The Truth About The Kipping Pullup

kipping pullup

Ok, I know it has become somewhat passé to pick on the Crossfit crowd.  From the outside looking in it appears to be a cult, and if you haven’t partaken of the Kool-Aid you may wonder why they do what they do.  And let’s be honest, when you see some of the ridiculous exercise that some Crossfit boxes come up with under the guise of “functional training” it is hard to understand the WHY behind it.

crossfit-bad-form-300x300Having said that, I can assure you that my goal in writing this is not to criticize anyone, or at very least anyone that doesn’t deserve it.  I simply want to give some perspective to a small issue that seems reflective of a much larger societal issue.  It comes down to one simple word…CONTEXT.

Considering the title, you may be wondering where I am going with this.  Think about it though, how many non-crossfit internet warriors, upon seeing a kipping pullup instantly cry foul?  You see it all the time.  They will say “that’s not a real pullup” “they are cheating” and all of the other wonderfully thought out criticisms that you encounter on Youtube and Facebook.

Do people even know what the word cheating means?  Here's a little “Cheat Sheat” (pun intended) for quick reference.

Tiger Woods CheaterYou are a Cheater If…

  • You use drugs in a tested event.
  • You use an aluminum bat in a Major League Baseball Game
  • You “accidentally” kick your ball into the fairway in Golf.
  • You sleep with a Denny's waitress while your Super Model wife is at home with the kids.

ChuckVSquatYou are NOT a Cheater If…

  • You use drugs in a non-tested event.
  • You wear a bench shirt in a competition that allows it.
  • You only squat to parallel in a federation that allows it.

It amazes me that the human brain has evolved to the point that it has, and yet some people are still unable or unwilling to take a moment to think about the context of a situation before voicing their usually unsolicited opinion.  I was recently asked what I thought about the Kipping Pullup.  My response was quite simple “I don’t compete in Crossfit, so it really doesn’t concern me.”  Sometimes life can be as simple as we make it, and for me, the kipping pullup is irrelevant.

“The greatest ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about”

Basically if you are a Crossfit competitor then you need to be efficient at kipping.  Even if you don’t officially “compete” and you simply are a part of that culture then you are expected to kip.  However, if you are NOT part of that world, then the choice to kip or not to kip is entirely yours.  Personally I see no reason to use them since I do not feel they will get me any closer to my personal goals.  But at the same time I am not going to call someone else a cheater if they chose to implement them.  I mean I don’t think it’s a good idea, but then I don’t think skydiving is a good idea…still not my place to tell others not to do it.

As I mentioned in The Truth About Percentage Training article, life is too short to get caught up in nonsense.  Do what makes you happy, but think about WHY you are doing things.   Every exercise in your training program should serve a purpose.  They should work together to systematically get your closer to our goals.  If you are not a Crossfitter then what purpose do Kipping Pullups serve?  Likewise if you are not a Crossfitter then what purpose does arguing about the Kipping Pullup serve?  All it does is waste our most valuable asset, TIME.





  1. neuruss

    Alright, I read a thousand critiques on the net about kipping pull ups (and all the other kipping exercises) and still, I don’t know the truth.

    What I want to know is: Do kipping pull ups develop muscle and strength?
    Do they offer any advantage over strict pullups?
    Are they complementary?
    Or they are useless?

    • Don Johnson

      Yes they develop muscle and strength. You just have to decide what your goals are. The only reason I see to use kipping pullups is if you are training for Crossfit and Kipping is part of the competition.

      • neuruss

        There are training programs such as Freeletics, based on bodyweight exercises, that favor kipping pull ups over strict ones. It seems to me that kipping is more accessible to beginners and that, perhaps, this allows them to get strong enough to tackle the strict ones later. Am I right? Does it make sense?

        • Sam

          No, Kipping pull ups are not a stepping stone exercise. They are actually quite difficult technically and you can easily injure your shoulder doing them with improper form as a beginner.

          The Kipping pull up originally is a gymnastics exercise to help gymnasts train momentum, explosive power and coordination. It makes sense when you look at a Olympic gymnast’s routine. The Kipping movement occurs quite often.

          Crossfit is a mixture of primarily powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, calisthenics, cardio and gymnastics. That’s how the Kipping pull up first came into Crossfit. The reason why it became so popular im Crossfit is because of the set up anf rules of the competitions. Pull ups are added into competitions either for reps or for time. The only rule is often for the chin to clear the bar and that the pull up be performed without aid in the form of equipment. Other than that competitors can perform whatever pull up they prefer. Within those parameters athletes figured out pretty quickly that Kipping pull ups are both fastest and most energy efficient. So that’s why they are used in Crossfit.

          If the competition called for strict pull ups, athletes would perform those but Crossfit is all about functional strength that is transferable to real life situations so a Kipping pull up makes sense then. As a pure muscle and strength builder it is a sub par exercise and Crossfitters always perform strict (weighted) pull ups as well as part of their training.

  2. Linda

    Exactly right when you say “train for YOUR sport”. I had a ballet teacher that even said “if you want to be good at ballet, train only in ballet. Riding a bicycle is a waste of time.” So true.l!


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