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Swinging/Muscle Up/Kipping Advice To CrossFit Athletes From a PT and Gymnastics Coach

A few months ago, I started this series on some of my thoughts on injury prevention advice for people training gymnastics movements in CrossFit. In Part 1 I talked about general concepts, and in Part 2 I offered some ideas related to handstands. In honor of Power Monkey Camp 4.0 going down in just 5 days, I wanted to share some thoughts related to tapping mechanics seen in pull ups, muscle ups, and advanced bar/ring work. I think these things are big root causes for shoulder pain, low back pain, and performance issues in higher level skills.

You Need Full, Active, Overhead Mobility 

By far the biggest issue I see when I treat CrossFit Athlete’s for shoulder pain is they tend to lack active overhead mobility. Many of them can get to a passive range using a box stretch, band, or with a partner. In my opinion there are many other very important steps that must be taken after these passive methods to increase overhead mobility. The first step is screening the motion first and find the root cause. It could be in various soft tissues, the thoracic spine, the lower cervical spine, a lack of core control, or a combination of many things. I highly suggest people that are constantly struggling with this find a good healthcare provider or movement coach to find the main issue. Once a mobility change is made either with an appropriate exercise or manual therapy, build that new motion into a pattern and finally (when ready), build that into some sort of skills specific drill like tapping on a bar. I think this is how we make long-term changes in overhead mobility and more importantly make notable impacts on the nervous system for gymnastics skills. Here is how I like to screen for overhead mobility.

If this a struggle and there is a mobility issue, it’s important to address it. My good friend Dr. Dan Pope and I share a lot of similar ideas on how to work overhead mobility. Here is a 5 minute video he put together with some great drills. I would suggest people use a test-restest model (either my seated wall series screen or Dan’s) before and after each intervention to see what you may need more of.

Once good mobility gains are seen (or if you didn’t have a mobility issue in the first place), I like to then cement that range of motion using some isolated overhead motor control drills. Here are two of my favorites that I use for swinging or overhead lifting days. The pattern assist in the first one (same reach, roll, lift drill from Dan’s video) is to teach the full overhead range of motion if someone has a difference between their active and passive range.The PVC series is to build them into both arms working together, and you can also go with Dan’s pressing drill.

Global Shaping, Body Tension, and Basics are Crucial

This next part builds right off of the overhead mobility and basic motor control drills from above. The second biggest problem I think people related to gymnastics swinging skills, is that they have never spent time developing the proper basics and motor control around shaping/body tension during swinging. In gymnastics, we spend years and years teaching young gymnasts the concept of tight core positions, hollow/arch shaping, and how to transition between tight shapes for skill work. In CrossFit, if you don’t develop these shapes and transfer them to skills I feel it will inevitably be your limiting factor. I think this is where we see lots of injuries start to come up as the shoulders and lower back get beat up in muscle ups, pull ups, and so on. Not to mention, it’s the fastest way to bleed out energy and become metabolically inefficient during high rep gymnastics workouts.

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Training C2B pull ups for the bar muscle up. LEFT Hinging too much at the hip in front swing Pausing feet out in front before pull Leaning back + pulling through the bar Arching at the top of pull. RIGHT Arch/Hollow tight kip position Initiating pull from tight hollow in front swing Pulling up, not back and through the bar Tight hollow body at top of pull Head neutral. Training correct body positioning for the bar muscle up starts with solid kipping chest to bar technique. If you can only do butterfly pull ups, your body learns to arch when it is supposed to be hollow at the top of the pull. Eventually you will want to pull higher and think stomach/hip to bar. Work on the body positioning first before worrying about pulling higher or turning it over If you watch the last clip, you can see the left is slower getting to the bar. There is a slight pause when the feet are out in front, a lean back with the upper body and then a pull through which puts the body in an arch and underneath the bar = nearly impossible to turnover when it comes time for transition to mu. Practice kip swings. Add in some kipping pull ups with pauses at the top to reinforce the hollow before the turnover. It's ok to practice singles, your first muscle up is not based on endurance, timing and technique will go a long way. Get stronger with strict partner assisted stomach to bar pull ups. @powermonkeyfitness @shanegeraghty @davedurante @sadieann @mikecerbus @jasonleydon #barmuscleup #pullups #teampowermonkey

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Following the steps above to gain the needed mobility and also the lower threshold control / shaping awareness, the next step to improve gymnastics skills is start with mastering the basics. Here’s Dave Durante working through some of these hollow, arch, and transition drills that are essential to all swinging skills seen in CrossFit.

Then, here are some great gymnastics tapping drills from the Power Monkey Staff to come full circle and really tie things together.

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BANDED KIP SWING DRILL Tight body Elbows locked out Band just below armpit level (a little higher for females) Arch/hollow into the band trying to stretch it Initiate movement through shoulders These are the positions that generate power for every style of kipping pull up, kipping toes to bar/knees to elbow, and bar muscle ups. This is a great drill to supplement teaching a kip swing and reinforcing the proper technique. The bar I'm using is a few inches too low. Ideally the bar height will allow full swing through the bottom with long body and pointed toes without touching the ground. *Make sure not to pause in the front or back swing. @powermonkeyfitness #pmfdrills #crossfit #kipswing

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This weeks #gymnastics #wod will focus on the #kipping #pullup. We start with our trusty gymnastics #hollow and #arch from a hanging position. We then work the #beatswing making sure to keep control and rhythm. Once this is established we take our beat swing to small med and large pulls. I want to see 3 sets of 10 linked and controlled beat, small, and med pull swings before we go to pullup and chest to bar level. This can and should take time (weeks or months depending on your current level). Ensuring your timing is smooth and connective tissue is ready for this dynamic load. We will also go over appropriate subs for your strict pullup development. Ring row. Bar row. Spotted. Self spotted and coach spotted. @islandfithq Thursday 6:30pm. Free for members $25 drop in. All levels welcome.

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Kipping Mu pulling/body position progression 1. Build strict pulling strength/mechanics 2. Master small swing fundamentals and progress instead of jumping to a big funky, inefficient version 3. Work body positions prior to the transition TEMPO RING PULL UPS Neutral false grip entire rep (for the purpose of this drill) From full hang (ears touching shoulders) Tight straight body No change in speed or position on pull Slow up, pause, slow down Vary/progress tempos week to week 1-5 reps x 3-5 sets **spotting encouraged for athletes unable to pull smooth and high **if an athlete has a tough time displaying perfect control and position, it will show up when a swing/kip is added. It will likely result in a swing in the rings so don't move onto the swing + pull until strict is smooth SMALL RING SWINGS Neutral false grip Palms facing forward Hollow – tight body, no angle/hinge at hips, slight pull back on rings Arch – tight body, slight push into rings, feet together (hold something between feet) Ears next to arms entire swing Pressure from hands to rings entire swing. SMALL SWING + PULL + PAUSE Pull happens highest point of tight hollow in front swing Pause at top of pull in tight straight body Goal is to have NO SWING in the rings when pausing at the top of the pull Learning to connect the pull up into the next swing is a great initial drill for connecting muscle up reps 3 swings + 1 pull + pause x 3-5 x 5 sets @powermonkeyfitness @shanegeraghty @jasonleydon @davedurante @sadieann @mikecerbus @rupert.egan #pullups #muscleup #skillwork #crossfit #pmfdrills

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Concluding Thoughts

From here, you can then work your way up the ladder and start to really get after some fun high level skills. Not to mention, in my opinion those people that apply these concepts will be at much less risk for injury and will also see huge jumps in their performance. Give these different things a try, and see where you may need more work along the continuum. For anyone heading down to Power Monkey next week, can’t wait to see you there! Take care,

Dr. Dave Tilley, DPT