Balanced Kipping

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Kipping is a skill and one that we will be focusing on  in the competition program. 

Despite all the talk about how much easier the kipping variants of certain bodyweight movements are than their traditional, strict counterparts, kipping is most definitely a skill, and one that takes practice to perfect.

While movements like pull-ups, muscle-ups, and toes to bars can be accomplished using a technique that vaguely resembles a fish out of water, it is obviously better to cultivate an efficient kip, especially if you intend on competing in CrossFit based competitions.

In my mind, the most important aspect of a good kip is balance. This balance is between the motion of one’s upper body and the motion of their lower body, which must be synched properly in order to keep one’s center of mass directly under the bar or rings. If this motion is flawed, the center of mass will move forward or behind the apparatus, and this is when athletes start to look like fishes.

To create balance, as the upper body goes forward (relative to the apparatus) during the first part of the kip, the lower body must come back (call this the forward swing), and when the upper body goes back, the lower body comes forward (call this the back swing). This way, the action of the upper body is “counterbalanced” by the lower half, and there is no wasted motion.

This is a simple concept, but can go wrong in a number of ways.

First, many times the upper body does not come forward far enough. It is easy to swing one’s legs back, but tougher to get the chest forward. It could be the case that the athlete lacks the requisite mobility in order to complete the movement, in which case it would be a very wise idea to try and fix that before doing a high volume of kipping movements. For others though, often just an awareness of what needs to be done is enough to fix this issue. A good cue is “kip from the shoulders,” which will encourage the individual to move their entire torso forward, rather than just their head.

Another common issue is pausing, either at the end of the forward swing, or at the end of the back swing. Any hesitation whatsoever in these positions will cause the center of mass to move from under the bar, and thus compromise the efficiency of the kip. Instead, as soon as the forward swing is completed, the backwards swing must begin (and vice versa). There is constant motion in a good kip.

A third issue is kipping motions that are too big. Some will say that a kip should not be too grand because it encourages poor body positions (such as a hyperextended spine), and also because it is slow. Both of these things are true. However, an additional reason is that an excessively large swing will again throw one’s body off axis. Generally this looks like a large forward swing, which brings the hips way behind the apparatus, and then a backswing that is unable to compensate for the previous motion.

While using momentum to one’s advantage is the name of the game in kipping motions, if balance is sacrificed in the process, it is all for naught. Those who have large kips that tend to lead to “wonkiness” should focus on making the motion as tight as possible (and perhaps keeping their legs straighter); they may find that they actually have more power in the kip this way.

While being conscious of the principle of balance when performing full kipping movements is a great start, a great drill to perfect one’s kip is the kipping swing.

This is simply the kipping motion without any attempt to perform the full movement. Grab the bar or rings and try to feel the balance created by swinging forward and back, starting small, and then making the swing more dynamic as things start to click. 3 sets of 4-7 reps prior to a workout with kipping movements is a great way to practice this skill as well as get warm.

As always, the key to perfecting skills is a great deal of practice. You will be surprised how much easier the “easy” movements of kipping pull-ups, toes to bar, muscle-ups, knees to elbows, and others are once you achieve a balanced kip.