Strict September

One of my favorite questions is when non-CrossFitters, or new CrossFitters, ask me about kipping. “What’s up with people flinging their bodies around to get over the bar? Isn’t that like cheating??”

I love this question because it lets me get into a discussion (ok, usually a monologue) about the different types of pull ups and the different reasons behind each. Kipping and strict pull ups have the same starting point and ending point, but they serve different purposes.

Strict pull ups are a strength-based movement. If you are supposed to be doing strict pull ups, then kipping IS cheating! In a conditioning WOD, they often create a bottleneck where people are forced to slow down. Conversely, kipping turns pull ups from a strength movement into a more aerobic movement that has more to do with coordination and muscle endurance than with absolute strength. This allows people to use pull ups as a conditioning tool, as they will not have to slow down nearly as much to get through their set.

The catch with kipping pull ups is that kipping pull ups will not help you get better at strict pull ups. But the reverse IS true: the better you are at strict pull ups, the better you will be at kipping pull ups. Imagine how easy a set of 15 kipping would be if you could easily bang out sets of 15 strict! The same principle applies to strict vs. kipping toes to bar, handstand push ups, and muscle ups.

While we always emphasize the importance of strict strength before dynamic movements, sometimes this gets swept aside in the excitement of a WOD. Most metcons aren’t structured in a way that encourages people to spend time working through strict movements, so they grab a handful of bands, a stack of AbMats, and/or rely on a vigorous kip to achieve the desired movement standard. Ideally we want our members to be both strong enough to reliably perform strict movements, AND skilled enough at kipping that they can control their swing and cruise through big sets efficiently while maintaining excellent positions and technique.

We will be focused on improving our members’ gymnastics competency from both ends — strength and skill — over the next three months. We will start with a strength focus by emphasizing strict movements in September; switch gears to kipping practice in October; then put the two together and move away from bands in November:

  1. Strict September
  2. Kip into October
  3. No Band November

I do not think kipping is bad, and bands CAN be a useful assistance tool for pull ups. However, because these tend to be our default ways of moving and modifying, we tend to overuse them when other methods might actually be more conducive to developing our overall physical capabilities. By specifically focusing on strict strength this coming month, our goal is to make real improvements in our members’ gymnastics strength and give you the tools to continue developing strength on your own after “Strict September” is over. Defaulting to what is comfortable and what feels normal to you is a great way to stay the same, so look forward to stepping outside your comfort zone and trying a new way of doing things. Kipping will still be there in a month, you’ll just be more well-equipped to do it better!

What will this look like in practice? I’ll only address September for now, since that’s first on the docket. For starters, you won’t see kipping movements in WODs in September. What you WILL see is more frequent but lower volume strict pull ups, knees to elbows, handstand push ups, and muscle ups, along with specific modifications to help you build strength with those movements if you don’t have them yet…AND ways to make them more challenging when appropriate. We will also be building in more frequent upper body accessory work to help you get stronger at these movements.

I am really looking forward to the next few months. Watching people get pull ups for the first time is so exciting; equally exciting will be watching our already-advanced members push themselves to new levels and work on more advanced versions of skills and strengths they’ve been doing for years.

See you in the gym!


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