A few weeks ago, I spotted a post on a blog that caught my attention. “CrossFit Girl gets her first pull-up! Watch the video here.” Given my love affair with pull-ups (remember the t-shirt?) I have a special place in my CrossFit heart for women who finally accomplish that goal. To this day, I still consider my first pull-up to be my proudest CrossFit moment ever. So I clicked on the video link, giddy with anticipation… and was immediately disappointed. Because CrossFit Girl’s first “pull-up” was a kipping pull-up. And in my gym, that simply does not count.
I am well aware that the official CrossFit pull-up is the kipping pull-up. I understand the benefit of the movement, and how it is used in our workouts. But a kipping pull-up is NOT a pull-up, just like a push-press is NOT a press. They are two separate and distinct movements, used for different purposes. For clarification, a “pull-up” starts from a dead hang (arms straight), and progresses without any swing or momentum until your chin comes over the bar. I don’t care which grip you use – overhand, underhand or mixed are all legit. But unless the above criteria is met, you have not done a pull-up.
It vexes me to no end when women work their kipping pull-ups before they have a single dead-hang. I think the drive to get a “pull-up” is so strong that women are willing to sacrifice true strength and even risk injury just to stake their claim to pull-up fame. But prioritizing your kipping ahead of a dead hang pull-up is bad business, for a few reasons.
First, kipping pull-ups require strength and stability in the shoulder girdle. The momentum generated by the open and closed positions of the swing is enough to seriously tax the muscles, joints and connective tissue, especially if there is not a basic level of strength in those areas. Putting someone on a pull-up bar and encouraging them to swing and pull before their bodies are physically up for the task is simply irresponsible, and risks injury. Tucker preaches this at every Gymnastics Cert – kipping pull-ups should not be introduced until the trainee demonstrates the controlled strength necessary for the movement. That demonstration comes in the form of a properly executed dead hang pull-up.
Second, the entire point of pull-ups is to build strength. While the kipping pull-up does improve strength to a degree, it is certainly not as valuable to strength gains as working dead hang pull-ups. It is entirely possible that a well coordinated trainee can achieve five or even ten consecutive kipping pull-ups and still not be able to perform a single dead hang. In that instance, the thing you’ve most improved is transferring the momentum from the swing into the movement. You certainly have not become as strong as you would be, had you worked to achieve even half number of dead hang pull-ups.
Finally, as a woman, I am pretty sensitive to some people’s reactions when I talk about the things I can do in the gym. While at a party this summer, I was talking about CrossFit, and mentioned to a new acquaintance that I do pull-ups every day. The guy I’m talking to looks at me with a smirk and says, “Yeah, right.” So when I jumped up on the ceiling beam and started cranking out gorgeous, no-momentum, dead hang to chin-over-beam pull-ups (in my party dress and 3″ stilettos)… he shut up fast. That demonstration TRANSLATED. Now, if I had jumped up there and started swinging away, he probably would have been less than impressed. And arguing that “kipping is the official CrossFit pull-up” would only have come off as defensive. So if I’m going to run around town saying, “I’m a girl doing pull-ups”… I sure as hell better be able to back that up, without leaving ANY room for question as to my form or strength.
But Melissa, you may say, there are benefits to working the kip! Are you saying to give it up altogether? Not at all. If I have a woman who is darn close to chin over bar, I may have her add some kipping work to help get her over the hump. And the swing portion of a kipping pull-up is a great shoulder opener, and can help you improve your stability, grip and timing when it comes time to start working the movement. So if a trainee has the basic strength to hang from the bar for a full minute, I may have her start working on just the swing. The point I am making is this – play it smart, play it safe, and play it strong. Keep working on your pull-ups, but make any kipping related work secondary to your dead hang efforts.
I do want to congratulate CrossFit Girl on her first kipping pull-up. It’s a tough movement, and she should be proud of herself. But for the CrossFitters training with us at the 603, I want you to be strong – and strong by ANY standard. So before you get up on that bar and start swinging away, you’d better show me a really pretty dead hang. You’re gonna have to earn that “Got Pull-Up” t-shirt.
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Outstanding and thorough post, Coach. I can never hear too much about correct push-up protocol. Thank you!!
Thank you for the tips, I’m still working on getting my (first) pull-up, so to me this is really helpful!
Great minds think alike! http://crossfitvirtuosity.com/blogs/articles/128-10-ways-to-perfect-pullups
Brian DeGennaro says
Two thumbs up! Takes the words right out of my mouth.
Patrick Haskell says
I get what you’re saying, Byers, but you state your case too strongly. There is tons of benefit to working a kipping pullup, even at the beginning stages, and it is just as “legitimate” a pullup as your deadhang, party tricks notwithstanding. Sure, you don’t want to go overboard and swing your shoulders into oblivion, but a deadhang is not half the shoulder girdle strengthener that a kip is. That swinging and pulling motion is what makes the shoulder girdle strong. You just need to tackle it with control, just like any exercise. Deadhangs stregthen parts of the shoulder, lats, and arms, but they don’t work the shoulder through the same ROM as a kip.
BTW, every kid kows that the point of pull-ups is to be able to see over walls and to help you use your legs to climb things. The kip transfers core strength to pulling/climbing strength. It is functional in application, and it is functional in the way it builds integrated strength through the upper body. It is every bit as valuable and more to building strength than the deadhang.
The kip may not be as simple and perhaps not the very first place to go, when looking to develop a trainee’s strength, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with getting one before the deadhang. Have your athletes work the kip swing. When you add a band, core strength and, over time, increased shoulder girdle strength can be used to overcome weaknesses in the arms and get that first pullup, and it will be every bit as legitimate as your first pullup.
Nice provocative post. You haven’t done this well since that bit about not doing freestanding handstands.
Melissa Byers says
I’m not saying, anywhere, that working a kip has no value. I’m saying that you don’t get to work them until you show me you have the strength and control on a bar to handle the dynamic aspects of the movement. A beginner has no ability to tackle it “with control”. That’s my point – they haven’t yet built the strength NECESSARY to control the movement.
And to say that working the kip is more valuable to building strength than working the dead hang (or variations thereof) is crazy talk. If that were the case, these ladies with 10 consecutive kips should then be able to handle a single, lightly weighted pull-up with ease. But they can’t. Because the momentum generated by a really hard swing or a really ugly frog kick is the ONLY thing getting them over the bar.
A kipping pull-up is NOT a legitimate first pull-up in my box. It’s good to be the boss.
Patrick Haskell says
So some people can kip and not do a deadhang. They have a specific weakness that needs to be addressed. I can clean 210#, but my curl isn’t anywhere near what it was 10 years ago. Am I somehow not stronger?
Melissa Byers says
Working just the kipping pull-up will make you stronger.
Prioritizing your dead hang pull-ups, and variations thereof, will make you stronger-er.
Where’s Struck when I need him?
Patrick! Talk about overstating your case! Geezze man, back away from the coffee… ;)
I am going to attempt to put this in very simple and very base terms…
Get a dead hang first… Then get several… It is a very important first step in gaining a safe and strong ROM before trying to move toward a kipping swing chin up.
Notice the key word here was safe, then strength, then kipping… The reason for this approach is that if you have control and strength in a dead hang ROM – then you will be able to safely perform one before the other.
Far too many times I have read or heard stories of those who attempt a kipping swing before ready to do so and merely risk great injury or become injured… And for me the question is, why take the risk of a momentum movement like the kipping swing… if you cannot control the ROM or load created in such a move.
Point is – you should not allow others to run such risks of injury performing any ranges of motion they have not developed strength for in the first place… Meaning – lets say they attempt a first kipping swing and they get lucky and rise above a lower level to a higher level (such as above the bar); which is what a kip allows you to do – but then the person has no strength to control the negative movement on the lower end of the return trip of a kipping swing and they simply shoot so far down that the shoulder girdle becomes compromised and damaged. What then? Do we just say – ooops? The dead hang will allow a person to work both positive and negative control and thus gain control and strength. Safely. If they cannot do so with their own ability – what do we do – we scale it with bands until they can… If you push such a newbie straight to kipping swings without strength and control you are merely being negligent…
You mention core strength – what happens if they do not have proper core strength – do you simply say – just get up there and kip the crap out of it? Hell no you don’t, you develop that core so it transfers nicely into the movement of a kipping swing… Thats core gets tight – you get strong in your core to control the load created in a gymnastic kipping movement. Don’t you? You damned right you do.
I think that is what MB is trying to express and she does so well and without controversial points…
She stated it very simply really – you get control and strength before progressing to a move that requires control and strength that a kipping swing requires! She never said you would not be able to do kips, or add them to your WO’s?
In our gym – strength first, then metcon, period!
BTW – if you look at the RX workouts, none of them say do kipping chin ups. For example: Angie merely says do 100 chin ups in it – does it not?
Just my humble thought – but I am more about safety in these workouts and strength gains first… I think far too many folks are about “time” and “just get up there and do it approach”!!!
MUch Love to ALL,
Bob Guere says
I’m with you on this one MB!
I got my first dead-hang pullup last week. I was estatic! I have been able to do kipping pullups since day 1 with CFOmaha, but the reason is that I was a gymnast for 14 years, so that movement is very natural for me. Now I am not a trainer, so I won’t comment on what I think is better or worse, but I do have to say that getting that first dead-hang pullup for me was a huge accomplishment. Wish I had a video of it…
Gant Grimes says
Right on. Starting with a kip is even more dangerous to overweight novices who are also weak.
The “official” pullup designation is amusing.
mike alley says
Prefacing “dead hang” with “legitimate” implies that a kipping pull up is less than legitimate. If in fact you are striving for consistency in your argument- that the moves are two distinctly different ones, you should drop “legitimate” from the phrase.
Very interesting- especially for a girl that is still using bands doing kipping pull-ups, and hasn’t done a ‘dead-hang’ pull-up (or attempted) since day 2 of crossfit. And also from someone who is currently having shoulder issues.
There’s some really interesting discussion here on what constitutes a ‘pull-up’ but to be honest I’d be pretty stoked for either.
So thanks for giving the tips and tricks. I think the dead hangs will be a lot easier on my shoulder, so I’m going to start incorporating them into my warm-up again.
Melissa Byers says
You make a great point, and I’ve edited the post to more clearly state my case. Thanks for the feedback.
And those are some nice t-shirts! Do they come in women’s sizes?
As for you, Bee, from what I saw, your kipping on the bands looked good, but those bands are REALLY strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were moving your body in ways your shoulders did not intend (or like). Get back to the dead hang action – I’m sure Jack Bauer would tell you the same thing. And keep me posted as to your progress!
Lovin’ the post. I can’t tell you how many time I see people doing half-pullups or kipping pullups without being able to do good old fashioned dead-hangs.
Hearing someone intelligently describe the reasoning and theory behind why it’s important to be able to do dead-hangs prior to kips is refreshing!
Dallas Hartwig says
Tuck, thanks for weighing in. At your gymnastics cert that I recently attended (and LOVED, by the way!), I was glad to hear that you prioritized moderate-speed, CONTROLLED strength moves ahead of simply blasting ahead (at the expense of joints and connective tissues) in order to “achieve” certain CF standards – like pullups. As a physical therapist, I “get” what you’re saying about using bodyweight as a load to strengthen force-producing contractile structures (muscles!) versus relying primarily on stretch reflexes and elastic rebound of connective tissue as a way to produce force. You said it very, very well. Thanks for your awesome contribution to the CF community.
Patrick, I don’t know if I could disagree with you much more, but I’ll resist the urge to belabor my point. Referring to your kids-using-kipping argument, have you ever used a kipping pullup to climb a wall or fence? I doubt it. Mostly because it’s pretty much impossible. Ultimately, we do pullups to do muscle-ups to climb up onto things, just like we do front squats and deadlifts so we can do cleans so we can pick up heavy stuff. There has to be some functional application of the movement, and dead-hang pullups are as functional a movement as I can think of, squats notwithstanding. So much for not belaboring the point.
Thank you for your timely post. I just got my very first pullup last Friday. I got #2 and #3 yesterday. They are not deadhangs – but neither are they entirely kipping. THey’re sort of a weird hybrid. My kip only gets me about half way there – the rest is all strength, but I am super excited to be able to get my chin over the bar in any way shape or form.
I am still working towards a deadhang; I just can’t quite seem to get through the first few inches. If I start with bent arms, even just slightly, I can get the full ROM. So it’s close. I just need to spend more time working the bottom few inches and teaching my back to engage.
Well said, Melissa.
From experiences in my early days (listen to me, as though I’m a long-term vet!) of CrossFit, starting with the kipping pullup is not always the best course of action. While the power issue cannot be denied, the potential for injury for many beginners definitely exists. Jack “Ninja” Bauer can tell you a story about that…
Along the “great minds” idea, before I left that Martone Kettlebell cert I bought the one DVD that I saw as being extremely helpful to me at my level with my goals – his Tactical Athlete Pull-up System. I hope that helps improve the quality/quantity of “strict” pull-ups for myself as well as for those whom I train.
Now if only he would put out a “stupid kettlebell tricks” DVD…
Melissa Byers says
Brooklyn in the house! Thanks for dropping in, Moon. I was hoping Jack Bauer would contribute, since he’s the one always yelling at me to get my dead hang numbers up.
Rebecca – congrats on your pull-ups! You ARE close, and one of these days really soon you’re just going to put it all together with no momentum at all. Good for you for working so hard!
Kevin Daigle says
holy shit, the haterade is brewing something fierce in here.
Pull-ups have always been one of my weakest links…..I’m not a light dude, in fact I’ve NEVER been lighter than 185-ish in my lifting career.
That being said…..I could also DO dead-hangs. However, I could only do 3-4. Right now I bet I could only do 5 to 8 palms away….probably several more palms facing. It took me 4 months to get a kip on my own at the globo and finally did…..now its gone to poo in the last couple of weeks for some reason, which I’m working on. In any case I normally do 1-3 dead hangs before I start a workout with kips in it just to loosen up……and subconsciously to provide some credibility among the DB’s watching that I can actually do a regular pull-up…..not that we should care about that…..but whatever.
I rarely do strict pullups, I kip any time they come up in a metcon which is quite often.
I can DO a deadhang, maybe 5 of them…
does this mean I shouldn’t be doing kipping pullups as much as I do? And/or doing deadhangs more?
but there is no way I could get through something like Barbara with strict pulls.
Okay, I have come to the conclusion that I am completely bass-ackwards on pullups.
I cannot kip well. My kip looks like a dying fish flopping around on a boat deck. And that’s after months of practice.
I can, however, deadhang. I haven’t done pullups in two months because of an elbow injury, but I jumped up to the bar a couple of nights ago and knocked out 10 deadhangs.
First, kipping pull-ups require strength and stability in the shoulder girdle. The momentum generated by the open and closed positions of the swing is enough to seriously tax the muscles, joints and connective tissue, especially if there is not a basic level of strength in those areas.
I think this may be the crux of my problem. Obviously, I have the strength to do pullups. But the wild swinging I have come to associate with kips makes me nervous because of past shoulder injuries. In the back of my mind, I am always wondering if I’m going to sublux my shoulder when I’m doing them.
Allison Bojarski, CFNYC says
Preach on, sister. You took the words right out of my mouth. Oh, and, by the way, Melissa, you keeping writing stuff like this and I’ll have to link you EVERY DAMN DAY on my blog.
Melissa Byers says
My point was this – if you can’t yet do a single pull-up (in any fashion), it means you need to get stronger. And the BEST and SAFEST way to get stronger is to work your dead hangs.
If you have dead hangs AND kips, then what you choose to work on depends on your goals. My kipping is limited by my strength – I have a pretty smooth Tucker-approved gymnastics kip, but my pull fizzes out quick after about 10. So I’m working my dead hangs and weighted pull-ups hard. If you’re using kips primarily for metabolic conditioning, then you might work to make them more efficient. (Although I’ll always argue that you could be stronger, in which case I’ll tell you to continue working your dead hangs.)
Jenn, the kip requires strength AND flexibility throughout the chest and shoulder girdle. And the swing is actually quite controlled (and safe), as long as you maintain total body tension throughout the whole movement. There should be nothing “wild” about it… although without coaching, I can see how it would be easy to just start swinging away. That’s how I started, before I began working with Tucker. Ouch. Clearly you don’t have a strength issue, but on top of your injury, you may have flexibility and/or form issues as well.
Allison – I could think of no higher compliment. :)
Would you argue the same for muscle ups? No kipping MU until one has the strength for a strict?
Melissa Byers says
Well, that Tucker guy who runs the gymnastics certs says there’s no such thing as a “kipping muscle-up” or a “kipping ring dip”. ;) I think the argument is the same – if you don’t have the proper strength and control necessary – ESPECIALLY on a dynamic plane like rings – then violently tossing yourself up there might not be the safest move.
“Well, that Tucker guy who runs the gymnastics certs says there’s no such thing as a “kipping muscle-up” or a “kipping ring dip”. ;) I think the argument is the same – if you don’t have the proper strength and control necessary – ESPECIALLY on a dynamic plane like rings – then violently tossing yourself up there might not be the safest move.”
ummm this is a quote right out of my cert for gymnastics…
you know – from that Tucker guy!!!! LOL
Hmmm…I’m gonna have to think about this some more but for now I think it is the same exercise. Its just that a kipping pull up and a strict pull up are just two variations of one exercise- they are not mutually exclusive. I guess your argument would be valid if you assumed the standard is a strict and a kipping is a variation of it. But then again someone could say that a kipping is standard etc. However, this is a blog and you can make whatever standards you like. I might be wrong but I’m just thinking out loud. Its still a great article. Cool picture by the way.
Charis – the standard is set… The workouts say – pull ups… No kip mentioned in any of them… But this has always been a point of contention with me…
Now – if the WOD said Kipping swing pull ups X 100 I think you got a valid point.
This topic always brings out good conversation…
PS – Dallas, thanks for the very kind words. I am very glad to see your opinion on this and feel that someone in your profession has valid content to add. I cannot tell you how great it was to meet you and get to work with you… Also I like the way you listened and challenged me on many fronts as a coach. I hope I lived up to my answers and abilities. You can come be my demo guy anytime…
one more thing… i say there is no such thing as a kipping ring dip, or kipping HSPU! meaning… i really think of these two as bastardized movements entirely… bad form will lead to bad movements and can lead to injury! that is why i don’t approve of the so called kipping ring dip or kipping HSPU…
what is next? kipping over head squat? where does that crap stop. if you don’t have the form, strength, or ROM – you scale it
you can kip in a muscle up,,, but the difference between a strict muscle up and a kipping muscle up are night and day!
Melissa Byers says
Who the hell is “Beyers?” I love you, but you are a horrible speller. Either that or you type too fast. What time is it in Australia, anyway? ;)
Seriously – thanks for weighing in, Tuck. It’s always nice to hear from you.
I seem to have the opposite problem of many posters (and the same Jenn), I can only do a few more kipping than I can dead-hang. My best dead-hang is 11 or 12 in a set, and my best kipping is 15. When coaches watch me, they say I mute the second part of the kip and rely on strength to pull myself to the bar, and as the reps add up I don’t push away hard enough and kind of go into a frog kick type motion. I’ve been working at it for months but can’t seem to make much improvement (there are no affiliates here so I can only get in CF gyms when I travel for work).
Any tips for this type of problem?
Re: Kipping on other movements, I’m with the esteemed Tucker on this one (loved the Australia cert video the other day by the way). I remember there was a video about trying to do kipping push-ups a while back, it just looked dumb to me. I understand trying to maximize power output by moving the same mass through space faster (reduced cycle time), but trying to incorporate kipping into motions where stability and control are important seems like a mistake.
Just wanted to add to the above, part of my problem is likely too much belly fat, I am 5’10 and 205lbs, ideally I think I’d be between 190-195 (I have a large frame). I suck at applying the nutritional knowledge I have.
Well Tuck, I must say I don’t agree with that too! Melissa, I’m jealous. You always bring out the best discussion topics. Do any of you think Crossfit( ie Glassman) will ever change to strict? I wonder…
Melissa Byers says
Ha! Charis,I can’t speak for Glassman,but I know the 603 is damn sure gonna put an evil twist on a few WODs by requiring dead hangs! Be ready.
I’m kind of surprised that people learn to kip before actually having a deadhang pullup. The deadhang seems necessary before you can move onto more technical movements. All of my clients need to have at least THREE deadhang pullups before kipping is even introduced.
I’m with you on working the variations. I’ve just added weighted pullups and deadhangs back into my warmup. I’m realizing that I’m relying TOO much on the kipping and my deadhang numbers have stagnated.
Kipping ring dips? I’ll admit to not being nearly coordinated enough to manage that! I’m happy just to get five ring dips in a row. :)
BTW, Happy Belated Bday! Mine was 2/28. It’s good to be fit and in your mid thirties!!
Gabe M says
Awesome post and thought provoking. My wife, Kim Mendoza was at the gymnastics cert with you and of course Tuck. We run Crossfit One Spirit. She came home and threw down the Tuck said this and Tuck said that. Especially on the kipping MU. So I was like, f that, I can crank out 9 kipping MU in a row. Tried a strict MU with nada, nope, nothing. Sold! Further reading this hammers the point home even more. Thanks for the insight. Now off to my first strict MU.
Jay Ashman says
I agree that a kipping pullup is not a good first pullup, but it is a skill that should be recognized regardless.
Jay – recognized and and placed where needed based on goals to be achieved.
Byers! U know I cant fucking type! And combine that with jet lag down under and good aussie beer – holy shit your gonna get a smack!
Gabe! You are welcome… no charge!
Jack Bauer says
It’s like a love letter! LOL. Damn straight. Its like fundamentals of strength. Why is it we teach people the press first then push press? Because it strength building exercises. No matter what, strength is always going to be the determining factor that separates good athletes from elite-when all things are considered equal.
So I guess this means next time I see you, you got the 5 deadhangs you owe me. Right?
Well I don’t know why Bauer gets all the credit for being the dead hang preacher, when it was I, yes I, the fat one, who has been arguing this point against the CF masses around here forever :) !! Violent clashes of “well its the same work so I don’t care!!” Anyways, stepping off my soap box, you know I agree and you know how much gymnastics skills are my kryptonite, hence the reason Ill be putting myself through toture at the gymnastics cert next month. Now if I can just get my thumb around on my grip in the pull-ups Ill be good. Smeads has told me what happens if you don’t at the gym. Cert.
I just had this discussion the other day and I’m with ya 100% Melissa! I definitley believe that before a dynamic movement such as the kip is introduced, a certain level of baseline strength must be achieved. Also, I see the strict pull-up and the kip as two completely separate exercises with their own individual benefits. Personally, I like to implement both…however I clearly distinguish which one of the two will be the standard for the particular workout of the day (ie, strict pull-ups on low/moderate rep strength WODs and kips on the high rep met-con WODs.)
Anyway, just my 2 cents… Thanks for another great post!
Re: thumb around grip @ gymnastics cert — I assume this is a safety thing? For some reason I use thumbs around with suppinated grip, but I don’t with a pronated (what I usually use) grip. With the limited time I’ve spent on rings I’ve used thumbs around.
Melissa Byers says
Thumbs around the bar is primarily for safety (should be self-explanatory), but also for grip control. A really good kip has the hands lightly releasing and tightening the grip as you move around the bar. You can’t do that effectively without your thumbs.
At the cert, you either put your thumbs around the bar, or you do burpees. And that is strictly enforced.
Awh…I can only do 2 dead hang pull-ups. Does that mean I have to give back my 25 kipping pull-ups? (sticks out lower lip, makes sad face)
Had the link to the video been called “Girl gets first pull-up”, then I’d say you had a strong argument for being disappointed. I think the fact that it said “CROSSFIT girl gets first pull-up” should have tipped you off to the fact that it would be a kipping pull-up, since the KPU is the CrossFit standard. *shrugs*
I hear ya though. It still makes me laugh every time Bill wears his “got pull-up” shirt.
also posted on http://crossfitnyc.com/2009/03/fri-mar-6.html#comments
1. I agree that people injure their shoulders from kipping. Strangely, kipping is supposed to strengthen the stability of your shoulders. Perhaps people who just learn how to kip should start low and only gradually increase the number of kipping reps they do. I have no idea if this works, but it sounds like it makes sense.
2. I don’t completely agree that it’s absolutely vital for someone to get a dead hang before doing kipping pull ups, and I don’t think it’s always hazardous to do otherwise. I do agree that coming down full speed into the bottom of your ROM from the top of a pull up seems to be pretty strenuous on the shoulder, especially for an underdeveloped one. However, can’t you also train a cautionary level of strength and control on the descent by incorporating slow negatives and static holds? If you combine this along with adherence to my first point, to conservatively progress with the kipping, I think you can still safely continue to develop without injury.
3. I’m not entirely convinced of the argument that dead hangs develop strength more effectively than kips. There’s a belief that dead hangs are for strength development and that kips are a full body metabolic conditioner. I find sayings like that are often overgeneralizations and paint a misleading picture of absolute blacks and whites.
In the exercise world, it’s often recognized that the harder way to do something is usually the one that more effectively elicits favorable adaptations (I realize this is a generalization too). However, I think here is the rare case where the “easier” trumps the the “harder”.
The average CFer is going to be superior to the average big box gym-goer when it comes to pull ups. CFers train practically exclusively with high reps of kipping pull ups while globo gymers typically train with relatively low reps of dead hangs. Put the two types of athletes together in an apples/apples comparison by having them both do a max set of dead hangs and the CFer will most likely win despite having only practiced the “easier” movement. Think about your own experiences as a CFer. Do you actually do *fewer* strict pull ups now that you follow CF workouts than you did before?
If you’re still not convinced, bring a pair of 45# plates to the nearby NYSC and see how many people can do pull ups with them chained to their body. Do the same at a CF affiliate and compare the numbers. I believe Glassman himself may have argued, specifically in the context of arguing the superiority of kipping, that his athletes have higher weighted pull ups than those who train with dead hangs. Isn’t your own max weighted pull up a lot higher now that you’re kipping?
I realize one can argue that the strength differential can be attributed to other factors and that the effects of kipping vs. dead hang aren’t isolated unless done in a more controlled setting, but when you consider the thousands of people who are clearly stronger from CF’s pro-kipping conditioning, the separation between the anecdotal and empirical blurs.
Anthony Bainbridge says
I don’t think you can paint this topic black or white.
There are people who have a deadhang chinup, but do not have the stability and control to safely kip.
There are people who do not have a deadhang chinup, but have the shoulder stability and control to safely kip.
There’s also the topic of what type of kip is being used and to what degree.
So while I think attention to safety is definitely a good thing – I don’t think a deadhang chinup guarantees anything. There are a lot of other factors to consider before introducing the kip and that happens from daily observation in the gym.
This has touched off quite a little debate on out little crossfitnyc blog. I support the crossfit philsophy that using the hips on pullups increases work capacity within the same time frame. In other words, if you kip, you can do more reps in less time. Crossfit.com, almost never posts a “dead hang” pull up WOD but does post weighted and L pull ups as well as rope climb which we sub with towel pull ups. None of these can be performed with a kip. Dead hang has it’s place, but until crossfit.com starts putting dead hangs into WODS, I’m focusing on my kip.
On another note, it was great meeting you at the KB cert this past weekend at crossfitnyc and I look forward to training at 603 this summer
— dan def, crossfitnyc
I respectfully disagree. I got a kpu after ten months of CF. I got a deadhang a long time after that. If I had to do it over again, I would have been more dilligent, fixed my diet and worked both. The dead hang seemed impossible and therefore I totally shied away. With that said, I count my kpu as my first pull-up and I’m still proud of that first one. It was the first step to many other kpus and for me, it helped me to get the hang and not the other way around. Good on ya’ for getting a dead hang first, however. That really is impressive.
I was surprised to read this post because I was taught the mechanics of kipping PUs long before anyone suggested that I try a deadhang, and I never heard anyone suggest doing things differently. It took me 4-5 months of greasing the groove to get my first kipping PU and I was SO PROUD. I’m still one of the few women at our affiliate who can do a PU – kipping or deadhang.
When I read this post, I felt a little deflated because while I can only squeeze out a few deadhangs so far, I can string together a decent series of kipping PUs — and here you are telling me that my kipping PUs don’t “count”!? After my months and months of work?!? All along I was doing this backwards!? Ack! I wonder if this emotional response is part of why people are so heated in the responses to this entry. :)
Melissa Byers says
First of all, congratulations on your kipping AND your dead hangs. Those are big accomplishments, and you should be proud.
I’ll preface this by saying that this is my blog, so I can say whatever I want. I don’t expect everyone to agree, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to run their box the way we are going to run ours.
I never said kipping pull-ups don’t count for anything. I have nothing against the kipping pull-up. I do them, I’m working on making them better. They allow me to complete certain workouts that I would not be able to complete doing unassisted dead-hangs.
What I DID say is that a kipping pull-up is not a “pull-up”, just like a push-press is not a “press”. You can’t walk into a CrossFit gym saying you have a 100# press, and then dip and drive to get it up. The trainers will tell you that movement is not, in fact, a “press”. So when I see someone swinging and pulling themselves up over a bar, I would not call that a “pull-up”. It’s a kipping pull-up. To me, it’s an important distinction.
Each person will work on whatever type of pull-up supports his or her goals. My ONLY goal is to get stronger, and right now, I could give a shit about my Angie time. So I work dead hangs, L-pull-ups and weighted pull-ups far more frequently than I work my kip. Again, I still work my kip. But it’s not my top priority.
If you want to rock the met-cons, then maybe you’ll work your kip the hardest. Although I will STILL argue that everyone needs to be stronger, and for most women, the limiting factor in their kipping is strength. And I will also argue (as others have testified) that you will get stronger-er by working your dead hangs.
Easiest way to get pull-ups (dead hang) is to do a strength cycle (Starting Strength is what I recommend unless you are already at interimediate in terms of strength benchmarks).
This is what I did, and went from zero (like not even close to one deadhang) to 10 in about 5 or 6 months.
Doing heavy 5×3 lifting 3 times a week will make you stronger where you need it than doing the CF WODs. If you are already doing CF, try strength bias, or just take a month and do SS.
Most people who come to CF without a training background are not strong enough, they will get stronger doing the WODs no doubt, but I think it makes sense to do a strength cycle at the start, or at some point in the first year, even for just a month, it will make a HUGE difference in many areas, the pull-up being one. There is no reason to struggle for extended periods of time.
Duh forgot to add in the previous post, in addition to the lifting you should be doing 3 sets to failure/near failure of dead hang pull-ups (various grips) each day. At the start if you can’t do one, work various progressions already discussed.
Yes, a kpu is not a dead-hang and a dead-hang is not a kpu.
Yes, it’s your blog and you can say whatever you want; damn straight and you don’t need anybody’s permission.
Yes, practicing dead-hangs and developing the strength to do a dead-hang is surely safer for the novice and/or overweight athlete that may end up hurting himself/herself by swinging wildly and getting themselves up and over the bar–by hook or by crook.
The only thing that I was put off by was the attitude that I read into your post and you probably were not expressing all. All I heard is “kpus are inferior and less of an accomplishment.” Admittedly, I took that as a dis to my humble accomplishments. It is not that I think that one or the other is a superior exercise; they’re different and have somewhat different functions and (not surprisingly) call on somewhat different strengths and skills. It ruffled my ego. I am constantly reminded of how dangerous it is to listen to one’s ego when working towards better fitness. Ego does not get the weight up or get the metcon done, strength,skill and detirmination do. Remembering this is always humbling.
Melissa – I’m pretty sure one of the most exciting days of my life was the day I finally got my chin over the pull-up bar of my own accord, so don’t take away from what you’ve accomplished! A lot of CFers are perfectionists by nature (I know I am). I think it just comes with the territory. I know there are times when I’ve done a workout faster and begin to think back and doubt that my quality was as good as the last time. I try and minimize my accomplishment (I had to stop myself from doing this very thing after I finished Barbara for the first time rx’d on Wednesday). Women really have a tendency to do this. Just remember, that 90% of people can’t do what you can do. What you’re doing is amazing.
Now where do I stand on this whole pull-up debate? Well, at the box I work out at, we have bands which beginners start out on. The lower bands are pretty much huge (I’ve always thought it would be fun to use them to shoot water balloons, but that hasn’t come up in a workout yet). They don’t allow much range of motion anyway, so as the trainee develops strength by moving to stretchier bands, they also begin to work ROM with the kip. I believe working the two is natural. As you improve on major lifts, a lot of times you must improve your flexibility as well. It seems the same to me. Now, were the bands not available, I would agree that working a kipping pull-up is a poor idea. There’s too much potential to damage something and working the progressions suggested would be ideal. However, there’s still a lot to be said for busting out a load of dead hangs and weather that’s a social stigma or a reality, well I don’t know.
Thanks for the post. I’ve enjoyed it.
Melissa Byers says
You know what? You’re right. There WAS a little attitude there. And I’m glad you called me on it.
Aside from the safety issue, there WAS ego behind my working a dead hang SO hard before a kip. Because, again, if I’m going to run around town saying I can do a pull-up, I damn sure better be able to do a pull-up, by ANY definition, as judged by ANY PERSON… not just a CrossFitter.
Lis Darsh told a story once about telling a neighbor she could do pull-ups. He scoffed. She jumped up and did five kips. He snickered, and said, “THAT’S not a pull-up”. So she jumped up and did five dead hangs. And there was NOTHING he could say to that.
When a woman jumps on the bar and does a no-swing, dead hang to chin over bar pull-up, it means that NO ONE can question her strength. And I want that for myself. And I want that for my trainees.
Of course, my intention was never to offend. I was more hoping to inspire. I remember what it felt like to get my first dead hang. It is, to this day, my proudest CrossFit moment ever. My first kip didn’t even compare.
I love to make a boy jaw drop. I do it with the almighty deadlift. LOL. You rock, M.
Great post! It’s nice to see that there’s another crossfitter out there that agrees with me on this topic.
Patrick Haskell says
I posted a reply yesterday, but it got lost in the ether. Most of what I had to say about what constitutes a “legitimate pullup” has been covered pretty well, so I’ll just relate my own experience.
Prior to CF, I had dislocated both of my shoulders multiple times. I could not hang by one hand without sublexing my shoulder.
Soon after I started CF, I did the exercise where you find your “natural” OHS grip by doing the narrowest grip dislocate you could manage. The result was that the bar rested squarely on top of my head. I had some strength and could do 4 pullups (perhaps with kicking legs on the last rep). I had done lat pulldowns and strict pullups before in an attempt to strengthen the shoulder, but they didn’t suffice.
Starting CF I introduced the kipping pullup into my warmup, keeping my toes on the ground for control and to help me with the motion. While I also did some other exercises that may have helped (e.g., occasonal overhead lifts), I am convinced that regular attention to working the range of motion in the kip is the primary factor that took my shoulders from pathological to reasonably healthy (fit is still a work in progress).
I’ve worked DH pullups maybe a dozen times in the two years I’ve done CF. (I’m not saying this is a good thing.) However, we’ve all experienced how in CF you can get much stronger at something you don’t work directly, because you are instead working functional movements that have significant transferrence in terms of strength and fitness gains. Despite not working them much, my DH and weighted pullup numbers have improved greatly simply by working kipping pullups regularly.
Tuck’s points about safety are well taken. I would never suggest somebody throw caution to the wind in a metcon working an exercise which they don’t have the strength to control, whether that’s a kipping pullup, deadlift, or something else. However, the kip can be worked in a controlled manner prior to developing a deadhang, and there are strength benefits there that are not offered by the deadhang (and vice-versa, certainly). While working both, should a trainee first get a kipping pullup, it will be every bit as legitimate as those who grind out a deadhang for their first.
My thoughts – I don’t think there is much risk of injury for a newb to learn a kipping pull-up. Every time I’ve seen someone get their first pull-up, it’s been a single. They don’t hop up there, kip and knock out 20 pull-ups. I would argue that the potential for injury is at the bottom of the swing and in the push away at the top.
If you hop on the bar and knock out ONE kipping pull-up, there is little risk for injury. If a newb hops up there and tries for 10, then yes, some shoulder issues could arise, but let’s face it – newbs can’t knock out 10. They’ll more than likely barely eek out one.
Regarding building strength with kipping, I went from my first CF WOD being able to do about 5 deadhangs and 10 kips. Over the course of the next 12 months I did not do deadhangs even once. But my deadhang total went from 5 to 20. And my kipping total went from 10 to 45.
Jason Struck, RKC says
Melissa… a lot of people are just bad at reading.
They are doing the internerd equivalent of ‘waiting for you to finish talking’ so they can say what they have to say.
They hear ‘legitimate dead-hang’ or ‘kipping does not equal’ and their panties just shrink.
Then, out come ‘the standards’.
I think the most informative thing about this exchange, is that if you look down this whole list, the ones saying ‘people need to get their first deadhang, and then they can start working on the kip’ (which is certainly what I am saying) are all COACHES AND AFFILIATE OWNERS.
I don’t see anyone that is truly responsible for the long term development of another trainee advocating starting with the kip or ignoring the deadhang.
So, who do you listen to? The Kool aid crowd, or the gym owners?
This makes so much sense! Thanks. And I was about to start thinking I should work on kipping instead of the deadhang. Very nice stuff. Delita
Umm, how many did you do in your party dress?
Melissa Byers says
I did three, but the last one probably didn’t count. It’s hard to get your chin over a beam – there’s not much to hold on to.
Scott K says
Crossfit is an advanced training program designed for advanced athletes. And there’s really not much consideration on how to get from point A to point B except to ‘just go do it’! (and scale if necessary).
Truth is, a lot of people start with little to no strength, little coordination, and – in my estimation – should really start the program with a solid strength program.
Strength seems harder to build than metcon, and I wonder if there’s not a better way to get it than to just hit the WOD’s.
Much love for you. I didn’t know there was a difference at first. Thankfully I had the dead hang down before I learned how to kip.
When is CrossFit Sweaty Belly opening?
James Jr. says
Hey Melisaa, I agree that people shouldnt use the press and push press interchangeably. I’m honored you dropped by and posted!
Congratulations on affiliating!
i just wanted to say that i got my first deadhang pull up months before i got my first kip. (it was a technical issue) both times, they were i-got-my-first-pull-up!-experiences =)
Taylor Sterling says
I love this! I have been trying to get the pull-up for a little bit now and it is so diffcult for me. I can do maybe one strict pull-up and the kip I get maybe two (but not well). I will feel so proud when i finally get pull-ups. I will keep practing my dead hang!!
I just wanted to share my own pull-up story…I got kipping pull-ups first, never having been able to quite get over the bar with a dead hang. A few months into using the kipping pull-up (when I could do about 15 at a time) I again tried dead-hangs and voila! I got five in a row! So I don't think kipping can be completely written off as a strength builder, especially for us more coordinated types who do well with complex movements.
Day 10 of the Paleo challenge and I am ready to start challenging myself on my non-existent pull-up. I purchased a band during my vacation at CrossFitTO. Last week my colleague and fellow cross-fitter picked up a bar that hangs in the doorway. She got our director to agree to pay for it and we are going to use it in the doorframe of the copier room. So I am kind of tired of web-researching for Paleo and am hoping someone on this stream has a pull-up progression chart or something that I can try to follow and practice during the day at work. I need something to follow so that I will do it. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated!
I am going to respectfully disagree with this post. I am a huge fan of your blog, Melissa, and of Tucker's coaching, but if I had chosen this approach in my training I would have surely walked away from the Games with a DNF on the last and final of 8 events (the only event which required pull-ups). I am actually in the works of writing a post about the very topic now… you will be able to find it at http://www.crossfitchron.com by the EOD. Keep writing, love your stuff!
You inspire me! Love your blog – thank you for posting
~Karmyn in CA
first dead hang pull up 12/3/09 !!!!!
I'm a little late on this post, but I had an athlete of mine bring this to my attention and have some words to be spoken about what's been said here. Tuck has brought to light some things with the kipping pull up I have not thought of before, and witnessed first hand. However, i think there is a ton of high and mighty talk coming from those of you who have dead hang pull ups. This is not an easy movement, but to belittle those who cannot yet do them is wrong. As CrossFitters, you should know that continuous training of both kipping and dead hang is forever neccessary to be true to the sport. I always have my athletes train dead hang pull ups, and a lot before they attempt kipping, to go from strict with one band that takes away maybe 10 lbs, to going for kipping without assistance, no big deal. weeks of pulling to get to one band is a ton of time to build strength in the shoulders. Now they don't get to one band and immediately start trying non assisted pull ups, but if they've been on one band for a couple weeks, by all means. Kudos to your dead hang, why don't you just say "I can do strict pull ups."? Don't take it away from someone that they can kip… what counts at the Games?? In the CrossFit world, if you say "I have pull ups" and you kip, no one tells you "no."
So to a degree, strength is first proirity. i guess i'm just upset by the 'i'm better than you' appearance of this post
Mad Sciences says
I was looking at your point of view and must say I found it very disappointing. I came here look for a technical break down of what to avoid and what benefits are to be had, but found this break down lacking in information. Honestly how can you take into consideration impressing a guy you know from work (Do the words scholarly/scientific/empirical have any meaning to you)? What merit is there in shutting him up, and why do you care? Theres no physics, no physical therapy to that it’s just your point of view vs his. Alright I’m pretty happy with averaging 30+ dead hangs anytime anywhere but I certainly don’t use that to justify them being worth a hill of beans. I’ll also have you know that my wife’s first pull up was a kipping one that within a week was followed by a strict pull up, and in a month 5 strict pull ups (lifetime PR). So while we’re sticking to data with absolutely no merit what so ever I’ll have you know my single case scenario disproves your point of view. Not to mention that you fail to mention explosiveness which is key from many movements including most olympic lifts. You don’t talk about pros or cons, you just say this is what I feel and therefore it is fact. Your point of view on the benefits (which you fail to go into detail about you mention purely for disclaimer and future argument sake) is also grossly misinformed.
Melissa @ Whole9 says
@”Mad Science”: First, respectfully, we prefer you post with your real name around here. Rants and raves posted under pseudonyms lose much of their credibility.
Why are Super-CrossFitters always running on about a lack of “empirical evidence”? What’s wrong with anecdotal evidence, if that evidence is based on personal experience (real life!) that is both substantial and easy to corroborate? I’d politely ask that you read through ALL of the comments on this post – especially those from Jeff Tucker, CrossFit’s Subject Matter Expert on Gymnastics (and MY gymnastics coach and mentor). Having both learned from Tucker and coached with him at numerous gymnastics certifications, AND having run my own CrossFit gym for a year, I’d say I’ve got plenty of personal experience with the movement, and therefore refute your accusation of being “grossly misinformed”. Furthermore, Tucker CERTAINLY has a busload of (anecdotal) information, based on his 20+ years of coaching gymnastics. Nothing empirical there, however… should we be so quick to dismiss Tucker’s wisdom because he hasn’t conducted any scientific studies? Finally, when my PT partner Dallas records patient after patient walking into his clinic with shoulder injuries due to kipping pull-ups (as mentioned in our most recent post), well… that’s the anecdotal nail in the coffin, as far as I’m concerned.
As an aside (and since you seem to like statistics), it is 99.92% crazypants to believe a kipping pull up will help your Olympic lifting. See, Olympic lifts are HIP driven, while a kipping pull-up is a CHEST driven movement. (Please don’t argue otherwise, despite what your Level I Cert told you.) It’s an open (broad) chest, followed by an aggressive hollow. Nothing in there about the hip… which means it translates to your Olympic lifts about as well as a hard-core Shakeweight workout.
Since this is your very first comment EVER on this blog, I’ll assume you haven’t read Urban Gets Diesel, where this post originated. That was my personal blog, where I got to muse about anything I wanted to. And I can be a little snarky in tone, I know, but it’s all in good fun. I appreciate your contribution here, as we appreciate every single person who visits our site… but I wish you had spent a bit more time reading this post and the comments before jumping in with your (anonymous) damnation.
For my final words, I do applaud your wife’s accomplishments. We’ve got a series running called “Hot Chicks Doing Pull-Ups”… it’s a dead hang only club, of course. Tell your wife to shoot video and we’ll get it up on the site. She deserves some props for that feat of strength.
Kevin Green says
I’m glad Dallas posted this link in the supraspinatus post because I haven’t read it since the first came out on UGD. Although I was plenty strong when I first read it I decided to scale back on my kipping and focus on dead hang and weighted pull ups. It has made a world of difference. I also scaled back my desire to get a kipping MU based on Tucker’s recommendations. When this post originally came out it changed the way I looked at pull ups.
I have to admit though, the thing that prompted me to post was your last response. I am so glad you found your voice. You had me laughing out loud and cheering you on at the same time. Just so you are aware I am going use your “99.92% crazypants” quote as soon as I get an opportunity. I will modify it some so it sounds more manly but the root will always be yours.
Like Kevin, I too am just reading this post for the first time via the link in the supraspinatus post. I have to say that I love how your write, and this post at least made me feel better about myself. I’ve been disappointed in the fact that I haven’t quite figured out the kip yet after two years of CrossFitting (although I have to admit it’s not that big of a deal to me and I would rather work on my deadlift than figure out the kip), but I’ve been able to do dead hang pullups for more than two years, so I think I’m just going to keep working on busting out more of those and improving my strength since I also don’t give a crap what my Fran time is.
Thanks for the post – wish I had read it a long time ago.
Mike Stehle says
Great article, I totally agree.
Waaaaaayyy too many comments for me to actually check to see if anybody else mentioned this- but an underhand “pull-up” is actually a chin-up…