Cut the kip and just pull

Posted on March 29, 2011. Filed under: Exercise | Tags: , , , , , , |

The other day someone brought up kipping pull ups.

Biases up front I am not in favor of them, at all.

Nothing against them or those who use them, but I see no point in using that particular tool.

For those not familiar the kipping pull up was popularized by CrossFit.  CrossFit gyms use a kipping pull-up and chin-up fairly regularly. This is a pull-up initiated by a body swing and a hard pull to the chest. In other words, it’s much different from strict pull-ups from a dead hang, which are often used by CrossFitters as warm-up exercises. Kipping pull-ups, with the momentum and body English, allow for higher reps. So they can be used to increase volume of reps or sets for that matter.  Which given the ‘philosophy’ of CrossFit seems to fit.

Personally I think a regular pull-up is better for muscle development and base strength development. But the kippings could be seen as nice variations to keep in the toolbox, along with jump squats, push presses, and other dynamic moves with traditional exercises.  I would not start a new client on them until they have the basics down.  The basics of both technique and strength.

The rule of thumb for plyometrics is typically you don’t start a full-out program till strength base is established.  Squatting 1.5x the body-weight before beginning a lower body program, and pressing 1-1.5x the body-weight for upper body work.  A kipping pull up is a speed exercise.  Nothing wrong with that, but not a good choice when one is learning to pull.  The reason for this is physics.

I will keep this simple as I am not a physics professor  🙂

The idea behind any dynamic movement is to increase power.  Power is equal to force x velocity.  And force is equal to mass x acceleration.  Speed relates to distance traveled divided by time.  And velocity is obtained by dividing the displacement by the time taken so for example a runner in a 100m race . . . let me start over.  Even simpler.

As one is kipping they are increasing the speed of their movement.  Which as we can understand relates to acceleration and force.  Faster we go, the more force we produce.  Which depending on your goal can be a good thing.  But you are only as strong as your weakest link.  And as I mentioned in a previous blog, my clients usually have a few.  In fact most people do.  Kipping or any other dynamic movement before one has the foundation is an invite to injury, plain and simple.

I’m sure there are exceptions out there who started off doing kippings without any foundation of pull-ups, lat pulldown, or rows.  And never had any joint issues.  But I haven’t met one yet.  And doubt I will.

So I will stick to the basics.  Call me old-fashioned.  That being said lets cover the basics.  Because a lot of folks out there are not quite grasping the technique involved.

Let’s get into it, shall we.

First, the chin-up should really be called a chest-up, if for no other reason than to remind guys to keep pulling even after their chin passes the bar. And many of us who know how to do a pull-up may not be able to do enough of them to get all the benefits they offer in terms of building strength, upper-body muscle mass.  And this is just based on the form.

Your body is all about maintaining homeostasis, the physiological status quo you might say.   So it will take the path of least resistance whenever given the opportunity.  SO if you don’t pull those shoulders back and aim your chest for the bar your body will pull with every muscle it can without actually recruiting in full the muscle you want to use, the upper back.

How many pull-ups should you be able to do?  I think everyone should be able to do at least one, that’s guys and girls.  As a set goal for long-term, I would say 12.

Now some might ask aren’t pull downs just as good? Actually. No.

In the long run, pull-ups are definitely better, as they greatly increase the role of your shoulders and contributing stabilizers. The problem is that very few people do pull-ups correctly. If you can’t get your chest to the bar, you aren’t ready for chins or pull-ups. And if that’s the case, the lat pull down can help you bridge the gap. But only if you do it right. And the problem of it is, a lot of people don’t even do lat pull downs correctly. Don’t believe me? Watch the action at the lat-pull down station in your commercial gym for a few minutes. You’ll see either women pulling the bar down to their stomachs or men stopping their reps six inches short of their eyebrows because they don’t want to reduce the weight.

Most of these mistakes in technique I find to be unconscious.  I find for women many are not used to, or comfortable with, sticking out there chest first of all.  So I often have to remind them to “think superhero.”  Chest out, shoulders back.  A female client mentioned to me she felt that was why many women can never get to the point where they can do a pull-up sooner than later.   they have not yet mastered th posture to use their larger stronger muscles.

I find the same goes for men, only it is more so because they have a job which they do with a rounded posture, and have merely got comfortable with this approach.

You can practice the correct form right now with air pull downs. Sit up straight, think superhero, pretend you’re grabbing the bar using the same grip you’d use on a pull-up or pull down, hands just beyond shoulder-width apart. Now pull your shoulder blades together and down as you bring the imaginary bar to your upper chest. Some trainers will recommend pulling to your neck to keep the form tighter. The idea is to exaggerate so when you pull toward the goal of the neck, you end up at the upper chest. You should feel as if you’re pushing your chest out to meet the bar. If your chest isn’t moving out, if all the action is in your shoulders and lats, you aren’t doing it right.

Once you have that movement mastered on the lat pull down, it’s time to move onward and upward.

Here are some tips to get the most out of your chin-up or pull-up:

  1. Eliminate any swinging of the body (assuming you aren’t performing a kipping chin-up). Again I am sure there is an argument for using momentum to gain volume on the muscle, and getting more reps than normal, and whatever else excuse people give for not wanting to teach proper technique. However, for now we want to eliminate swing and momentum to perform a well executed pull-up. This ensures that you’re maximally engaging and taxing the proper muscles, not relying on momentum to get your reps. If you can’t do a chin-up without swinging, grab some power bands, work more on the lat pulldown, work on handstand push-ups, and further build your foundation.
  2. Bring your sternum to the bar. Aiming for your sternum rather than your chin encourages you to pull more with your back and less with your biceps. This will also get your scapulae in the right position, reinforcing scapulae stability.
  3. Stay as tight and stable as possible during the chin-up. This turns the chin-up into an incredible full body exercise that is fantastic for increasing core stabilization.
  4. Bend your legs back. I know this may sound silly, but I highly encourage bending your legs back so your knees are pointed toward the floor.  I find this further encourages proper posture and muscle recruitment

Hope this clears up a few things for those reading.




Best Health,

Coach W


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