The kipping pull up is an exercise which has seen increased popularity, as it features heavily within the hugely popular Crossfit fitness program. The exercise’s reputation has increased even further having been used as a core exercise responsible for sculpting the actor’s bodies in the hit action film 300.
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Before progressing any further, it would be a good idea to explain the difference between the Crossfit-style kipping pull up, for which the term is now regularly used, and kipping while performing a regular, or ‘dead-hang’ pull up.
When performing a regular pull up, you move your body in a strict up-down fashion. This primarily works your lats, with your arms being worked secondarily. When we feel these muscles starting to give up due to exhaustion (dead hang pull ups provide an extremely intense workout), we can perform a ‘kicking’ motion, using momentum to assist us in raising our chin over the bar. This practise allows us to bust through plateaus, working harder than would normally be possible.
The Crossfit kipping pull up, on the other hand, uses a kicking and swinging motion as the basis of the exercise itself. When performing the kipping pull up, one effectively uses their entire body to kick and swing, using momentum to propel themselves over the bar repeatedly. Where the dead hang pull up places emphasis upon the lats and back, with the kipping pull up, the work is shared by the entire body, and made significantly less so due to the factor of momentum.
This is not to say, however, that the kipping pull up is an inferior exercise. The reason for this being is that both exercises are designed for two completely different reasons. A dead hang pull up is used by the bodybuilder to pack muscle onto their back at a rapid rate. The kipping pull up, however, is an entire body conditioning exercise, and can be used as an extremely intense cardiovascular exercise.
What do you want to achieve? If piling on muscle is your main priority, then regular, dead hang pull ups would be beneficial. If you’re looking for an extremely effective exercise for increasing cardiovascular endurance, building ‘functional strength’ and losing fat, then kipping pull ups will be right up your alley.
The video above expertly breaks the exercise down into its core parts. Thanks Crossfit!
Start in the regular pull up position. Use an overhand grip with your hands approximately, or slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Assume a dead hang. Thrust forward with your chest and hips. When this happens, your feet should simultaneously be swung back, so that your body creates a slightly ‘outwards’ curve. Now, swing and kick your legs explosively forward, at the same time drawing your upper body back, and pulling upwards, using the momentum to bring your chin above the bar and chest towards the bar. When heading back down, push yourself away from the bar slightly to increase the downwards momentum. Keep the ‘inwards curved’ position, until hitting the midway point, and repeating the motion again.
This undoubtedly will be difficult the first few tries. To ease up the learning process, you can start the exercise at the top, instead of from a dead hang.
Jump upwards and grasp the bar, using the momentum to propel yourself upwards. When you start, give yourself that slight push away from the bar, drop, and perform the motions as described above.
One thing you should be careful of when performing kipping pull ups are your joints. Because of the extra force due to momentum, the exercise can be hard on your shoulders and elbows. Supplementing with glucosamine or other joint health products would be a good idea. Remember, joint health is an extremely important thing to consider! It might not seem like a big concern until you first put your shoulder out – believe us, it hurts!