• Tim Stevenson

Is it time to [re]think kipping?


This week I recorded an episode on the Movement, Strength and Play podcast in which I shared some honest thoughts on the negative effect of fatigue-inducing workouts on the ability to maintain movement quality.


This is a big subject but the long and short of it is simple. Fatigue will result in a deterioration of movement quality and the more complex or intense subsequent movements are, the greater the drop off we will see.


Now of course you can train athletes to build tolerance but if you continue to push the ‘challenge’ of a workout, you’ll force them into a perpetual state of sub-optimal movement.


So, is this a problem or is this just how training is done nowadays?


It depends, as a strength and conditioning coach my question would always be, what is the purpose of the workout? In some circumstances, it is necessary to sacrifice an ‘acceptable' level of quality for quantity.


However, with every poor-quality repetition, we signal to the brain that this is an acceptable way to move. If overtime, more poor reps are done than good reps, the athlete will fall foul of the most basic of all training principles; you get what you train for. No one should be training to be a poor mover.


IMPLICATIONS FOR THE SHOULDER


In the presence of fatigue, the shoulder gets a rough ride and there are more factors to consider than I have space to cover in a single blog.


However, let’s frame some thoughts with a principle and add some texture using a case study example.


Principle: Degrees of Freedom


In simple terms, this refers to all the different ways in which a movement can be performed. These are controlled and selected by the outcome-focused central nervous system which will utilise the available options to find a solution to the movement task.


The glenohumeral joint has more degrees of freedom than any other. If an athlete is unable to execute the task using the most optimal Plan A due to a lack of sufficient mobility and dynamic stability, the central nervous system will find an alternative. If you run the less optimal Plan B, C or D for too long it’s likely the athlete will begin to experience some issues.


As coaches, practitioners and invested athletes, we need to make sure that Plan A is available more often than not. Plan A also needs to be able to resilient to fatigue. We must respect the degrees of freedom and prepare the shoulder for the task and environment that we need the athlete to operate in. This can only be achieved if we give it regular and consistent attention.


Case Study: Kipping


Kipping generates momentum. Disguised as efficiency, it is a wolf in sheep's clothing and in my opinion, can be a root cause of many shoulder problems.


Let’s take the muscle up as an example. The task of a strict muscle-up forces an athlete to do a better job of controlling the degrees of freedom, largely because it demands more coordinated control. Either you have the strength, range of movement, stability for the rings or power for the bar, to execute the movement pattern or you don’t. If you don’t, you can’t complete the task.


I’m not so naïve to say that every strict muscle-up is perfect, far from it. But there is generally a much lower level of chaos and most people don’t try to do them when they are already knackered.


Kipping facilitates an opportunity to negatively exploit the degrees of freedom of the shoulder and bypass the neuromuscular control and strength requirements. Remember the brain will facilitate whatever movement it can to help you complete the task and due to the options available at the upper limb, it can turn to multiple combinations of patterns.


The hardest part of a muscle-up is getting the shoulders high enough. Swinging the hips up beneath the bar or rings creates upward momentum and solves this problem.


With the movement being powered by a swing rather than a strong pull, there is far less dynamic control of the shoulder. One of the common issues we see as a result is the humeral head slamming forwards into the front of the socket as the athlete hits the ‘catch’ in the dip position.


Pre-existing shoulder baggage (poor postural control, instability, injury, fatigue etc) means the subscapularis and the long head of biceps tendon, the structures that prevent excessive anterior translation, are faced with an almighty challenge. They have to decelerate a tonne of momentum.


As coaches we have to decide if the movement we are seeing in front of us is ‘acceptable’ or not and fatigue should be a determining factor in any decisions we make.


WRAP UP


There is a lot more to say on this subject but I’m going to sign off and encourage you to [re]think.


Yes, a kipping muscle-up can be done in a proper, safe and effective way. The issue is that most people do not have the prerequisite mobility, dynamic stability or neuromuscular control around the shoulder to do it well, especially when they are already pretty goosed.


When we consider that 1 – 2mm of uncontrolled translation around the joint can lead to an injury, athletes might be walking a finer line than we are aware of.


Here is my opinion: if you can’t do a strict muscle-up you have no business doing a kipping one.


That might be unpopular but there are enough videos on social media of humeral heads emerging through anterior deltoids like something from the alien films to back me up.


For now, my final thoughts are this:


· The best quality movement will be found in the absence of significant fatigue.

· Poor programming and ego are often the antheses of high-quality movement.

· Moving well is a choice, not a given.


If you enjoyed reading this blog please consider sharing it or joining my mailing list below.


Tim

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