time to coach people on how to perform a standard pull-up over a kipping pull-up.

  • Steve

    Cheating? I know this analogy has been brought up in this post, but, I’d like to get Tony’s take on it…if a kipping pullup is cheating, what do you refer to Olympic weight-lifting moves such as the Clean? Or what about the clean and jerk? Is cleaning the bar to your shoulders the “cheating” form of a doing a bicep-curl? And is the jerk a “cheating” form of doing a strict overhead press? Or are they just not referred to as “cheating moves” because they’re sanctioned Olympic lifting movements? The clean and jerk both utilize hip-extension to finish the movement. Please explain the difference Tony. Do you refer to all Olympic lifting athletes as cheating their movements?

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  • Kristin

    What helped me to enhance my strength to do the pull-ups was one specific nutritional
    supplement. I did not expect any substantial results, but nevertheless gave it a try. It was Navy Seal Formula manufactured by MGNutritionals. Surprisingly, it has doubled my strength! Now I am able to do up to 10 pull-ups! Besides, I always feel toned and energized.

  • Swadhin Nanda

    Hi Tony. I started going to the gym 3 months ago. I am not good with the regular pull ups, and that would be because I suffered a shoulder injury while playing basketball. I know that TOTALLY sounds like an excuse, but the fact is I never did practice regular pull ups.

    Now, I try to do them as much as possible and have a goal of doing 5 in 2 months. Problem is, in my desperation I try to swing up and come down slowly. I know I am doing it wrong and I feel terrible about it. Hence, I really need to know if it will help me gain some strength in doing regular pull ups perfectly, or will it become a habit I will not be able to get rid of?

    • TonyGentilcore

      There’s no need to feel terrible about it Swadhin. If anything I give you kudos for trying to do something challenging!

      Why not try some eccentric/negative only chin-up where you jump up above the bar and then lower yourself in a controlled fashion? Or maybe add in some ISO holds?

  • Arthur

    As someone who has spent my entire life in fitness, and have degrees in sports medicine, I can assure you fitness is not a game. If fitness and health is not a game, there are no ways to cheat. There are only ways to hurt yourself. And since a kipping pull up simply replicates the exact same movements used in gymnastics, I have absolute confidence that you can apply much more effort with them than without.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I agree Arthur. But when you take people who are NOT prepared for such a movement and then have them “kip” to their hearts content, it’s only a matter of time before their shoulder or back or both start flipping them the bird.

      I wholeheartedly believe that EVERYTHING has a time and place, and I’m not suggesting that people need to train in a plastic bubble. But as a strength coach, and someone who’s job it is to NOT hurt people, those are generally going to be low on my “what people need to do” list.

  • SZE

    With no offense, what I get(interpret) from your article and comment replies is just how great of a trainer you are and in your program you help your athletes in an approach that is in your opinion better than crossfit, sounds like everything is just about competition. Crossfit emphasize of functional training, to get better in their daily life activities, in my opinion helps them to perform task more efficiently. Rather different from training a sports-specified athlete in the sense that they are different fields, sports-specified athletes have their own types of training that helps them to perform in their specific sports, which in this case obviously crossfit would be least likely the type of training that’s meant for them. It is like body builder vs olympic lifter case, in some ways, like the way they train and the type of exercises they do.

    With all that being said, I personally think that a strict pull up is a strict pull up, and a kip pull up is a kip pull up. Simple as that, wouldn’t consider kip pull up cheating due to the core involvement and body coordination, isn’t as easy as it was thought as there are specific techniques so there isn’t excessive lumbar hyperlordosis/hyperextension or neck extension. I can do 10 strict pull ups but I could barely do 3 proper kips properly when I first started.

    eg. as taught in this video on the correct technique.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ6NX4yQLCo

    Lastly, as I mentioned above, crossfit is more of functional training that helps people perform any task better in daily life, not a specific sports. In a case where if I were hanging onto my hands 50metres above the ground and the only way to survive is to pull myself up 25 times with bar arrangement isn’t like a ladder where legs can be involved. (Imagination time!)
    At any time of the day/week/month or any physical condition, it will be kip pull up that is going to be the efficient movement that’s going save me. Not likely a scenario that would happen, but you never know what would happen in life. Just a thought. :D

    Wouldn’t surprise me to see highly qualified professionals disagree with each other, sometimes an open mind isn’t as open as they think, people still refuse to “open” the minds to new things. Reminds me of the schism towards Chiropractic treatment. Also, when you mentioned the Boston Uni Head Coach conversation, it reminds me of the topic “New Doctors vs Old Doctors/ Newest Evidence Based Practice vs Decades of Career Experience”. Just saying. ^.^

    • TonyGentilcore

      Great points SZE, and I appreciate the insight and thought you put into your response!

      I’ve gone out of my way to say what I like about CrossFit within other avenues, so hopefully I didn’t come across as a hater.

      I just think for the average person, who doesn’t move well, and who’s woefully underprepared for these classes, kipping pull-ups aren’t the best choice. But that’s just the strength coach/facility owner/want to avoid law suits person in me.

      I’m toying around with the idea of taking a CrossFit class soon and talking about my experiences. Much in the same way as I did with yoga and pilates.

      It’s time to put up or shut up.

      • TerryChicago

        I agree with both of your positions. I find kipping and regular pull-ups to be completely different exercises. I am involved in crossfit, though I definitely agree that it is only as good as the particular gym (Box) ability to stress proper form and technique.

        I encourage you to write a post if and when you give crossfit a try.

        Also, as a random side note — the guy from the video is currently destroying the competition at the Championships of Crossfit : http://games.crossfit.com/leaderboard

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  • Eric

    The kipping pullup teaches people how to use hip extension to generate power. Watch a pitcher or quarterback throw, it’s core to extremity power generation: the exact same thing as a kipping pull-up. It also teaches people coordination & timing while increasing their functional flexibility* through their shoulder complex (*not everyone is ready for the kip). It’s an athletic movement and demands a lot from an athlete both metabolically (in high reps) and in terms of strength. Yay for fitness.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I agree Eric. The kipping pull-up is appropriate for SOME people. Not a lot.

      My main beef is that people are far too quick to jump on the kipping train, and inevitably end up hurting themselves.

  • D

    I’d like to add that kipping pullups, when proper joint prep has been done, do wonders for shoulder girdle flexibility, strength, and elasticity, and have been a staple of Chinese gymnastics programs for years.

    But should be treated as a totally different exercise from real pull ups.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Again, it comes down to case by case scenario. With the population I deal with: overhead athletes and general population who don’t move very well, the joint distraction forces aren’t worth it in my book.

      As much as the shoulder is a mobile joint, sacrificing stability for MORE mobility isn’t exactly what EVERYONE needs.

      I’ll concede that it’s a different exercise altogether, but still not one I’d go out of my way to coach for most people.

  • Yuri

    dear Tony,
    excuses for my bad English I’m from Belgium!
    I liked your article a lot well written and hitted some good points, doing Cf for 3 years now I know what you are talking about.
    I only think poeple are looking to the kipping pull up in the wrong way!
    first ;
    From the eyepoint of strength training you are absolutly wright about the pull ups!
    Only with CF the pull up is a gymnastic exercise much more then it is a strength exercise ( if you look at olympic gymnastics you will see the kipping movement routiniusly ).
    the kipping pull up combined with ring dips forms the base training for a descent muscle up a powerfull gymnastic movement.
    rather then a proper shoulder training it is used for a total upper body exercise for flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.
    for this reason I think the comparison of both total diferent movements are totaly irrelevant.
    offcourse proper training ( coaching ) is regartless your goals an necessity!
    you should be able to do about 10 strict pull ups ( shoulder strength ) before practicing the kipping pull up .
    i’d like to believe that even if it’s cheating on strict pull ups it is never the less a powerfull training exercise, if I see to gymnastics I cant help but admire the athletic looks of well trained and powerfull bodies.
    for your information some workouts require to do strict pull ups only as well!
    second ;
    i believe the cheating as many like to call it ( and not only in the kipping pull ups look at squats, HR push ups, push presses and so on ) has their benefits.
    i believe the strongest muscle is the mind, and making the mind believe you can do something makes poeple do things they assumed impossible.
    i’ve seen poeple who were asked to do an amount of strict push ups, shoulder presses, pull ups or any other exercise without cheating, keeping the tention on there muscles all the way to get demotivated and never come back again because they believed they were incapable to do such exercises ever!
    on the other hand i’ve seen poeple in my box to do same but at CF range ( with cheating form ) and do so well that within a few sessions they were eager to learn a proper push up for example in good form.
    same with distance i know poeple i shouldn’t ask to run 1 mile they wouldn’t even try but this same poeple do workouts were they need to run 400M 6 times and do so without hesitation.
    i believe this is the strength of CF making poeple believe they did an almost impossible amount of work in a given time set so they get teased and eager to do more and better the next time!
    in my box i see poeple training who would never step in to a gym but are totally in to CF and i think only that makes CF allready admirable!
    last ;
    never the less i’m a CF participant i cannot deny that due to the constantly increasing CF hype that i’ve seen my portion of impropper form on many occasions and believe great coaches should value kwality way above kwantity!!!!

  • Jimmy

    Thanks for the article. I am a CF trainer and have reaped immense benefit from doing REAL pull-ups in my workouts instead of just flailing around on the bars. Long story short, my back is feeling sturdier than ever and my tendons don’t feel like they are on the brink of disconnecting.

  • Gareth

    I think provided we can agree that kipping pull-ups & strict pull-ups are completely different exercises there’s no real debate. I mean no one calls out powerlifters for cheating their military press by doing a split jerk or cyclists for cheating at jogging by riding a bike. Yes?

  • http://www.elite-strategies.com/blog Patrick Coombe

    I came here tonight because I’ve personally met 2 people in the last 2 months who claim they have serious shoulder injuries as a result of kipping pullups. I checked out a few different sites and it seems as though all of the professionals (coaches, strength & conditioning experts, bodybuilders, etc) all agree that kipping pullups are bad, in so many ways.
    My question is – if it is proven that it is bad for your muscular / skeletal system why do so many CF gyms still promote this?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, ANY exercise can be deemed “bad” if it’s prescribed to the wrong individual who’s not conditioned for it yet. This is why I rarely have someone perform conventional deadlifts from the floor the first day they walk into a gym. It’s ALL about progressions.

      I do feel there’s a “safe” way to perform them, but for 90% of the population they’re just not a good fit.

  • Ryan

    Article is not focused, lacks any objectivity with blatant opinion everywhere, and I’m still not sure what I was told.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Okay, I’ll be more succinct. A kipping pull-up isn’t a pull-up, it’s a swing. And, for those who aren’t prepared (I recognize that it is a skill that needs to be “mastered,” but I don’t really consider it a skill worth learning) can really wreck havoc on the shoulders and lower back.

      There are inherent risks to every exercise – don’t feel everyone needs to train in a bubble – but kipping pull-ups, to me, seem to have more risks than rewards.

      Who cares if the article was nothing but opinion, it’s a freaking blog, not a New York Times article.

      • Mikael Hultkvist

        Kipping pull-up is a gymnastics move. Its more related to dead-lift than strict pull-ups. The kipping pull-up is the first step (actually hollow-rock/superman is) in a progression to get you up on the bar, next step is the muscle-up, and the step after that could be hand-stand. (In real life the movement would be to get your self up on a ledge.)

        Exactly in the same way that the dead-lift is the first step of a clean and so on..

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  • Brandi

    Wish I would have did more research on kipping pull-ups. Took 8 months for me to finally be able to do one and then BAM, hip flexor strain. So far it has been 8 weeks and I am just starting to feel better. This is by far one of the worst injury’s I’ve ever had to deal with. If you can get any insight as to workouts that don’t use or overuse the hip flexor, I would be forever grateful!

  • Rob

    I read this while doing a one-handed, kipping pull-up and listening to Nickelback.
    BRB… Physio…

    • TonyGentilcore

      HAHA> okay, that was good.

      • Rob

        Hehe ;) I should probably see a shrink about my Nickelcrap addiction also. There’s just something about Chad’s voice isn’t there?…

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  • gg

    I was watching some of elite crosfitter training and he was doing normal strict pull-ups and weighted pull-ups, i doubt those elite athletes use kipping pull-ups for strength training or something, if they probably do kipping pulls ups at all in trainings then its probably just to learn better how to do more cheating reps, yeah simply just to cheat on contests

  • Charles

    Thanks for your article Tony, I do CrossFit and I own a facility. I like the fact that you separate emotions from facts, thanks. I like this sport for everything you’ve mentionned, and I also disagree to call kipping pullup a ”Full body pullup”. The thing is, when introduced, the kipping pull up helps the athlete to do more repetitions. But what is a repetition? What tells us what is considered as a repetition?

    If you accord points to movements you execute, and to get a point you must bring your chin above the pullup bar, then you can use the technique you want (like the kipping or the ButterFfly). Good and poor techniques exists, like in any sport. If your goal is to increase back strengh, strict pullup exists.

    I think ”cheating” exists, it depends on the rules that are in place! Is kipping pullup a cheating movement? We have to define what are the movement criterias and objectives first to say so!

    Look forward to hear from you!

    • Charles

      Good and poor execution exists**

      • TonyGentilcore

        Thanks Charles – glad we can have a back and forth conversation without a bunch of name calling and chest bumping…..;o)

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  • http://exercisebasics.net/ Brandon Goulding

    I realize this post was written quite some time ago, but I just stumbled upon your blog. After watching that crossfit video I’m appalled at the level of coaching. Who taught these folks to clean in that manner? I’ve never participated in crossfit myself and I know that ever gym is different based on the coaching staff, but honestly, this is atrocious. The basic components of what crossfit is appeal to me, but the culture and poor coaching make it into a joke.

  • http://thenaterogersblueprint.co.uk Nathan Clay Rogers

    You just made my day. Working with athletes I do not have much time for kipping pull ups and can not see the benefits of using them. I just see them as a way of cheating when performing pull ups. I can do kipping pull ups just like I can do a barbell curl with loads of momentum and very little beneficial gain (I didn’t admit to barbel curling haha).

  • Liz Avila

    “Most (not all) people have really poor tissue quality”
    I’m definitely in this boat. I was an athlete for most of my life but was plagued by joint injuries. I’ve always had above average strength and muscle recovery, my issues are with my joints. Now that I’m trying to get back into shape I’m feeling all my old injuries and am wary of having new ones pop up.
    Is there anything I can do nutrition, supplement, exercise wise to improve “tissue quality”?

    • TonyGentilcore

      That’s a pretty loaded question Liz. Training wise, it’s hard to say what you should be doing since I”m not here to evaluate you. Are you hypermobile? If so, that could very well play into things. You can still strength train, but you just need to make sure you’re doing things correctly. Staying on top of tissue quality by using a foam roller will help, too. Or, in more serious cases, seeking out a reputable manual therapist who can perform Graston or ART may help.

      Nutritionally speaking, while not my wheelhouse, looking into a less inflammatory diet may help. If you’re eating a lot of pro-inflammatory foods (highly processed, high sugar), then it stands to reason choosing better quality foods may help.

      Here:

      1. Buy New Rules of Lifting for Women
      2. Get a Foam roller and use it.
      3. Eat more fruits, veggies, lower intake of highly-processed foods and start taking some high-quality fish oil (and drink a lot of water).

      Those would be a great starting point.

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  • Connie Ruales

    The kipping pullup
    is a modification of the standard — or dead-hang — pullup. There are
    two advantages to kipping pullups: they force you to use your entire
    body — especially your core — and they spike your heart rate. As
    opposed to dead-hang pull-ups, which are primarily anaerobic in nature,
    kipping pullups are aerobic. Therefore, your body burns more calories.
    Because you use your entire body to do kipping pullups — rather than
    just your arms and back — you can do more. That means you increase the
    intensity of your work-out and build more strength. It’s not mean to be the same as a standard/strict/miliatry pull-up, that’s why it’s called something different.

    • TonyGentilcore

      So, basically, as opposed to a strict pull-up, you use your entire body in order to get more reps.

      Okay, got it. Thanks!

  • Speedy

    Sorry it took me 2 years (give or take a few months) to read this but I applaud you, Your view point on this, and how you presented it was absolutely superb. Being a HUGE fan of the pull-up, kipping makes me nauseous (just watching people do it, and hearing people brag: yeah I did 100). In my mind I am saying: SO WHAT! Not only do you look ridiculous doing it, but where was the benefit not to mention the Your joints probably hate you right now? I will take a person that can do even “1″ Strict Pull-up over someone that can do 100 or more of those kipping in a heartbeat.

    Try doing those things with weight attached to you…wait scratch that for I can only see someone from CF trying that. I mention it for I love doing pull-ups with weight attached to me.. When I reached my goal of being able to do 10 pull-ups with ease in a row I achieved that accomplishment by adding weight to the point I had 50lbs attached to me.

    Since then I slacked in my pull-ups and regret it. I am slowly building where I once was, and it will be a fun road. But for kipping, CF can keep them.

    • Speedy

      P.S.
      Nickelback has some good songs…what….they do. :-D

      • Adam Palmer

        For the record… “Worthy to Say” is a great track.

        http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3sphz_nickelback-worthy-to-say_music

        But hey – I would much rather listen to Ministry. Ha.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zQ9bu0ASZI

        I have a friend who destroyed his back while doing hanging leg ups (a so-called ab-exercise). Everything was apparently fine until his trainer decided to add some weight to his ankles. Yikes.

        • TonyGentilcore

          In the end, it’s important to remember that EVERY exercise has a time and place. That said, kipping pullups, along with things like leg presses, smith machine (anything), dips, upright rows, and weighted leg ups (when someone’s not prepared for them) would be low on my “to do” list. Sorry your friend got hurt.

  • Matt

    How is it cheating if you’re calling it a Kipping Pullup from the beginning? It’s only cheating if you’re claiming to be doing strict. Which btw, some crossfit workouts do call for strict pullups.

    • TonyGentilcore

      And if you read the entire post – like, all the way to the bottom – you’ll see that I allude to that exact same sentiment….;o)

      I only bring up the cheating part because, there are still a lot of people out there who feel kipping and strict are one in the same. Worse, some place precedence on the kipping which I feel is unfortunate.

      Furthermore, as I noted in the article itself, for those who are ill-prepared for the movement, I do feel there’s a cost-benefit ratio that’s woefully skewed towards the “cost” side of things.

      I think it’s FANTASTIC that more and more CrossFit affiliates are emphasizing strict pull-ups, and if that’s the case of yours, great! I just feel the argument of “well, kipping allows you to do more pull-ups” is comical considering there’s no “pulling” in the kipping pull-up.

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  • Cliff

    Very insightful article. I just started CF and while I like a lot of the aspects of the programming ( I use it as a 2-3 day/week conditioning workout on top of a “normal” strength training regime with periodization, linear progression, etc..) I find the kipping pullups to be a troublesome spot for me and I am going to avoid them at all costs. I have had shoulder/biceps injuries in the past and just watching someone perform the movement makes me cringe. Also, as you elude to in your article, it does not work the same muscles in the same way so isn’t really a “substitute” for dead hang pullups in any way. I find all the “power” arguments non-compelling for me personally and I think they are just an attempt to legitimize the need to do 100 pullups in a way that lets mere humans do 100 pullups — in other words the need to do 100 pullups becomes the reason you kip instead of kipping having any real appreciable benefit over strict form.

    Currently I am doing strict + band assisted pullups on workouts that require large amounts of pullups. Generally I alternate b/w the two so that I don’t “hit the wall” with my strict form pullups and can still do more the next go round. This seems to work for me and has the added benefit of letting one “add reps” to their strict form pullup count. Also my CF gym does not teach anyone to kip until they have mastered at least 20 dead hang pullups anyway. My plan is to use band assisted pullups as my “cheat” as long as I can and only use kipping as a gateway to learning the muscle up and not an “excercise” in its own right.

  • David Trent Walls

    I really enjoyed your article and I am a crossfitter. I was wondering what your opinion is on the butterfly pull-up. That is what is primarily used by the people really good at crossfit and that can do so many reps so quickly.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Those people who are “good at CrossFit” are freaks….haha.

      Honestly, it depends. Any advanced movement is going to have a little more wiggle room when you have someone who’s strong and moves well at the healm.

  • Kevin Witte

    Tony, I almost have to believe your comments are vetted. I’m floored that you and nearly every comment fail to see the value of a kipping pullup.

    You are all missing the point! It’s not about ‘cheating’ to get more reps. That’s absurd and totally unfounded. You can’t equate a kip with a strict pullup, and EVERY Crossfit coach differentiates between the two.

    Crossfit’s purpose is to prepare you for any physically demanding scenario life can throw at you. If it happens that I have to (or want to) scale a vertical object – tree, rail, wall, anything over my head – should I isolate a few muscles to perform the task, or should I make efficient use of my entire body to propel myself over the object? Aside from sheer vertical propulsion, the core strength and flexibility attained from a kip applies directly to countless life scenarios.

    A properly performed kip is a smooth, fluid motion, not too unlike a butterfly swimming stroke. It’s vital for our joint health to employ their full range of motion. It strengthens muscles, ligaments and tendons, allows increased blood flow to reduce inflammation and keep scar tissue at bay, and reduces the likelihood of injury when the joint is stressed or torqued.

    As for crossfit in general, I’m just confused by the closed-mindedness and general lack of respect for crossfit movements and workouts. It consists almost entirely of traditional, timeless, fundamental exercises. If your technique is improper, and you injure yourself, that’s your fault. If you are too tired to properly perform any movement, it’s on you to decide whether or not you do it. You want to blame crossfit when you blew out your back attempting a 1.5x body weight clean with your heart pumping at 200 bpm. That’s your fault, not Crossfit’s. Personal accountability is apparently a difficult concept for most of those who posted.

    Crossfit doesn’t cater to each individual. It allows you to determine your maximum capacity. It allows for the most elite athlete to push himself to his or her limit, and the same for a beginner. There are elite athletes who could safely do the clean mentioned above, so crossfit structures the workout to give them that option. The beginner wouldn’t attempt the workout. He’d be working on his technique with a pvc pipe.

    Full range of motion exercise performed at high intensity with varying resistance is supremely beneficial to physical well-being and longevity. It triggers metabolic reactions not engaged in traditional workouts. It reduces injuries in life because the body is better prepared and protected and performs tasks optimally.

    Is it a coincidence that I was plagued by back problems, told by an orthopedic that my spine is way too straight and I should expect life-long back problems, and almost to me the month since I started crossfit 5 years ago, I NEVER feel lower back pain?

    I know I’ve gone way beyond the kipping pullup, but I feel there’s a connection with all of this. This is a subject I’m passionate about and merits a different perspective from you guys.