You NEED tension!

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 01:14
Why do we need tension in gymnastic movements?

Kipping is one of the most scrutinised terms/ideas in CrossFit – and when some people ‘kip’ movements (or coach the ‘kip’) it’s easy to see why. When tension is not maintained, the movement becomes inefficient and very likely to cause injury.

Gymnastic movements (such as pull-ups, toes to bar, muscle-ups, handstand push-ups etc.) should always be taught/learned in their strict form first. Strength in these movements needs to be developed before we can add in the stimulus of kipping (which obviously loads the joint with added speed and power i.e. force). It’s also important to develop a certain amount of awareness via performing a slower, more controlled and generally tighter rep.

Once we have developed strength we can start to utilise the kip and its ability to make our movements more efficient (and increase our power output), because we can maintain tension throughout. The general idea when kipping is that we are either in a tight hollow rock position, a tight hollow arch position or moving fast between the two!

Think about what happens when you throw an LAX ball at the ground (with some force) – especially onto the rubber flooring of the gym – the ball bounces back up. If you threw the same ball, with the same force, at some foam matting, it might bounce back a small amount – but not the same as the hard, rubber flooring. Newton’s third law states that ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’.

Apply this to your hollow rock/arch positions. If you tap your feet through with a lot of force/power but you aren’t staying tight in your end range, you’ll lose a lot of the power you just created. That means you’ll have to work a whole lot harder to get that pull-up/muscle up/toes to bar etc. The whole point of kipping is efficiency – if tension is maintained then power and speed are maintained and the rep will feel easy.

So… what next?

Start by developing some core/body awareness in static positions such as planks, hollow rocks and hollow arches. Tabata or 30sec on: 30sec off is a good place to start – and use video or a mirror to check your positions (sometimes what we think we look like and what we actually look like are two different things!). Build up the time domain and frequency over a number of weeks and really try to make a connection between your brain and your body. What are you feeling? Are you breathing? What areas do you really need to focus on ‘squeezing’ while maintaining that good shape?

Next, take those positions to the rings and/or the bars and work at snapping between those two points of tension (again video is a good idea). Think about a tighter and faster movement – not a bigger movement. The trick is to understand bigger isn’t necessarily better especially if tension is lost. Forcing the end range of your arch or hollow will also cause you to slow down the movement.

From here it’s a matter of applying the same idea to your pull-up/toes to bar/muscle up etc. Remember, tight and fast – not bigger!