Kipping Pull-Ups Explained

Dan Staton, MS, PES


I would assume most folks know what a pull-up is, but let’s back up a little bit and give a definition of the pull-up using Webster’s definition of “chinning” - “to raise oneself while hanging by the hands until the chin is level with the support.” Very few have heard of a “kipping” pull-up and really don’t know the difference between the two.

At first glance, kipping pull-ups look like cheating – or maybe even a spastic type of pull-up – but they’re not. Kipping pull-ups allow more work to be done in less time, thus increasing power output. It’s also a full-body coordination movement that, when performed correctly, applies more functionally to real-life pulling skills, like pulling back your bow! Last but not least, the hip motion of an effective kip mirrors the motion of the Olympic lifts, adding to its function as a posterior-chain developer (back, glutes and hamstrings). The posterior chain is your main engine if you’re looking at tackling lots of high country! If you’re not convinced that kipping pull-ups hold reverence in the fitness realm, I challenge you to attempt running or jogging without the use of your arms. Running and kipping pull-ups are both movements in which the entire body should be used to perform work, and the results will speak for themselves.

The CrossFit Bias
Most readers of The Get Serious Get Fit! Are probably aware that I co-own and operate two CrossFit facilities in Spokane, Washington. To say that I have a CrossFit bias is probably safe. I bring this to attention because CrossFit has lead the charge in re-introducing kipping pull-ups into fitness workouts. As far as Crossfit is concerned, above all things we care about:  power – defined as work divided by time or, equivalently, (force x distance)/time. The reason we care about power more than strength or endurance is that power output is what taxes the whole human system, and elicits a neuroendocrine response. 

Simply put, power is exactly equal to intensity, and intensity is the shortcut to amazing fitness results! When we increase an individual’s ability to output power, we observe a corollary increase in absolute strength, speed, endurance and stamina. These are the ingredients for real fitness and better bowhunting adventure. If workouts are designed to increase absolute strength, strength is the only area of improvement. Strength is good, but we Crossfitters are greedy and want improvement in all areas of fitness. And so should archers! So, kipping is the way to go most of the time. It’s not about what feels or works the best to you; it's about power output.

How to Perform the Move

I think it’s important to note that when it comes to pull-ups, I’m not concerned with grip, underhand or overhand (supinated or pronated), and neither should you. When you can do 30 pull-ups you won’t care much if the grip is underhand, overhand, wide, narrow or mixed – it all starts to feel the same. The bottom line is to mix it up.

1.  Start from the top of the bar. You can start the kipping pull-up from a dead hang, but if you're new to the exercise, try starting by holding yourself at the top. Jump up and use the upward momentum from the jump to pull yourself all the way up to the bar.

2.  Let yourself drop. This first drop gives you enough momentum to start the kipping pull-up with a little assistance. Pull your hips back and push your shoulders forward while you descend. As you near the bottom of the pull-up, let your body straighten out until your hips are aligned with your torso and your feet are hanging down.

3.  Bounce into the up phase. Using the momentum from the down phase of the pull-up, you should bounce into the up phase. Do so by swinging your feet forward at the beginning of the up phase, but make sure that as your feet come forward your hips stay back. As you near the top of the up phase, your feet will naturally swing back down. When this happens, bring your hips up and out to round out the up phase of the exercise.

4. Push your chest out and swing down. At the very top of the up phase, thrust your chest out as if your are trying to throw yourself – chest-first – over the bar. Then let yourself drop to the down phase again, swinging your feet back behind you as you come down. As you get to the bottom of the down phase, bounce back up to repeat the pull-up.

Kipping pull-ups and their variations are important because they’re:
•    Functional; this movement strength is apparent in everyday life.
•    An essential part of athletic training.
•    As important as any other upper body exercise.
•    A gateway exercise to gymnastic movements.
•    Unique in that there are no replacement exercises.

The goal in your kipping pull-up work is repetition. You want – you need – more pull-ups. The more you can do, the stronger you’ll become. Muscular endurance, stamina, relative strength … whatever you want to define and measure gets better. With the goal being high reps, regular bouts are critical. Get Serious, Get Fit!


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