Kipping vs Strict Gymnastics

CrossFit gets a lot of flack from more traditional training communities like bodybuilding for our use of kipping pull-ups. Many people just don’t understand why we would use kipping pull-ups or kipping anything for that matter. Some history and context will help bring some clarity on why and also help make a case for doing more strict gymnastic work.

History of CrossFit and Kipping

CrossFit Inc. has an online journal and has since 2002. In the earliest and foundational articles published coach Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit listed the basic movements we should use in training.

… master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds …

In subsequent articles about the pull-up, push-ups and handstands there is not a single mention of kipping. Kipping or the beat swing from gymnastics is a just a simple technique used to gain some momentum to get above the uneven bars or rings to do more advanced maneuvers. Early CrossFit standards for the pull-up, muscle-up and handstand push-up were all done strict.

The kipping pull-up arrived on the scene during the first or second CrossFit games. One man used a kipping like movement to help speed up his pull-ups and use his lower body to help get his chin up over the bar. This was great for meeting the standards of competition and for demonstrating increased work capacity but has lead to an overshadowing of the original intent of the gymnastic movements in CrossFit.

Work Capacity

We define fitness as your demonstrated work capacity over broad time and modal domains. Work equals the force required to move an object or your body multiplied by the distance it travels divided by the time it takes to complete the movement. So if you can decrease the amount of time it takes you do pull-ups, handstand push-ups or muscle-ups then your demonstrated work capacity has gone up.

Increased work capacity is great but not at the expense of strength. Nor is increasing strength at the cost of work capacity. What’s awesome about gymnastics movements is the better you get at the strict movement the easier the dynamic (kipping) versions will be.

Gymnastic Strength

I have a love/hate relationship with strict gymnastics movements. I see the benefit in them but they are so hard to do and that gets a little frustrating. For example: I think I can manage about 7-10 strict pull-ups (really probably 3 or 4 if I maintain a hollow body position while doing them), but I can knock out between 25 and 30 kipping pull-ups. This is because I’ve spend much more time working on my kipping and have pretty good technique. I use my entire body to do the work and am pretty efficient.

Imagine how many kipping pull-ups I’d be able to do if I could do 20 strict pull-ups. Developing strict gymnastic strength is so important to your overall fitness. It develops body awareness and control as well as being very impressive to watch.

In recent years I’ve seen more CrossFit gyms and athletes adding “assistance” exercises into their programs to eliminate imbalances and prevent injury. I bet that if more people integrated more strict gymnastics training into their programs they wouldn’t need these additional assistance exercises.

I know there is a culture of kipping being the cool thing to do. But what if we changed that and developed a culture of strength and strict movements and just used kipping in specific circumstances? We’d be stronger, have better body control and kipping would be even easier.

Now go move better.