Kipping Pullups VS Deadhang Pullups (Part 1)

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Ah, the endless debate continues… which is better, the kipping pullup or the strict, deadhang pullup? Also, where do we draw the line between strict, deadhang pullups and kipping pullups?

First, let’s define the two:

a) conventional pullups (aka strict, deadhang, military PT style pullups)

The strict, deadhang pullup is a bodybuilding-style pullup in which the purpose is to maximally contract the muscles of the back and arms – mostly the lats, biceps, and forearms. The rest of the body is meant to remain in enough tension to maintain a rigid structure. With the deadhang pullup, the body should not move except for those joints which are required to perform the movement itself, the elbows and shoulders. All other joints should remain relatively stationary, as they shouldn’t contribute to the force production required to execute the exercise. This is the classic exercise that people think of when they hear about pullups.

b) kipping pullups (aka hip snap pullups, gymnastic pullups, or Crossfit-style pullups)

The kipping pullup is a little more sophisticated than the deadhang pullup. Done correctly, it involves a hip snap that radiates up the spine and into the arms, effectively lifting the body with minimal upper body pulling. From a movement-standpoint, it is a much more efficient technique for elevating the chin over a bar. This is evident in that athletes who practice kipping pullups can achieve much higher numbers with a kip, than with a strict deadhang pullup. Unlike the deadhang version, the kipping pullup is a full body exercise. There is no room for muscle-isolation in kipping pullup performance.

So, which is better?

As is often the case in fitness debates, the answer is that it depends on a lot of factors – pre-existing conditions, goals, etc. While we cannot draw absolute conclusions for EVERY situation that may or may not require kipping versus deadhang pullups, we can draw some conclusions.

As you can see above in the example of the deadhang pullup, she is gradually shifting more towards a kipping pullup as her set progresses. It is obvious from the very first rep that there is a slight hip snap, but it gets very obvious around repetition 16 as that hip snap begins to radiate throughout the rest of her legs. By the end of her maxed out set, the only way she can get those last few reps in is to resort to a inexperienced version of kipping pullups.

I have never seen someone test a max set of pullups without some form of a hip snap, either from the start or near the end – even when the trainee is only doing “strict, deadhang pullups.” There’s a good reason for this, which I alluded to above. The kipping pullup is a much more EFFICIENT technique. Put simply, you can do more total work when kipping than when doing deadhang pullups. To someone who is interested in functional training, this is great – more efficiency is always better.

Even for someone who is mindfully trying to do strict, deadhang pullups, like in our example above – it is nearly impossible to actually perform them with a perfectly rigid body. This is because the body has a natural inclination (aka survival mechanism) to 1) work as a whole, not in isolation, 2) find the most efficient technique to execute any physical activity, and 3) to relax the areas that are not needed for work (the deadhang pullup is a tension-creating activity, the kipping pullup is properly performed with a balance of tension with relaxation). In a way, you could say that deadhang pullups are “hard style” and kipping pullups are “soft style.”

We know that both hard and soft styles of exercise have benefits, and that optimal performance in any activity lies somewhere in between these two extremes. Someone who ONLY does kipping pullups (soft style) will need to learn deadhang pullups (hard style) to realize the advantages that they are missing out on – and vice versa.

In the end, I think if you held a gun up to a group of people standing in front of a pullup bar, and demanded that they all perform a max set of pullups, and that the lowest number would be the first to “get it” – I’m pretty sure that the whole group would be kipping their way up the bar. Nobody would debate semantics, and each person would look for the most efficient way of getting their chin over the bar as many times as possible.

But isn’t it cheating by using momentum?

First off, there aren’t any rules that say you must do a pullup either way. Sure, if you’re in the military, you may have a drill instructor give you a hard time, and the guys at the gym will probably mock you for doing anything other than what they understand to be true. For most of us, it’s just a matter of preference.

I will also ask you…

Is becoming more efficient in your movement a bad thing? Sure, you may have to give up the dogma that deadhang pullups are the tried-and-true original and BEST version – but it’s clear that the kipping pullup is the superior of the two from a movement efficiency standpoint. That’s not to say that the deadhang pullup doesn’t have value as well, and in some cases it is the better choice.

If you compete in bodybuilding, chances are you’ll stick with the deadhang pullup for your own good. You may also want to stick to a deadhang pullup if you have injuries, especially lower back injuries which can be easily aggravated by an explosive hip snap. However, if you’re not a bodybuilding competitor and NOT injured to the point of being unable to do kipping pullups, then it’s probably for your own good to sophisticate your movement quality since aging is the process of losing complexity. The more sophisticated your movement quality becomes, the healthier and more effective/efficient you’ll be for life’s physical activities.

We all want strength that is APPLICABLE to real life situations. In athletics and in real life, we don’t ever try to isolate certain muscles to do work. For those that have a manual labor job like I used to (I owned a landscaping company), you’ll know what I mean when you try to use as much of the body as possible to accomplish a laborious task. When you have a stone wall to build, you’re not thinking about how best to activate the proper muscles to move the stones – you’re more concerned with conserving your energy to make it to the end of the day. That means using your entire body to accomplish the task as to prevent fatigue from setting in.

Exhausting local muscles like the lats and biceps from deadhang pullups is one way to get a training adaptation – the body will adapt to anything we subject it to. However, that training adaptation will be quite minimal compared to one that is focused on movement quality, coordination, and with efficiency in mind.

Here’s a brief tutorial on how to do kipping pullups:

Obviously, the best and safest way to learn the kipping pullup is to seek out a qualified coach. As with any new exercise, ease into it. Do not jump right into a new skill that you may not be prepared for. With high-skill exercises like the kipping pullup, you must use incremental progression to aid you in staying injury-free – think baby steps.

Click Here to Read Part 2 of This Article

To your health and success,

Health-First Fitness Coach

More Information:

The Pull-up Training Crash Course

The Right Way to do Pullups and Chinups

How to Achieve Your First Unassisted Pullup

How to Increase Your Pullup Numbers With Pyramid Training

9 Different Types of Pullups (Demo Video)

Doorway Pullup Bar Product Review

31 comments to Kipping Pullups VS Deadhang Pullups (Part 1)

  • I’ve done chin ups for about 10 years,I started strict and found I failed before I could get anything(back/arms etc)sore after a while-I let my from go w/out knowing what a kipping is but ended up kipping – kipping is like forced reps and pushes past that strict reps point. I get sore arms,back and sometimes hamstrings from kipping-good for grip to b’cos you need to hold the bar for a lot longer(my weak point)-I don’t do any bicep workout but kipping chins and my biceps have gone from 13 to 18 inches over the years.

  • Keith

    I was taught the kipping pull up by drill instructors in the Marine Corps. So, they won’t have a problem with it.

    Good article

  • Rob

    As a physiotherapist (and ex international acrobat) I like kipping pull ups – they bring me lots of clients with shoulder and thoracic spine problems

    • John

      That doesn’t surprise me. It’s a higher level fitness skill (though a low level acrobatic skill) often performed by low-skilled trainees. If I had a nickle for every time I saw someone losing shoulder pack while kipping…

  • Jason

    I have experience with both, strict and kip. My honest opinion is that Crossfit and it’s popularity have added the element of competition to everyday workouts. In doing so, strict pullups were modified to be kips in order to do more. If you are in it to have the highest numbers, then kip. If you are in it to maintain structural integrity and prevent injury, stay strict. My two cents.

  • Alex

    If you actually want to exercise lats, then do pullups.

    If you have a group of people and the one who reaches the bar with their chin the least number of times will get shot, then cheat away.

    If you want to talk about functional strength, which situation is more realistic: having to pull yourself up on a bar hanging somewhere in space, or having to pull yourself up against a wall where you can’t freely swing?

    There is also a natural tendency to use your feet to assist in doing overhead presses, but that doesn’t mean bending your knees makes the exercise better, it’s just a way to avoid targeting the set of muscles the exercise was intended for.

  • Jimmy Davis

    It is a well known that “pull-ups” using a wide-grip (greater than shoulder width) with palms facing away places max. torque upon the shoulder joint complex, especially causing subsequent or long term damage to the rotator cuffs, especially the supraspinatus & teres minor are most effected.

    I recommend that you change your routines, sometimes doing pulls-up, shoulder width with palms facing you, just to “break-it-up” a little in an effort to save your shoulders. Try new grips everytime.

    I would venture to say that the kipping would be better for those predisposed or having a history of shoulder aliments, I believe it is transmitting less force through the shoulder complex in all aspects.

    Be safe. Thanks.

    • Frank

      I can only agree with this if the person doesn’t work the rotator muscles. To say the tradition pullup is worse is false. The muscles are made for specific movements. The biomechanics can also say that the kipping puts a lot of stress on the hip and spine. Use kips as forced reps not as “safer” because they aren’t and there is much more rotation with them.

  • Mikkel Ravn

    There’s a time and place for both techniques, and labelling the strict pull-up as a non-functional ´body-building’ exercise is slightly to me. I use (weighted) strict pull-ups as a sports-specific exercise, e.g. for ice-climbing, where movements sometimes have to be tense, slow and delicate in order not to yank the ice-tool from the ice, resulting in a shin-breaking fall. The Kipping pull-up is of little use here, as it relies on momentum to get the job done. But for endurance purposes, by all means, it’s an excellent drill. Basically, the goal should determine the drill, IMO.

    Great blog, btw.

  • Mikkel Ravn

    Oops, was supposed to say *slightly radical*…

  • We teach both methods at our gym. Kipping and strict both have there place. As any educated workout should teach, it is better to constantly change your method and be competent in all areas. Doing too much of any activity is harmful but remember your not here to knit…

  • Phil

    As a certified medical exercise specialist, ex-football player, trained many elite level athletes; I don’t teach either method. As Rob said, “As a physiotherapist (and ex international acrobat) I like kipping pull ups – they bring me lots of clients with shoulder and thoracic spine problems”. He is very correct and I see the crossfit injured in the clinic daily. Shoulders knees and backs!

    I teach limited ROM pull-ups. 3/4-1/2 down then chin up over the bar. This maximizes muscle recruitment on the lats and biceps while reducing the amount of shearing forces on the shoulder joints.

    Dead hang with a full ROM impinges the rotator cuff when at the bottom of the range. Keeping the shoulder above the bottom 1/4 of the ROM will greatly reduce the rubbing and impingement.

    Let’s face it. Crossfit is just circuit training with the all he most dangerous lifts involved.

    • I am sure your stance is not a popular one, but I have to agree.

      For the same reasons you mentioned, I had our athletes stop performing full ROM pull-ups a few years ago.

      It has definitely caused some debate outside of our circle – especially on YouTube.

      Either way, I don’t think the difference between a full ROM pull-up and 1/4 ROM pull-up is so different that people should call you soft for it.

  • Mai

    Reading this article is really intriguing! From the reading, ‘kipping’ is an ‘EFFICIENT’ and ‘more sophisticated’ way to doing conventional pull-ups. Perhaps it might be more ‘efficient’ to do pushups on your knees, or even situps laying on your side. I wouldn’t be surprised what so ever that people who kip are just finding reasons to feel better about themselves because they can perform this movement with a higher number of reps rather than what can be done with standard pullups. For instance, instead of doing dumbbell lateral raises, I can stand and flap my arms for an extended period of time, and a 100 reps later the muscle group will be fatigued. Did I truly accomplished anything though? You be the judge of that.

    • John

      You’re not hearing the message, Mai. Both techniques have value, and I use both in my training. In terms of moving your body through space (ie getting over the bar), the kipping technique is more efficient, and thus, easier.

      Training must be context-specific. In some cases, the deadhang pullup is the better option, and in others, the kipping pullup is the best choice. There are no completely useless exercises, some just have more practical value than others depending on the circumstances.

  • Good article.

    I mainly teach kipping pullups, esp. to a lot of women who walk into the gym without a whole lot of upper body strength – but I also do both styles, and wall climbs and whatever.

    If you just want to be good at life and improve work performance, do kipping – unless you have a pre-existing medical concern. If you want huuuuuge muscles or pure strength – go static.

    Guy in first video …heh, starts off static and then… yeah.

    I have yet to see very much evidence that kipping pullups are dramatically more injury-inducing than static ones, please put a link to any such info you find, I’d be interested.

    • John

      Hi Pär,

      I haven’t seen any studies done on this subject, but I have heard from a few different physical therapists that kipping pullups are often the cause of rotator cuff injuries. If I see any research on it, I’ll be sure to post it here.

      Research aside though, just the fact that kipping pullups are a higher-speed movement makes them more likely to produce an injury – just as plyometrics are higher risk movements than basic calisthenics.

  • Chris

    Tired of the replies above stating how deadhang pullups will have you ending up looking like a bodybuilder. You’re not going to look like Ronnie Coleman if you train deadhang pullups – this is a ridiculous statement.

    If we’re talking about functional strength – at the heart of any strength program are compound movements. The deadhang pullup is a compound movement. It works multiple joints and multiple muscle groups. I dont know why this article tries to portray it as an isolation exercise.

    These two different exercises are used for two different purposes – plain and simple. If you want to develop compound/functional upper body strength, its plain to see that the deadhang pullup is superior. Equal amounts of time invested into both movements, an individual doing deadhang pullups will see greater improvements in strength AND ability to do kipping pullups vs. kipping pullups alone. Why? Momentum.

    “That means using your entire body to accomplish the task as to prevent fatigue from setting in.”

    I dont believe in using the entire body to prevent fatigue from setting in for all exercises. Specific exercises should be used to tax specific systems of the body for specific goals. Is your goal strength? Deadhangs. Is your goal to develop a specific pattern/muscle memory for a specific sport (gymnastics)? Kipping. Are you trying to develop strength to get you over a brick wall that might be on battlefield where it will be impossible to use the kipping technique? Deadhang.

    • John

      Well said, Chris. This article was posted over two years ago and needs an update. I’ve got plans for a part 2 that goes into more depth about when it’s best to use one technique over the other. Thanks for your comment.

  • Nick

    kipping pull-ups bad, dead hang pull-ups good.

    Kipping is ok when doing a negative rep, IMO. That’s where you climb a step ladder, chair or stool to mount the chin-up bar in the “up” position and then slowly lower the body ( to a 3 count ) until it’s a dead hang, and repeat. This is to strengthen the weaker form and train up the lats arms and forearm grip for doing a proper dead hang pull-up. BUT ideally, avoid the kipping all together until you’ve achieved crazy gymnast monkey strength.

  • Eric

    Is this a joke?

    Guess what’s more efficient than running: driving a car. Using a forklift is more efficient than deadlifting. Too bad that you become a tub of goo. You go ahead and kip through your pullups, and I’m going to do strict ones with 45 plates clipped to my weight belt. Take a guess at who’s going to be stronger and therefore more “functional”.

    Power cleans, clean and jerk, suitcase deadlifts, and pressing are all classic full body moves. Cheating through a movement because you lack the physical strength is one thing. Justifying it by saying it’s more “efficient” is hilarious.

  • TrainerJesse

    Common Crossfit Arguments:
    1.Kipping Pull Ups are more efficient – Efficient: performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.
    Efficiency is not always conducive to fitness. But doesn’t crossfit pride themselves on being the fittest people on the planet?
    These are exercises that one could alter to make more efficient (use less energy).

    Examples:

    -Bench press: Bouncing the bar off the chest.
    -Military press: Using your legs.
    -Weighted Tricep Dip: Leaning forward.
    -Plank: Pushing your heels behind your toes.

    Fitness enthusiasts execute the above actions to either lift more weight or go longer (planks). Performing these efficient moves not only makes you look stronger, but it also keeps you from exercising the appropriate muscles associated with that exercise. For example, leaning forward during the weighted triceps dip makes the triceps brachii the synergist and the pectoralis major the target muscle; it is meant to be the opposite (http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Triceps/WtTriDip.html).

    However, there are good reasons to alter the way an exercise is done:
    -To make sure the exercise appropriate muscle is targeted (e.g. triceps dip).
    -To prevent injury(e.g. deadlift.

    The kipping pull up fails to meet the above criteria. But if exercise enthusiasts do not do kipping pull ups to either target a muscle or to prevent injury, why do they do it? So they can do more. Why would they want to do more? Because 30 pull ups looks/sounds better than 5 pull ups.

    2.Kipping the pull up helps maintain intensity – Intense: existing or occurring in a high or extreme degree.

    There is nothing extreme or high in degree that is easy. Kipping pull ups are easy. Also, they are easier than standard pull ups. They are easier because they use momentum. If someone wanted to have intensity they would do something harder. Also how could you maintain intensity on something that was not intense to begin with (e.g. kipping pull ups)? Put simply, you cannot.

    The kipping pull up allows more repetitions on the pull up bar. That is all it does.

    3.”This is because the body has a natural inclination (aka survival mechanism) to 1) work as a whole, not in isolation”. No, there is movement outside of the levers (shoulders, elbows) because an individual does not possess the strength or the technique to perform a standard pull.

    Come at me crossfit bros.

  • NASM Trainer

    Its amazing how NO ONE who discusses this argument ever brings up acute training variables. This exercise, just like any other exercise- builds muscle and strength. Doing a strict pull-up would be more effective at utilizing slow twitch muscle fiber, and as such falls into the lower levels of the OPT model. A kipping pull-up would recruit more from fast twitch fibers and as such would be in the upper levels of the OPT model.
    Regarded in this manner, the most effective way to use these methods would be to train for strength gains with the strict pull-up, and develop power using the kipping pull-up.
    For any client looking to increase over all downward pulling effectiveness, I would implement this into their program as an alternating training variable. A few sessions in the strength development (slow twitch, strict) and a few sessions in power development (fast twitch, kipping).

  • This is the most detailed and comprehensive article about the pros and cons of deadhang vs. kipping pull-ups that I’ve read. Thanks for writing this! I actually do both. I do like deadhang pull-ups for building strength and muscle development in my arms, shoulders, and back. But, when I need to do a high volume of pull-ups in a metcon, I do kipping pull-ups for velocity and, yes, it does recruit a lot more of your whole body (core, hips, legs). Should someone who is relatively new to pull-ups start out with kipping? Probably not. For most people who don’t have the strength and good form, it can be awfully hard on the shoulders.

  • Nick

    I use the kipping pull ups a a form of strengthnening to ultimately do more stict pull ups. I have the correct technique for kipping almost 100%. Am I doing th right thing?

  • Nick

    On more thing: “Efficient” doesnt always mean “easy”.

  • Tom

    There are a lot of comments up here that I disagree with but I did enjoy the article. It took me a while to get the kipping pull up rhythm and to correctly do it so that I would not injure myself doing a bunch of reps. I still do the standard pull up when I am focusing on bulking though.
    The main comments I disagree with are ones that look at kipping as a way of “cheating” the normal work out. I believe it is in a separate category and it is not like “bouncing the bar off the chest” when you are doing a bench press.
    I guess it all depends on why you are working out in the first place. Are you just trying to look big or do you actually want to use the muscles you are building up? For example, I rock climb and I took a buddy of mine out to climb. My friend can out max me at the gym in every workout we do, but when it actually came time to climb up a mountain he had a very hard time with it and I didn’t. Another experience I had was when I was out on a lake and had to lift myself into a boat. I believe it was easier for me than others because I have trained my body to work as a whole.
    I still believe that both methods have their place though. If a high jumper never focused on isolating his calf muscles and only did running jumps to train, it would be hard for him to become great at his sport. And of course he would be terrible if he only did calf raises all day.
    Kipping is a training technique that benefits the athlete more than the bodybuilder (not to say that bodybuilding isn’t a sport) and most crossfit exercises seem to focus on that aspect of physical fitness.

  • Aham

    Deadlifting with a round back is more efficient because you can move more weight and bang out more reps.

  • Tom

    The difference is…

    Crossfit is a business model that is designed to make money. Attract people to achieve “fitness” goals and have marketable information. 30 pull ups sounds cool eh? A fat lawyer or a skinny lady can do 20 pull ups is impressive because they don;t need to build muscles?

    Also how does pull ups recruit slow twitch muscles? It just means that your too weak to lift that much weight. If you want to recruit your fast twitch muscles use lower resistance… by… lifting free weight or a proven machine.

  • Erick

    No need for this to be a “battle” of which is better. Fact is, they are simply different exercises. Doing 30 kips is not the same as doing 30 pull ups. Just like doing 10 pull ups isnt’ the same as doing 10 kips. The reason for all the debate is only because people try to compare them as being the same exercise. It would be like comparing a overhead tricep rope press with an overhead medicine ball throw. They are not the same exerices and the reason for doing them is not the same.

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