Is Kipping Really That Dangerous? Part 3 - Progression, Volume Management and Periodization

   

In my past two articles we’ve thoroughly exhausted how to assess mobility limitations and master basic positions for kipping, and how to build strength and master technique and timing for different kipping variations.

Now it’s time we talk about how to fit all of this into your training or coaching.

Obviously all of this complex information is for nought if we can’t figure out how to get it all into a comprehensive program.  Before I explain how, I want to introduce a few concepts that shape my thought process in regards to kipping safety and programming.

One researcher who I think has done a great job illuminating what we’re going to be discussing in this article is Tim Gabbett.  Tim Gabbett does not do research on CrossFt athletes; he does research on elite collision sports like Rugby.  

This means that his concepts aren’t  going to directly carry right over to your gym’s general population of athletes.  However, I think his points are very relevant toward any sport where you’re continuously pushing the envelope in terms of volume.

Obviously we want to become as competitive as possible and part of that will be maximizing training load. However, we need to be extremely cautious when we tinker with volume and kipping is no exception.

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Looking through Tim’s studies, two concepts become apparent:

First: performing too much exercise volume at any given time increases your risk of injury.  

Tim’s research found that in elite Rugby players, there was a definitive amount of volume each player could tolerate before their risk of injury increased.  This makes sense from a competitive perspective; we’re constantly walking a fine line between maximal volume for performance and going off the edge and getting injured.

Second: increasing training volume above normal training levels increases injury risk.

Tim’s research found that if the prior week’s training was less than the current week, the athletes were more at risk of injury.  This makes sense; when we increase training volume, the risk goes up for injury.

So what does that mean for us as coaches?  Well, putting it simply:

  • If you do too much total volume, your risk for injury goes up.  There is certainly a definitive amount of volume the body can handle, and above that the risk of injury goes up exponentially; 7,000% in Tim’s study.
  • If your training volume takes a jump up at any particular point, your risk of injury increases with this volume increase

We can use this information to help us design smart programming for our athletes, especially the ones prone to injury.

The final concept I have injected into my own programming practices is avoiding “Pattern Overload”.  Pattern Overload is a term I first read about from Paul Chek way back in the year 2000.  

In a nutshell, pattern overload is doing too much of a given movement pattern such that the movement causes overuse of specific soft tissue structures.  In terms of the kipping pull-up, if we did nothing but kipping pull-ups as our only pull-up variation throughout the course of the year, we might be setting ourselves up for increased risk of soft tissue injury due to pattern overload.

So Dan, how the hell do we use these concepts to keep our athletes safe and keep them progressing?  

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Concept 1: Control Total Volume of Kipping in Your Programming

Based on what we just stated above about Tim Gabbett’s research, it makes sense that special care should be taken not to inject too much kipping into your programming.  As stated above, there is certainly a line we can cross where we’re more likely to get hurt.  Below I’ve provided a few ways we can follow this concept:

  • Monitor Total Kipping Volume - I tend not to add in kipping movements into training more than 1-2 times per week.  This way we make continued progress but not at the risk of injury.
  • Save High Volume Periods for Peaking / Overreaching Phases - When getting closer to a competitive season consider ramping the kipping volume up to 2-3 times per week but only for short periods of time.  Remember risk vs. reward.  Increased volume = increased performance but also increased risk.
  • Utilize Deload Periods - Deload kipping after a competitive season and every few months.  I like to take 2-4 months off from much kipping at all following a competitive season.  I also like to undulate my programming and utilize deload weeks every 4-5 weeks to decrease training load and keep athletes safer.
  • Total Shoulder Volume is Paramount - Track total shoulder load from exercises other than kipping movements and take this into account when deciding how much total kipping volume to use.  This means monitoring rope climbs, strict pulling, and all overhead movements.
  • Cater to Individuals - Consider dropping total volume for individuals with a history of shoulder pain and problems.  I’m sure that how much volume one person will be able to handle won’t be the same as another.  Athletes and coaches need to pick up on this and be able to set a volume ceiling for that specific athlete.
  • Set and Rep Control - Control sets and reps over the course of the week and not just how often kipping shows up in your programming.  If you perform few sets and reps in a given workout then you can probably get away with more volume later in the week.  If your kipping volume is high in a given session then you may want to consider nixing or severely limiting more kipping later in the week.
  • Utilize Sets for Skill and Not to Failure - Sets of a given exercise that don’t take the shoulder to failure are far less stressful then performing a maximal set to muscular failure and technical failure.  Use this tactic to your advantage when trying to improve skill without adding in too much volume and intensity

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Concept 2: Progress Gradually and Prepare Your Shoulder

As a therapist, one of the most common reasons I see people for therapy is because of overuse injuries from programming errors.  A programming error (besides being a term I made up) is writing programming in a way that results in either an injury or does not accomplish the goal it sets out to accomplish.  I see these often.  Here’s an example.

Example 1:

Me (The Physical Therapist) - So how did that shoulder start hurting you?

Them (The Athlete) - Well, I was trying to get better at kipping pullups so I started practicing them 3 days per week.  At first I was making progress and then I had to stop because my shoulder was aching so badly.  

Example 2:

Me (The Physical Therapist) - So how did that shoulder start hurting you?

Them (The Athlete) - Well, everything was going fine until we did a workout with lots of toes to bar.  My shoulder was aching really badly after the workout and I woke up the next day and had a hard time even reaching overhead.  

In each of these cases we had a problem.  In the first example we were most likely performing too much volume over the training week.  In the second example we probably ramped up the kipping volume to much in a particular workout  Either case is not ideal.  As much as able, progress volume slowly and avoid large jumps in training volume altogether.

Below I’ve provided a few ways we can follow this concept:

  • Give Athletes Smart Alternate Ways to Improve Weakness - If you have an athlete who wishes to improve their kipping pull-up you can give them extra work in the form of hollow / arch position work, bar kipping drills, mobility work and strict strength work that will allow progress without overloading kipping pullups.  (i.e. don’t let your athletes practice kipping pullups to failure multiple times per week).  Also educate your athletes so they realize that doing that movement every day is generally playing with fire.  
  • Prepare Athletes for High Volume Sessions - Want to do “Murph”?  No problem.  Just make sure you slowly build up your volume of kipping pullups in the weeks prior to Murph to ensure no one gets an injury when swinging around for 100 reps
  • Slowly Progress Into Chippers and High Rep Workouts - I save chippers and met-con with high repetition sets for later in the off-season and pre-season.  Performing a lot of kipping reps in a row in a fatigued state is certainly tougher on the body then doing it fresh in a skill setting.  Athletes need to be slowly transitioned over the course of several months for optimal results.
  • Don’t Go Crazy with Competitions - I don’t like having athletes perform competitions early in the off-season.  We just haven’t prepared the body for the demands of the sport yet.  A competition will most likely be throwing things at the athlete that they haven’t prepared for.  Also, we’re in the process of rebuilding and a competition won’t be a good test of the athlete’s progress at that point.

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Concept 3: Avoid Overload with Smart Periodization

To me, periodization is going through varying and progressive training phases throughout the course of the year adjusting volume, intensity and movement to maximize performance and reduce injury risk.  

I like the concept of periodizing around a single competitive season.  This way you can work a variety of movements over the course of the year, continually making progress, maximizing injury reduction and obeying the concepts we just brought up.  

Here is how I like structure my kipping and gymnastics in general. To make this easy, let’s say the competitive season starts in February and ends in March.

Here is the order of emphasis in training starting right after the competitive season:

  • Step 1: Deload
  • Step 2: Mobility and Position Work
  • Step 3: Strict Strength
  • Step 4: Kipping Skill Work
  • Step 5: Kipping For Endurance
  • Step 6: Kipping into Mixed Modality Conditioning
  • Step 7: Specificity of Kipping Into Workouts Likely to be Tested in Competition

Here’s how this might look across a training year:

Early Offseason (April - July):

Deloading

Right after the competitive season is a great time to deload.  What I mean by deload is to take several weeks (2-4 total) off from training on a scheduled basis.  

This is a good time to focus on some fun exercise like hiking, biking or to just plain relax and take some time off.  This offers much needed mental and physical rest from a tough training year.  This also tends to get people fired up to start training again toward the end of the deload.

Mobility and Position Work

The early off-season is an excellent time to do some assessment of your basic body positions to see if you’ve got any issues that need addressing.  Once you’ve figured out whether or not your missing mobility or having trouble with the basic kipping positions, you’ve got a full year to address it.

Strict Strength

After we’ve tackled mobility and position issues we’ll need to start building a strength base.  I discussed how important this is in part 2 of this training series.  I usually work strict strength in conjunction with mobility and position work.  Keep in mind that we haven’t even really done much kipping at all in our program at this point.  This helps deal with pattern overload and to identify any strength deficits so that we can address them.

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Mid and Late Offseason (August - October):

Kipping Skill Work

Once you’ve had a few months away from more dynamic kipping work, I like to start placing it back in again.  This usually comes in the form of kipping first.  Then we start tying in some kipping variations like toes to bar and pull-up variations.  

Usually the reps are kept fairly low and the movements are treated like skills with optimal rest to make technical progress.  This is the first step when we introduce kipping during a training year.

Kipping For Endurance

Many workouts in crossfit are going to be limited by kipping endurance.  It makes sense we have to expose our athletes to this.  I start introducing kipping for endurance outside of a met-con environment in the form of straight sets.  

This way athletes get exposed to kipping in a controlled environment without the addition of other variables to ensure they aren’t breaking down technically.

Kipping into Mixed Modality Conditioning

The competitive environment will undoubtedly mix kipping movements with other movements. We need to start incorporating kipping movements into our metabolic conditioning at this point. This is where we start mixing kipping pull-ups with thrusters, box jumps and any other combination you can think of.

Not only do we need to have good technique when performing kipping to failure, but this technique needs to stick around when we start introducing other movements into the mix.

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Mid and Late Offseason (November - January):

Specificity of Kipping Into Workouts Likely to be Tested in Competition

This is where specificity of training really comes into play.  We want to work all set / rep combinations of kipping and other exercises that may be thrown our way in a competitive environment.  This way we don’t get thrown a curve ball once we’re at a competition and either perform poorly, or get hurt.

Side Note: Keep in mind that some of these phases will be practiced throughout the course of the training year, although not with a primary focus.  One example here is that I like performing strict strength and position work throughout the year despite there being a focus on it in the early off-season.  We just don’t make it a priority unless we’re in the off-season.

Lastly, I think it’s important to think about athlete individualization when designing a program that incorporates kipping.  Everyone has a different body and will be able to tolerate more or less of a given movement.  Be sure to ask your athletes about their injury past, whether they’ve had any major surgeries and their previous training experience.

These variables will all affect your athlete’s injury risk, modifications and progressions.  Keep in mind that age tends to decrease our overhead mobility and our ability to handle load.  Some of our older athletes might need a little extra overhead mobility love before we throw them up on a bar and probably will need some modifications with volume.

Whew, that was a lot.

Hopefully this article series gave you some insight into how to make kipping movements as safe as possible in a training environment.  A lot of people want to pin these movements as good or bad.  Given all of the variables we are able to adjust at our disposal, I think we can safely allow athletes to perform these movements in a smarter and safer way.  

If you’re interested in seeing how I specifically incorporate these concepts into my own training over the course of the year, then please click here to check out my training program.

Also, if you enjoyed these articles and think someone can benefit from them then please share the love!

All Kipped Out,

Dan Pope DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF L1

About The Author

Dan Pope, DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF L1, joins the TrainHeroic blog with a vast background that merges the worlds of physical therapy with strength and conditioning. He writes regularly at his blog Fitness Pain Free, and is the brains behind the Fitness Pain Free Performance Programming in the TrainHeroic marketplace.

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