Dead Hang vs Kipping Pull Up

Posted by on Feb 18, 2010 in Skill Development | Comments Off on Dead Hang vs Kipping Pull Up

The Strict Pullup
The Strict PullupGreat post found on the CrossFit Zone, Victoria BC site. 

Excerpts taken from an article by John Sifferman, found at

Ah, the endless debate continues… which is better, the kipping pullup or the strict, deadhang pullup?  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. 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.

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?
Even for someone who is mindfully trying to do strict, deadhang pullups, it is nearly impossible to actually perform them with a perfectly rigid body. This is because the body has a natural inclination (a.k.a 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 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.

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 pullips 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. And thus, we have the kip.