The "kip" is one of those elements of the functional fitness-style that causes the traditional gym-goer to raise a judgmental eyebrow at our classes. And I can't say there's not merit to that judgment. When done incorrectly, the kip is not only ineffective and dangerous, but it just makes us look like a flailing fish hooked on a line!
So, here's an attempt to guide you toward a more efficient kip...and quiet the criticisms of the crowd with their spaghetti string tank tops, headphones, and mirrors.
Oh, and prevent you from injuries.
What Is The "Kip?"
The kip has become popular in high intensity functional fitness programs thanks to CrossFit (tm), but it was typically associated with gymnastics. Regardless, it's more than a cheat to the Pull-Up. Taken directly from CrossFit (tm), the kip "derives from a powerful and athletic reversal of hip direction — like that of the clean and the snatch — and expands the primary movers from just the back and arms down through the torso and hip to include the power zone. Far from being a cheat, kipping is a gateway skill with functional utility on the rings, parallel bars, high bar, and floor (the quickest way to get to your feet)."
Speaking specifically to Pull-Ups, Chest To Bar Pull-Ups, Muscle Ups, Toes To Bar, and Knees To Elbow, the kip is comprised of an active push-pull which causes the torso to rotate between "arch" and "hollow" positions. The head and feet are never on the same side of the vertical plane, which is clear in the video below. And, though it may not seem true, the kip is primarily an upper body movement. When done well, it takes a foundation of strict strength and magnfies it.
But the reality is that the kip doesn't look like this video for most of us. And that leads to tougher workouts, shredded hands, and an increased risk of injury. So here are 5 quick common faults that we see in the kip and how to correct them.
1. Inactive Hang Position. This tends to hit every athlete during a workout as fatigue sets in. But it can also be present at the first rep and you may not know it. While hanging from the pull-up bar, the lat/scap engagement - if lacking - negates the kip from the onset. This leaves all of the bodyweight in the grip/biceps/delts instead of the larger back muscles. It prevents the range of motion necessary to get an effective kip. It prevents the reverse hip direction benefit mentioned by CrossFit (tm) above. And it sets you up for tearing your hands + injuring your shoulders. Instead of the stretched lats and arms close to the ears demonstrated in Julia's photo, actively press down on the bar throughout the ENTIRE TIME you are on the bar, activating the triceps/lats/upper back/core and creating space between the arms and head for the arch-hollow motion to occur.
2. Losing Your Head. Largely due to poor mobility, but some due to rushing the kip, many athletes fail to push the head through the window during the arch portion of the arch-hollow. So, even if you have an active hang, you can negate or diminish the benefit of the kip by short-changing the range of motion. Not pushing your head through the window in the arch position changes the momentum/loading of the movement and leaves you directly underneath the bar (at least your upper body). From this position, you'll lose capacity for larger groups of reps and/or will find another way to generate momentum (see #3). With each kip, ensure that you have active lat/scap engagement, then pull your head and torso through that window as if someone is standing behind you and pressing your shoulderblades (see Erik's demonstration). Make sure that your abdomen, quads, and hamstrings are also active as you pull the head and torso through. Oh, and maybe consider some Thoracic Spine mobility work before or after classes!
3. Hip Hinging. If you aren't active in your hang or aren't finishing the range of motion in the arch, then you likely will fall into the trap of this common fault. But even with those points dialed in, we often see hip hinging when athletes are new to kipping. And at first glance, the kip looks like it is a leg-generated movement. So, when returning from the arch position, athletes will kick the legs forward, hinging at the hip. This deactivates the hips and negates the actual reason for kipping. The hamstrings/quads/core typically aren't as engaged, and the athlete is not as in control of the momentum. Often, you'll see this result in swinging on the bar or a need to use the Split Scorpion Swing (#4) to keep momentum. This is also where the hands have to do more work on the bar and risk tearing. Take a look at how Julia is hanging directly under the bar with her legs hinged in more of an L-Sit position. What we want to see is for her to be pressing away from the bar, flexing her abdomen and quads in a good hollow body position so that the hips are actually wanting to travel upward as the feet come forward.
4. Split Scorpion Swings. Can you picture this? For a number of possible reasons, you're now in desparate need to get some additional benefit out of the kip. So you throw your legs behind you, separating your feet, and curling them toward your back like a scorpion (or like most of us when we Handstand Walk). This deactivates the quad/hip tension, the abdomen, and possibly even the lat/scap engagement, leaving all the effort on the grip and shoulders. It's like telling the body to maximize the benefit of an active, intentional push-pull momentum by first going limp. What happens is essentially kicking back into a forceful hip hinge (#3), shortening the arch position (#2), and/or reverting to an inactive hang (#1). The arch and hollow should mirror, with the only change being which side of the vertical plane has head or feet. A Hollow Body position should simply invert in the arch. The feet should stay together, the hamstrings, quads, and abdomen should remain engaged. Then the "kick" forward to transition from arch to hollow should have tension and allow the athlete to stop the movement if so desired. This is key for application to Pull-Ups and such. Think dolphin tail, not scorpion.
5. Not Working On It. We use the kip so often in our classes. We even write them into the warm-ups for you to use them to build into other movements. But how many of you know you're (we're) guilty of at least one of these common faults? How many of you (us) do extra work to improve the kip? Nevermind cleaning up these faults, but how many of us work on PVC or banded accessories to improve our kip? How many of us do Hollow Rocks or Hollow Holds or Active Bar Hangs to strengthen our kip? We want the kip to make our higher level gymnastic movements better, but we tend to overlook improving the foundational piece. The coaches and the internet have a plethora of accessories to help you with whichever component of the kip may be weak. Invest in this part so that you can see the reward in the sexier movements during the workouts!.
Next week, we'll discuss the application of the kip to your daily WOD movements. In the mean time, take 5 minutes before or after class and video yourself doing a few kip swings. Does your video look like Erik's at the top of the blog? Do you have any of these common faults? Show it to a Coach; get feedback. But remember, any ignored weakness in your game is one more obstacle in you taking control of your long term health. You're worth those 5 minutes.
And if you happen to be reading this from the outside and want to talk more about how REV5 Fitness can come alongside you in your individual pursuit of taking back control of your long term health, then simply click HERE to book a FREE No Sweat Intro today.
To Your Success,