You consider yourself an athlete. I get it. Regularly showing up at the gym and moving some heavy things isn’t exactly easy. I know, I know.
But, really, how athletic is a squat? A deadlift? Now a clean and jerk or a snatch is a different story. Mark Rippetoe once said that a snatch is gymnastics with a barbell, and for good reason. But with the traditional lifts, how athletic do you need to be?
Anyone from a neighborhood computer programmer to a professional athlete can learn the basic barbell exercises. A cartwheel, though? Different story.
Hitting the gym isn’t making you athletic if you’re all about squatting, deadlifting, and benching. What’s that doing for your movement capacity? Your coordination?
By all means, keep getting bigger and stronger. There’s something to be said about a big guy that can move well. And if you want to be that guy—that superhuman feeling kind of guy—start here.
A BIT OF TRICKING HISTORY
In 2001, I came across “tricking,” which is a mesh between martial arts and gymnastics. Back then, it was a small group of teenagers jumping, kicking, and flipping in their backyards. No equipment. No shoes. No formal training. No safety precautions.
Not exactly parentally advised stuff.
Although tricking seems chaotic, there are foundational movements from gymnastics and martial arts. Things like cartwheels, kip-ups, handstands, and rolls are gateway drugs for tricksters.
Call me crazy, but I incorporate some of these movements into my “regular” training routine, as discussed in The Jackedthlete. You never really forget where you came from, right?
It’s amazing what a cartwheel reveals about someone. Are they coordinated? Are they confident? Are they mobile?
We are on the dawn of a new training age. Nothing is static anymore. It’s about movement patterns that intertwine flexibility, mobility, and coordination.
Of the skills mentioned above, the kip-up is the flashiest to the Average Joe. It’s a total body explosive movement that uses the arms, abs, and legs, requiring flexibility, mobility, and coordination. If that doesn’t catch your attention, perhaps being on par with Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee will.
HOW TO KIP-UP
The kip-up is the quintessential way for a martial artist to rise after being knocked down. Generally, it’s done lying face up on the ground with the hands next to the head. The legs kick in the air and hook underneath of the body to land in a standing or squatting position.
Before trying your luck with these, understand a few things. First, expect sore abs. Second, warm-up. A few rollovers, wrist rotations, fingers pulls, and neck work do the trick (see video). Third, crashing is expected. Especially on your back. Land gently. Fourth, you won’t land this on your first try. Many won’t land it within the first week. Or month. Or months. (It took me five months, I think.) Don’t get discouraged. Fifth, have fun.
Step #1: Initial Position
The next step is the chamber. Bring your legs off of the ground and towards your head so that your weight is on your mid-upper thoracic area. Don’t shortchange the chamber; it’s what provides the recoil and explosion. Think of it as the dip right before a vertical jump.
Step #3: The Kick
Welcome complication. Once chambered, kick your legs straight in the air towards the sky. Pick a spot that’s directly above your eyes so that you have a target. The harder and faster you kick at the target, the easier it will be.
People go wrong because they kick out and not up. This is the only chance you have to get height. Everything goes up.
Step #4: The Push
The kick is the powerhouse, but the arms are important too. The timing is what makes the move difficult. The arm push happens after the momentum from the kick propels you in the air. Press off after the kick in one small explosive burst.
Step #5: The Hook
To this point, everything was vertical. The hook, however, brings the body around so that you land on your feet.
Immediately after the arm push, hook the legs underneath your body and violently raise your torso upright. At first, your hook will be out of sync and you’ll land on your back. As you get better, your feet will hit first, but you won’t have enough momentum to stand. Eventually, you’ll land in a deep squat.
Hello mobility work.
MAKING IT EASIER
Before you spam the comments with questions about prerequisite strength and power numbers, know this: there are none. When I learned this, I was an out of shape teenager.
Coordinating the movements is key. More is never better, so I’m apprehensive with this tip. But if you’re struggling, try rolling into the chamber from a standing position to give yourself extra momentum.
MAKING IT CLEANER
Tricking is an aesthetic blend of flips, kicks, and twists. Looks matter. Making a trick flawless is known as making it clean. To make your kip-up clean, land as upright as possible—preferably standing.
To land standing, abandon the hook. Instead, hollow after the kick. Squeeze the glutes and arch the lower back. When the feet hit the ground, use your abs to stabilize the torso and keep the body upright.
LOOK MA, NO HANDS
The next progression is learning the no handed kip-up. It’s much more difficult, however, because the timing changes. Everything needs more speed and precision to cover for the decreased air time.
Since the hands are taken out of the movement, the head is responsible for the last push off the ground. So beware: your neck will take a beating. Warm-up and expect soreness. Here are the adjustments when going to no hands:
#3: Aim for the tip toes. Forget about landing straight up. Height is scarce, so plan to land in a deep squat position on your tip toes. Hook extra hard.
The kip-up is a great athletic move that can be used in any training program. Mesh it with other skills to form badass combinations. How about a clapping pushup, to groiner, to kip-up, to vertical jump? Or a kip-up to the knees followed by a forward rolling kip up?
It’s not only a gateway to tricking, but also a gateway to both training and fun. It’s not totally superhuman. But it’s a damn good start.