Why People Are Too Critical Of Kipping Pull Ups

There is a debate that has continued to rage on for quite some time over whether the kipping pull up is actually a pull up or not.  It does look enormously silly and it is not performed in the strict pull up way, but should it really be completely discounted?  In the following post that is what I want to discuss and my reasons why you should consider doing kipping pull ups.

First off, let’s look at what a kipping pull up actually is, so we are all on the same page.

What Actually Is A Kipping Pull Up?

A Cross Fit movement, the kipping pull up involves a hip snap and a leg swing to push your body upward, to help you get your chin over the bar.  Because of the way it is executed, it reduces the force required to get your chin above the bar.  Additionally, there is also an alternative version known as the butterfly kip pull up which utilises a continued motion to get through reps even quicker.  It relies on momentum and reflex to move your body through the air.

Of all the different aspects of Cross Fit that seem to come under fire from the larger and wider fitness community, the one that is truly divisive is the kipping pull up.  Let’s look at the two main criticisms of this controversial exercise move.

Kipping Pull Ups Are Wrong Because They Aren’t Real Pull Ups

The first criticism people direct at kipping pull ups is that they are wrong because they are not real pulls ups.  While it is not true, it’s not really a criticism and more of an observation.  Talk about stating the obvious.  Strict pull ups and kipping pull ups are completely different movements with different goals.  It’s not necessarily a mark against the kip.  While strict pulls are for building strength, they do not require a lot of momentum and power production and do not require an almost over the top need to be technically proficient.  Kipping pull ups fall on the other side of things.

Kipping pull ups could be seen as a means to an end.  They are often used in programming and competition for competition standard athletes because sometimes you just need to pull yourself up to touch your chest to the bar as many times as you can in the shortest duration of time.

The athletes performing kipping pull ups are not doing it because it is a proper exercise movement.  Kipping pull ups are actually highly technical and when they are used as an exercise movement, that provides a brutal anaerobic workout for the musculature of your upper body.  They are the equivalent of the 100 m sprint for your arms.  They aren’t meant to be used for building muscle mass and strength.

Kipping Pull Ups Are Very Dangerous

Kipping Pull Ups Are Dangerous

Again, this is very true.  Kipping pull ups can be very dangerous, if you are not very good at doing them.  The problem is that many people look at kipping pull ups with a complete lack of understanding of shoulder mechanics and assume that it would hurt their shoulders to try the manoeuvre.  They then come to the decision that it must be bad for everyone’s shoulders, regardless of time or any other factor.

Generally, these people are correct.  Kipping would hurt hurt them because they have inefficient and jacked up posture.  Their shoulders probably hurt from just sitting down and existing.  But given the strength and mobility requisite, correctly performed kipping pull ups are actually easier on your strict, slow moving pull ups for 2 major reasons.

Firstly, most of the pulling is actually performed while the upper half of your body is closer to being positioned completely horizontally rather than vertically.  This makes for a more stable, stronger and overall healthier pulling position for your shoulder because you are not pulling from directly above it.  Secondly, the bottom of the kip, the fully extended lockout, is another very stable position for your shoulder to be in.  It is actually very similar to the catch position of a snatch or a jerk.  This is not merely a funny coincidence.

Many people will claim it is very easy to dislocate your shoulder if you do kipping pull ups.  However, if that were true you’d see a lot more people dislocating their shoulders when doing overhead presses.  Although this does happen, it is not nearly regular enough to suggest it is a real problem.

By far the most common dislocations happen when the arm is in the cocking position (around 90 degrees of elbow flexion and 90 degrees of abduction in terms of anatomical positioning) and something his the hand hard and forces it back.  This causes an anterior dislocation of your humeral head and can often cause serious damage to the soft tissue.  It should be pointed out, that this is not a position you should ever find yourself in if you are doing any of these exercises.  If you find yourself in this position, you are doing the exercises wrong.

Why You Should Consider Doing Kipping Pull Ups

Ask anyone who has worked in the rehabilitation of athletes if kipping pull ups are extremely dangerous and need to be avoided at all costs, and you may find that they laugh at you.  Consider this point – throwing is really very bad for your shoulders.

Throwing and baseball are bad for your shoulders,.  However, you will never see a fitness guru online telling you the 10 reasons why you should avoid pitching the ball.  They don’t do that, because they would sound ridiculous.  It is exactly the same with swinging a golf club.  The golf swing takes its toll on your joints, as is the posture of a volleyball player in ready position or almost all of the time a field hockey player spends on the playing field.

Kipping pull ups are actually a lot less dangerous than these other movements.  Ask anyone who has worked with athletes recovering from injuries how many they have helped recover from injuries associated with kipping pull ups, and we will be surprised if you find anyone who has ever had to help anyone with those kinds of injuries.  You are more likely to hear about people who injured themselves doing overhead pressing and flat barbell bench presses than overhead pulling.

The efficacy of exercises is all contextual.  The purpose of any movement you perform should mirror the actual task you have in hand.  Therefore, if you are not doing Cross Fit, there is no real reason to do kipping pull ups.  The main reason for doing kipping pull ups is intertwined with Cross Fit and competitions especially, but that still doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from doing them.

The jury is still out on just how dangerous they are, but really any sport from golf and baseball to football and soccer contain far more dangerous movements than kipping pull ups.  Think about that before you dismiss doing kipping pull ups.

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