How to Improve Your Pull-ups

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One of the biggest developments in the fitness industry within the last decade has been the popularization of the kipping pull-up, as it has become more common with the rise of CrossFit. With its faster cycling time and development of core-to-extremity movement, the kipping pull-up is definitely an effective movement for developing athletes. Furthermore, what about the strict pull-up? What is its role in the grand scheme of training? Is one kind of pull-up superior to the other? How else can I improve my kipping pull-ups (and shave precious seconds off my Fran time)? Let’s take a closer look.

Kipping Pull-ups

Definition of a kipping pullup

Tabata Tidbit: Gymnastics — that is, bodyweight movement in general — is near the base of the CrossFit pyramid, just above metabolic conditioning.
A kipping pull-up builds on the basic strength needed to perform a strict pull-up:

The kipping pull-up is a little more sophisticated than the deadhang pull-up. Done correctly, it involves a hip snap that radiates up the spine and into the arms, effectively lifting the body with minimal upper body pullingJohn Sifferman

Within the context of CrossFit, Greg Glassman advocates for the importance of the kipping pull-up:

Kipping is whole-body, athletic, and demands coordination and agility. It is plyometric, requires flexibility of the shoulders, allows for rapid cycle time, and in totality represents an essential, unique, and powerful core to extremity motor recruitment pattern.

Do More Work Faster

Do More Work Faster
Josh Newman of CrossFit NYC presents several advantages of the kipping pull-up.

On the training side, kipping pull-ups allow people to do a greater volume of work than they might with dead hangs alone. They also allow people to do that same work faster, increasing power output. And they form the basis of more advanced movements – like clapping pull-ups and muscle-ups – that are initially much harder to learn from just the strict pull-up, and that we think are hugely beneficial training stimuli.

On the building block side, we think the kipping pull-up is simply a more athletic movement, and can be better applied in real world contexts, where efficiency matters. It also reflects what we find to be a general principle of effective movement: generating power in the stronger, larger muscles in the middle of the body, then extending that power out towards the extremities.

Improving Your Kipping Pull-up

Two themes emerge from these gymnastics experts: maintain a hollow body position and control the kip with your upper body, not your hips.
When in doubt, check a gymnast – or a gymnastics coach – out for tips on how to perform kipping pull-ups safely and more efficiently. As with any gymnastics movement, doing kipping pull-ups well requires a combination of coordination and strength (thus the importance of developing foundational strength through the strict pull-up).

  • Jeff Tucker presents an excellent instructional video on kipping pull-ups. He teaches the kipping pull-up from “a gymnastics purist” perspective, “without the introduction of angles created by a violent hip drive.” Instead, he teaches initiating and controlling the momentum of the kip by using the upper body.
  •  Carl Paoli and Kelly Starrett look at the kipping pull-up in terms of the athlete’s ability to maintain a neutral hollow position from head to toe while moving. As Carl performs a kipping pull-up at medium speed and then accelerates to a high rep, high cycling movement, he uses less leg movement and more upper body movement to maintain the kip. They note that athletes tend to suffer shoulder and elbow problems when they are unable to maintain a neutral hollow position.
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