In this third and final blog dedicated to pullups, we take a look at the training stimulus differences between strict and kipping pullups.
It’s a general belief of CrossFit that kipping pullups are superior to strict pullups because they produce a higher power output. Gregg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, is quoted as saying: “kipping allows more work to be done in less time, thus increasing power output.” If we are focused solely on power output (force x distance/ time), this is true. However, power output is just one variable of training and it can be improved in several different ways. It shouldn’t be the only focus of a workout, especially if it opens the door for an increased risk of injury (as reviewed in the second blog in this series). According to Dr. Mike Young, “Saying that kipping pullups are superior just because they exhibit greater gross power output is like claiming Mercedes Benz is the absolute best car. The absolute best at what? Comfort? Dependability? Fuel economy? It depends on what you’re looking for.”
Strict pullups focus the training load more on the upper body musculature and they potentially provide a greater time under tension without the inherent risks of kipping pullups for speed. Additionally, more strict variations of the pullup provide a better opportunity to train the qualities that most people associate with strength. When we speak of being strong, it’s really just a reference to how much mechanical work someone can perform in a given movement. Work equals force x distance. Notice: time is not a factor in work. It’s doubtful anyone would disagree that one weighted rep of a 3 sec up and 3 sec down strict pullup would be more work or harder than a single kipping pullup. Without a doubt, when comparing one strict pullup to one kipping pullup, the kipping pullup can be done with more ease. Some people can crank out several kipping pullups but they lack the strength to do a single strict pullup. A strict pullup requires more upper body muscular strength and it can actually benefit your ability to do kipping pullups more safely and effectively.
The two different types of pullups offer different training stimuli. The benefit of kipping pullups comes as being able to complete more reps in a shorter amount of time. This works great when the desired training stimuli is metabolic conditioning but it is not the optimal way to become stronger in the upper body. Comparing kipping pullups to strict pullups would be like comparing jump roping to weighted squat jumps. Is one variation better than the other? Not really…they’re just variations of an activity. The right choice greatly depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. With the increased likelihood of injury imposed by wild or excessive use of kipping pullups, we prefer to use them sparingly at Athletic Lab. We would like the primary focus to be on strict pullups or a very conservative kip with use of kipping pullups primarily reserved for timed workouts and max pullup testing only. We would also like to periodically distract clients from focusing on their time that will be posted on the board and challenge them to throw out a time that reflects doing harder work and building more strength through strict pullups or by mixing the two pullup variations within a timed workout.
A special thanks to Dr. Mike Young for his contribution to this blog series.