Baby Steps

Photo Courtesy of Fittest Games and Scott Wallace

Photo Courtesy of Fittest Games and Scott Wallace

I’m getting the chance to spend some time this week with Jimmy Myers and Cale Owen. They are the owners and head coaches for Tampa Bay Athletics. I met these guys about a year ago when I did a seminar at their place. I walked in on a Friday afternoon to one of their classes and was immediately fascinated by their pull-up policy.

Jimmy and Cale have a “no kipping” rule in their gym. They ONLY do strict pull-ups. When I challenged them on how this might impede the fitness of the more elite athlete, they pointed to greater desire for injury prevention. I know what some of you are thinking right now. No kipping pull-ups EVER? Isn’t that a little bit out of the ordinary and maybe a bit extreme? The answer to your question is absolutely it’s extreme, but Jimmy and Cale would take no offense to calling what they do, “out of the ordinary.” They value stability, strength, and shoulder health higher than the time on the clock or the speed of the movement.

I tend to land a bit more in the middle. I completely believe in baby steps. The capacity and strength needed for strict pull-ups is an absolute pre-requisite for kipping. If you can’t perform 3 dead hang strict pull-ups at your body weight, then is there is no possible way you can maintain the scapular control needed to protect your shoulder girdle while kipping. Learn to crawl before you learn to walk and learn to walk before you run. That means spend the time getting stronger BEFORE you spend the time trying to figure out how to kip. While Jimmy and Cale may never allow a kipping pull-up in their gym, I don’t draw such a hard line. However, we do require members to get stronger and be able to perform dead hang pull-ups LONG before they perfect the kip. It’s simple baby steps.

We use three different exercises in various forms to create the strength needed for a healthy pull-up.
1- Isometric hold on the pull-up bar with the chin over the bar followed by tempo eccentric descents to the hanging position.
2- Simple deadhang, banded chin-ups and pull-ups. Yes the chin-up is useful for more than just big biceps but is absolutely fundamental in the whole development of the shoulder.
3- Ring Rows with increasing difficulty. We start with the simple ring row and eventually move to weighted with a weight vest as well as increasing the difficulty by making the athlete more parallel to the ground.

My advice is to take care of your athletes by ensuring that they have the shoulder strength to perform a kipping pull-up under control BEFORE you let them learn the kip. Their shoulder girdles will thank you.

Oh, and if anyone needs an example for the utility of body control combined with simple pulling strength… watch this.

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