Cheating or Honest Hard Work

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As a self declared pull up junkie, I have always been a bit surprised at the ongoing and spirited nature of the debate over kipping vs. regular pull ups. At the core of the conversation seems to be the question about which one is better than the other?

I had to think twice before electing to add my view on the topic. After all, there are serious critics and strong advocates who have taken sides one way or the other. Critics say kipping is cheating and still others advance that the stress placed on the muscles can have real negative side effects. I don’t pretend to be a fitness expert, just an active participant. My views are a result of personal experience and after a little thought decided to jump right in anyway.

The kipping pull up involves a hip snap generating momentum that moves up the spine and into the arms. This lets you lift your body over the bar with less direct pulling. The result is a lot more pull ups. The strict pull up by comparison requires that the body stays rigid and only the joints needed to perform the movement come into play. Dead hang pull ups isolate muscles in the back and and arms while kipping pull ups are a full body exercise. While easier on the direct pulling muscles, they are much harder on the grip and are inarguably more cardiovascular.

Ok, so why the debate over which one is better? I don’t recall any rules posted on the gym wall that says I must do a pull up one way or the other. Are the pull up police on the look out? The idea that doing one variety instead of the other is cheating simply makes no sense to me. Intention and desired benefit seems to be the only appropriate qualifiers here. During my regular work outs, there are days when I’ll do weighted heavy pull ups and others where L- pull ups create the challenge for the day. If I kip while performing these exercises, I suppose I would be cheating myself of the intended advantages. Conversely, if the WOD calls for high volume kipping pull ups and I choose to perform the regular variety instead, I will miss out on the full benefit of the total body, high intensity workout that was programmed.

It wasn’t long ago that I had started working out with a new partner. Because we were so evenly matched in so many ways, our workouts tended to be intense and a little competitive; a perfect situation. He trusted me to program our workouts and I always felt bad about selecting a WOD that included high volume pull up work since he definitely was not the owner of a consistent kip. I recall a day where the classic Crosffit WOD, “Murph” was the workout of choice. I of course, tackled the 100 pull up reps by kipping. My friend completed the work with regular pull up attempts, slowly shifting more toward kipping as the set progressed since maintaining strict form becomes really hard. Did either one of us cheat that day?

What I know is that we both worked really hard……. Obviously, I was able to finish the pull ups quicker, but he made up all of the time on the squats. He has a definite edge on me when it comes to lower body strength and he pushed himself that much harder to ensure we were both heading out the door for the last mile run together.

In my view, pull ups are king, no matter what version you practice. All you really need is the personal will and a pull up bar. The desired benefits vary and doing just one variety exclusively is the only real “cheating” that should enter this conversation. As for honest hard work; you bet…. my friend made this point for me perfectly clear on Friday!

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