Kipping Pull Ups versus Standard Pull Ups

A good way to start an argument at your local gym is to mention kipping pull ups. Even so, I’m going to dive in and see what happens.

In this article I’ll talk about

  • kipping pull ups versus standard pull ups
  • why people do kipping pull ups
  • why the opposition to kipping pull ups
  • how to do kipping pull ups properly

You can find other articles about pull ups and pull up bars here:

Best pull up bars for your home gym
Best power towers
How to do perfect pull ups
12 reasons to do pull ups
Pull ups for beginners

Kipping Pull Ups Versus Standard Pull Ups

Let’s start by defining the standard pull, also called a strict pull, military pull up, or dead hand pull up.

The following quote is from the War Department Field Manual FM 21-20 dated January 1946:

Starting Position. Hanging at full length from the bar with arms straight. The forward grasp is used with the palms turned away from the face.

Movement. Pull up until the chin is above the level of the bar. Then lower the body until elbows are completely straight. Continue for as many repetitions as possible.

Instructions. The men should be told that it is permissible to raise the legs and flex the hips when pulling up but not to kick or execute a jerking motion with trunk or legs. The body must be kept from swinging. The chin must be raised above the bar. The arms must be completely straight at the bottom of the movement.

not kipping pull ups from FM 21-20 1946

Clearly the U.S. Army was requiring soldiers to pull themselves up using only their muscles and little or no momentum from swinging.

By way of contrast, here is how T-Nation defines a kipping pull up: “A kipping pull-up is when you use a leg swing and hip snap to propel the body upward, helping you get your chin over the bar. It drastically decreases the force production required of the arms to get up to the bar.”

In the following short video, Jessica Cote-Beaudoin demonstrates a standard pull up, a kipping pull up, and a butterfly pull up. The butterfly pull is a variation of the kipping pull up.

Why People Do Kipping Pull Ups

Kipping pull ups allow a person to do more pull ups more quickly while using less upper body strength.

Since kipping pull ups give CrossFit competitors an advantage, that is their pull up of choice. It quickly gets their chin over the bar and that’s what they need to have credit for doing a pull up.

Why The Opposition To Kipping Pull Ups

Opposition to kipping pull ups comes in 2 major forms.

1. It’s not a standard pull up. Well, yeah. It’s not meant to be a standard pull up. So this objection is meaningless.

2. There is too high of an injury risk.

This objection seems more important. Did you watch the above video? It’s easy to believe that the kipping pull is putting more stress on the shoulders and back than a dead hang pull up.

You can minimize your injury risk by only do kipping pull ups after you can do strict pull ups.

Again, quoting from T-Nation:

So, do not perform kipping pull-ups until you can get a decent amount of strict pull-ups, performed from a dead-start and with a pause at the top of each rep.

How many? At least five. Doesn’t sound like much? Well, try it. Start from a dead hang. Pull yourself up with zero momentum, bring your chin above the bar, hold for two seconds. Lower yourself under control back into a dead hang and repeat four more times. Much tougher than it looks.

It’s not enough to be able to lift your body; you must be able to fully control the load in all phases of the movement – lifting, lowering and both transitions. If you can’t do that, you have no business doing kipping pull-ups.

The most important point he is making is the need to be able to move your body in a controlled way. Once you can do that, you decrease your injury risk from kipping pull ups.

How To Do Kipping Pull Ups Properly

The other way to reduce your injury risk from doing kipping pull ups is to do them with proper form.

In this short video they give these tips about how to do kipping pull ups:

  • Hands a bit more than shoulder width apart
  • Full grip on the bar (thumbs under the bar)
  • Start hanging with arms extended
  • Initiate swing with the shoulders
  • Alternate between arched and hollow positions
  • Drive hips toward the bar while in the hollow position
  • At the same time, push down on the bar with straight arms
  • Rapidly extend hips, then pull with your arms
  • Pull until your chin is higher than the bar
  • Start descent by pushing away from the bar.

If you are serious about doing kipping pull ups, then watch the following video carefully:

The video features former competitive gymnast Jaci Long.

Jaci says you should be able to do 1 dead hang pull up (standard pull up) before trying kipping.

She then takes you step-by-step through the parts of a kipping pull up. She also provides several exercises you can practice as you learn how to do kipping pull ups.