If you’re not strong enough to do a pull-up, you could still probably hoist your chin up over the bar. Just use a little momentum -- swing you body back and explosively thrust your hips upward -- to help you out.
Cheating? Not quite.
While most onlookers might consider this a “cheat” pull-up, it’s actually a great tool for burning fat and building muscle -- as long as you use it correctly.
See, fitness experts actually consider this “cheat” pull-up and entirely different exercise altogether. It’s called a kipping pullup.
“I don’t consider kipping pull-ups cheating because I don’t even consider them to be pull-ups,” says Men's Health Power Training author Robert Dos Remedios, C.S.C.S., who is not affiliated with CrossFit. “They’re in their own category.”
A quick explanation: The standard pull-up requires you to pull your upright body toward the bar. So it forces your upper body pulling muscles to work in a vertical direction.
Watch the video to see how to do a chin-up with perfect form, and note that the expert starts from a dead-hang and his lower body isn't moving as he pulls himself upward. (For a complete guide to master this awesome exercise, check out The Ultimate Chin-Up Workout Plan.)
That provides less mechanical advantage than if you were to work them in a horizontal direction -- such as you would when doing an inverted row. And as you might recall from high school physics, the lower your mechanical advantage, the lower the amount of force you can produce.
That brings us back to the kipping pull-up. With this exercise, you swing your body backward, putting your torso at an angle to the bar instead of directly below it. “Because of your body position, it’s a little bit of a vertical pull and little bit of a horizontal pull, so it’s easier than doing a dead-hang pullup,” Dos Remedios explains. “You’re just stronger at that angle.” And let's not forget that you're also creating momentum to help you pull your body upward.
The result: Dos Remedios, for example, says he can do about 15 traditional pull-ups, but 30 kipping pull-ups.
So when is that useful? When you’re trying to jack up your heart rate. Because you’re moving quickly and engaging multiple muscle groups, kipping pull-ups wind you quickly.
Dos Remedios, for example, uses them in a type of workout called a complex. In a complex, you use the same weight -- even your own bodyweight -- to perform around three or four exercises back-to-back. That’s considered one set. In a typical complex, you’ll perform three sets with a couple of minutes of rest in between each one.
That may sound like hard work, and it is -- you’ll be panting for air, your muscles will be burning, and you’ll be fighting yourself to keep going. But if you’re still doing 30, 45, or even 60 minutes of moderate cardio a day, it’s time to upgrade your workout (and your results). You see, loads and loads of research over the past decade shows that long, slow cardio is inferior to this type of shorter, more intense workout. (Intensify your workout instantly, by drawing from our list of the 100 Best Workout Songs of All Time.)
Just as an example, let’s look at one Australian study. In that experiment, people who did 40 minutes of moderate stationary cycling three times a week for 15 weeks actually gained a pound of fat! (Strike one against old-school cardio.) But a second group in the study performed 20 minutes of intervals -- hard pedaling followed by rest periods -- three times per week. Even though they followed the same diet as the other subjects, the interval group lost 5.5 pounds of fat, increased their lean body mass, and even improved their aerobic capacity more than the people plugging along at a moderate pace. And in half the time!
Piles of research also support the fact that lifting weights not only builds muscle (which you already know) but also burns fat. That’s because a single strength training session increases the number of calories you’re burning at rest for up to 3 days after a workout.
So back to those complexes. They give you the best of both worlds -- a hard cardio interval workout plus strength training -- in far less time. And that’s the place where a kipping pull-up can fit into your routine. (Want a great workout that'll help you blast fat fast? Try The Spartacus Workout 2.0; it's the cutting-edge routine that's helped thousands of people get in shape.)
One big disclaimer: If your plan calls for a regular pull-up -- and you do the kipping version -- then it is indeed cheating. “If you’re aiming to do a vertical pulling exercise, it should be some sort of a pull-up or chin-up variation rather than a kip,” says Dos Remedios. “Otherwise you’re really not using the muscles that are meant to vertically pull.”
So how, exactly, do you a do kipping pull-up? There are endless variations -- from a small swing to full-body thrashing -- but Dos Remedios recommends only a slight difference from the traditional move. Most people wouldn’t even call his version kipping, he explains, but it’s easier to learn and should still double the number of repetitions you’re able to do compared to the pull-up. Remember: It's not necessarily good for improving your ability to do pull-ups, but when done correctly, it makes for a very good conditioning exercise.
Here's how to do it:
1. Hanging from a bar, push your shoulders and chest forward.
2. Now quickly reverse that movement: Pull your shoulders back and thrust your hips and thighs upward, like you're trying to swing your lower body to the bar. (You won't get close.)
3. Using that momentum, simultaneously pull up with your arms -- by bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together -- until your chin is over the bar,
4. Take a full second or two to lower straight back down, and immediately repeat.
Do it right; be safe. And to find out if your workout is dangerous, check out America's Scariest Fitness Trends. You might be surprised to learn what you're doing wrong!
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