In CrossFit, being able to do pull ups can make the difference between rxing workouts and scaling them. Psychologically, everyone wants to be able to “Rx” a workout as if it means you’ve arrived as an athlete. However, more often than not, when it comes to WODs with pull ups, the way to earn that little rx next to your score is by kipping your way there.
Now, when looking at CrossFit as a sport, kipping pull ups are a necessary skill. In the middle of competition, an athlete who is able to string together pull ups by kipping them or performing them as butterfly pull ups is going to score much better than an athlete who is attempting to complete the workout doing dead hang pull ups. Kipping and butterfly pull ups are more efficient and thus, much faster, so high level competitors must practice and perfect these movements.
However, when looking at CrossFit as a training modality, kipping and butterfly pull ups are not appropriate for building strength. They will not make you stronger. This is where many athletes let their egos get the best of them. The psychological push that CrossFit has built into its brand by having athletes list their WOD times on the board is what motivates athletes to push themselves day in and day out. But sometimes, the drive to be the best that day can override the overall training goals of an athlete. Kipping pull ups throughout a wod in order to finish quickly is a prime example of this catch-22.
Unless you are training for Regionals or a specific competition, you will best serve yourself and your goals by ceasing kipping and butterfly pull ups in favor of the dead hang. At that level, one is training for sport and has mastered these highly technical movements. It is assumed that an athlete who is strong enough to make Regionals has the overall shoulder stability needed to protect the joint during kipping pull ups, as well as the body awareness to perform a kipping pull up in a technically proficient way.
But dead hang pull ups make sense for the rest of the CrossFit population.
You may be thinking about how this will impact your “Helen” time. Of course the answer is, you’ll be much slower. But “Helen” wasn’t created to make you better at doing “Helen.” It was created to make you stronger in your lats, more powerful in your hips, and better conditioned as a result of running.
Doing strict pull ups will lead to significantly more overall strength gain than kipping them, and ultimately, make you a better athlete. In the big picture, it makes more sense. You may have to use bands to get through a workout that you could have done “rx” if you kipped your way there, but if your intention is to get fitter and stronger, as it should be, you will see better results by doing them strictly.
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