Kipping pull ups + bad form

I just got to work after being at the gym. Today, I noticed a lot of bad form going on…which is what inspired this post. I actually meant to write this a few weeks ago when trainer Tony Gentilcore discussed the hype around kipping pull ups (usually used at Crossfit).

I’m not knocking Crossfit…at all. In fact, I have done “WODs” (workout of the day) on my own, and if I had the money I would love to take some Crossfit classes. However, as Tony explains in his article, there are many Crossfit gyms (and gyms in general which I will get to in a little bit) that have trainers that to not watch form. Just watch the video in his article! It makes me cringe to even watch that…

“I also recognize that there are plenty of CrossFit affiliates out there who go out of their way to actually assess people, coach them up, and offer proper progressions and more importantly, regressions, depending on one’s ability level and injury history.

Unfortunately, at least in my eyes and experience, this is generally the exception and not the norm.”

What scares me about Crossfit is that people are doing Olympic style lifts but in high reps/competing to get as many reps as possible. This can be ok…if there are trainers assessing form. If you are busting out as many reps as possible just for that number, but your form is horrible, you will end up on the short end of the stick…possibly hurt and injured.

This is why I am confused by kipping pull ups. What are kipping pull ups? Tony describes them here:

“If asked what they are, I’d reply, with a straight face:  it’s where someone looks like they’re having an epileptic seizure in order to cheat a pull-up.


Listen, I don’t doubt that there’s a certain technique to perform them properly, nor do I think it’s unimpressive that there are some people out there who can bust out 50+ reps and not blink an eye.  But lets not delude ourselves into thinking that they’re something they’re not.

Funnily enough, I was having a similar discussion with Boston University head strength coach, Glenn Harris, earlier this week and he mentioned to me a conversation he had with a family friend of his.

When asked his thoughts on kipping pull-ups, he replied, “well, they’re a way to cheat.”  To which she replied, “yeah but, they allow you do more!”

Uhhh, exactly!”

I have trained women who left Crossfit for 1-on-1 training, and when I had them do normal pullups, you know what they said? “Wow this is so much harder!” Wouldn’t you want to nail a perfect pull up rather than do 50 swinging pull ups?

Granted, I know Crossfit also incorporates assisted pull ups using bands…which is perfect! I have most of my clients doing assisted pull ups in order to gain strength to do a strict pull up. Heck, I did this for over a year before I could do a few strict pull ups. Tony also discusses the possibility of injury with kipping pullups:

“Well, the same thought process still applies.  Most (not all) people have really poor tissue quality, move about as well as a pregnant turtle, have the joint integrity of a paper cloth, and can barely press a barbell over their head without some major compensatory patterns.

Looking at the amount of “stuff” that takes place during a kipping pull-up (repetitive lumbar hyperextension, as well as the joint distraction forces mentioned above), it’s just something that’s not worth the risk or effort in my eyes.  For many, they’re  just not capable or “ready” to do such an advance movement without hurting themselves.

If that doesn’t apply to you, fantastic!”

Overall, you just need to be careful in general. At any gym, whether it’s Crossfit or not. Find a place where trainers are watching your form like a hawk, and not afraid to correct you. Yes, I know you want to lift heavier or do more reps, but do not sacrifice form for this! You will only hurt yourself in the long run.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen trainers at the gym not even watching their clients as they do deadlifts with a rounded back or pushups with sagging hips. If you’re paying good money for a trainer or a gym, you want the trainers to instruct you right?

This post has been everywhere but moral of the story: please don’t use bad form!!! If you don’t have a trainer, just ask one to spot you at the gym while you try a squat, deadlift, chest press, etc. They will let you know if you are doing it correctly.

And please, if you’re doing pull ups, just do assisted pull ups and work your way up to strict pull ups. How awesome will you feel when you can bang out a few reps of bodyweight pull ups on your own?

Lastly, I do not have a problem with Crossfit…I even want to try it! I just urge people to make sure their trainers are acting as trainers. Crossfit trainers need only attend a weekend course to get certified. After that, they can get other certifications, but obviously many may not. See if you can find a “box” with trainers who have gone above and beyond to continue their education.

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  1. The only thing that makes me crazier than people performing exercises with bad form is the trainers (who they are PAYING for their knowledge) who fail to correct them. One of the best trainers I ever worked with refused to let me do anything if the form wasn’t perfect – and it’s the greatest fitness lesson I’ve ever learned. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it!

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