Kipping pullups are a controversial move. Since you use momentum to pull yourself up, many in the fitness industry view this as a form of “cheating.” Some also view it as a less-controlled movement, with higher chances for injury.
However, kipping pullups are also challenging, can improve endurance and even target muscles that standard pullups can’t, such as the core and lower body.
It’s why they’re the go-to pullup in the CrossFit community.
To help determine if kipping pullups are right for you, this article examines what they are, their benefits, the differences between standard pullups, and more.
Kipping is a way of swinging your body to gain momentum.
A kipping pullup is when you use that momentum to create a “power swing” that drives your chin up and over the bar.
Why are kipping pullups controversial?
Jackie Wilson, CEO & founder of Nova Fitness Innovation, explains why.
“Pullups are hard!” she says. “Those who swear by the standard pullup view kipping as a shortcut, in that, you may be able to perform the movement without the upper body strength necessary to complete an equal number of reps between the two variations.”
There are many comparisons to make with a standard pullup and a kipping pullup.
Standard pullups require slow and controlled movements to lift your body straight up and straight down.
Kipping pullups, on the other hand, are more rhythmic as they require additional movement and momentum.
A standard pullup can be modified for those who find it too difficult. You could have someone hold your legs or use an assisted pullup machine.
A kipping pullup may look tough — especially when you see CrossFit pros do it — but there’s a lot less strength-building going on than you’d think.
This is because fewer muscles are being activated when the power swing gives the body a quick burst of momentum.
A 2018 study confirms this, as it found that there was significantly lower muscle activation in kipping pullups compared to standard pullups.
To come to this conclusion, researchers looked at several muscle groups:
- latissimus dorsi
- posterior deltoid
- middle trapezius
- biceps brachii
You’ll build endurance
Kipping pullups are less about strength-training and more about endurance.
The more repetitions you’re able to do in a short amount of time, the more this will benefit your cardiovascular system.
“This is what makes them perfect for circuit training,” says Sean Light, a registered strength & conditioning coach, postural restoration trainer, and licensed massage therapist.
By training your muscles this way, your endurance will continue to build, making it possible to work out for longer periods of time.
You can get in more repetitions
Speed is on your side with kipping pullups.
This is in comparison to standard pullups, which require slow and controlled movements.
“Completing more reps over a shorter time increases the intensity of a given workout,” explains Wilson.
“As a result, the kipping pullup is better for metabolic training than standard pullups.”
It’s a full body workout
See results faster with a full body workout.
Researchers tested the participants’ upper and lower bodies with surface electromyography and movement kinematics.
The study found that the entire body was activated during the exercise and that more repetitions were possible compared to a standard pullup.
Additionally, the core and lower body muscles were activated significantly more with the kipping pullup.
- It can put too much strain on your shoulders.
- Chances for injury are higher compared to standard pullups.
- This move is not a replacement for standard pullups.
Pushing your body past its limits could come with some serious consequences.
Impingement results when your rotator cuff rubs against the acromion, which is the outer end of the scapula. This usually results in shoulder pain or pressure.
The study found that these high-arm exercises reduce the space in the joint and increase pressure, thereby increasing the chances of shoulder impingement.
While kipping pullups aren’t known to build strength, you should feel the work in your abdominals, arms, legs, and upper back.
“The primary muscle that is being targeted is your latissimus dorsi,” explains Light. “It is the most prominent muscle on your back and quite possibly the most influential muscle in your body.”
Additional muscles at work:
- rhomboids (muscle between the shoulder blades)
- traps (extends from back of the head to neck and shoulders)
- posterior rotator cuff (shoulder)
- Start by hanging from the bar with a tight grip and your arms slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
- To “kip,” swing your legs back first and then forward. Your body will start to swing.
- As your legs swing forward, take advantage of that momentum by pulling yourself up and driving your hips towards the bar.
- Slowly lower yourself down while your legs swing back to the starting position. Repeat.
- Complete as many reps as you can in 30 seconds.
Quick reps are key
It’s important not to waste any time at the end of a rep, says Light. You want to take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle.
This elasticity builds up in the muscle on the descent. By moving into the next repetition faster, it’ll make pulling yourself back up that much easier.
Keep your abs engaged throughout the exercise
This prevents your lower back from having to overcompensate for the abs, which can lead to injury or lower back pain.
Wake up your abs first
You may also want to do some ab exercises beforehand, adds Light.
“This will build some tension in your abs and help stop your back from opening up too much in the exercise.”
Familiarize yourself with standard pullups first
Understanding the basic mechanics of a pullup will make the exercise that much easier — and safer.
From there, Wilson recommends breaking down the movement into single rep sets.
“Perform the movement and slowly lower yourself down,” she says. “This will allow you to not only get used to the movement, but you will build necessary strength by lowering your body slowly.”
Once you’re comfortable with this, you can incorporate kipping pullups into your routine.
Perform a combination of pullups
For a super-charged metabolic workout, Wilson recommends starting with standard pullups and then using kipping pullups to complete the set once your body gets too tired.
Kipping pullups are a challenging, full body exercise that first gained popularity from the CrossFit community.
When done right, they improve endurance, burn calories, and even target muscles that standard pullups can’t, such as the core and lower body.
If your main goal is to build strength, though, you’ll want to focus on the standard pullup.
Make sure you’re engaging your abs and doing the exercise properly to prevent injuries, such as shoulder impingement or lower back issues.