Kipping It Real

I’ve been talking a lot in my classes over the past few days on that ever so controversial topic of “kipping” in our WODs.  It’s definitely the one thing that when thrown out there to a non-Crossfit person, raises the eyebrows and gets a laugh or two.  In our “Crossfit” world, they are every bit as common as Dr Dre Beats headphones and razor-back tank tops are in a globo-gym.  But in all seriousness, they are so common place that unless a workout is specifically wrote as “strict pull ups”, we assume rightfully so that we can kip and/or butterfly our pull ups.  

So here’s the thing with “the kip”.  As I have said in my classes, the kip can be your best friend or your worst enemy.  Done properly, we can generate a lot of force and momentum with it to assist our strength in moving our body through required range of motion.  Done incorrectly, it is fighting all of our strength efforts and we are losing power we have generated through strength and motion.  Double edged sword.

I’m going to throw one more thing out there regarding pull ups.  Pure and simple, its a “strength to weight” exercise.  We can work on developing our pulling power and getting much stronger through that range of motion.  At the end of the day, if we are carrying a bunch of extra weight, they still are not going to happen.  All I can say is stick to the program, be dedicated to taking care of yourself and that weight will come off.  A big mistake is rushing into kipping pull ups when we do not have the strength to do strict ones.  More on this later.  Let’s take a look at some of the good and bad on the “kip”.

First, the bad.

The kipping pull up can be our enemy.  Conventional “strict” pull ups are great for back strength through the “pulling” range of motion.  Period.  That strict pulling strength through our back, of course, plays well into more pull ups.  That pulling power also plays into deadlifts, snatch, clean and jerk, squatting, you get the point.  If we overlook this strict pulling power because we have developed “the kip”, we neglect those muscles through a lot of range of motion.  Once we are efficient in kipping or even butterfly pull ups, we often rely on them and forget to keep developing that strength.  Big mistake as it is vital to essentially all other movements we do in Crossfit as mentioned previously.

The kip itself can also be what’s holding us back from stringing together sets of kipping pull ups.  In our kip, if we are not controlled in both the hollow and arch positions, we are losing power.  We might be able to swing back and forth on the bar.  If someone yelled “STOP” at any given point when you are swinging, could you stop; right away?  If not, then you are not “in control” enough.  More to come on this in some specialty classes very soon as explaining it all in text is not easy.  

And then the good.

Firstly, for all the haters out there, our kipping pull ups are not designed to accomplish the same task as strict pull ups.  With strict pull ups, we are focusing on building strength or hypertrophy or both.  While kipping pull ups are designed to accomplish “work”.  “Work” is defined as moving a load over a distance.  In the case of a pull up, our body (the load) from below the bar to above it (the distance).  While work is great, what we want to accomplish in a wod is “power”.  “Power” is defined as work over time.  Meaning, we want to generate as much work as we can and we want to do it over and over and over as quick as we can.  In this case, the kipping pull up clearly wins.  A second big component of the kip is coordination.  It is one of the ten physical properties we work on in Crossfit and frankly, a lot of people don’t have it.  Yet. It takes a lot of coordination and body awareness for kipping pull ups.  It will come but can’t expect the kip to be there without it.  Once we have them, the kip will really help reinforce the coordination aspect of training while on a rig.

Kipping is a great tool to have.  There is definitely nothing wrong with it.  However, we need to make sure we have the strength (and continue to develop the strength) before we ever rely on adding speed and momentum to our pull ups.  Aim for five strict pull ups.  If we can do this, then our shoulders are stable enough to start adding in big volume of kipping.  Before that and we are asking for injury.  There is a time (during the Open for example), where we are asked to perform.  If in that moment, we do not have strict pull ups but can swing ourselves up for a few reps, fantastic!  That definitely should not be the case in our daily wods.  Use them as training to develop that strength.  

So there’s a little more insight into the controversial “kipping pull up”.  Make sure you keep those things in mind before you decide you’re ready to start swinging around on the rig.  While pull ups certainly get easier once we have the kip mastered, rushing in to it is asking for disaster in the long run.  Be smart and diligent and develop the strength before the skill.  Your shoulders will thank us coaches for it down the road.

Kip it real, people. Kip it real!