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Improving Upon the “Chipper”-Style Conditioning Workout

Improving Upon the “Chipper”-Style Conditioning Workout

By Sarah Rippel,
Author of The Ultimate Group Training System & Build ‘N Burn

 

A chipper is a workout that may look a little something like this:

 

For Time:

  1. 500m Row
  2. 60 Step-Ups
  3. 50 Sit-Ups
  4. 40 Squats
  5. 500m Row
  6. 30 Push-Ups
  7. 20 Lunges
  8. 10 KB Swings

 

I just made up this circuit, but it’s not at all unlike many circuits that have been used time and time again. I used chippers often when I did outdoor bootcamps, but today not so much, as I feel there are better ways to program conditioning work than chippers,

 

When you see a workout such as this, what thoughts pop into your head?

 

Today I think, “man, that’s gonna suck for those who have no idea how to strategize or pace” and “I know how I would rework that circuit so that people can get the most out of it!”

 

A little background: I dove head-first into competitor’s programming from CompTrain Masters in June of 2017 and stuck with it through February 2018. A general definition of “masters” athlete in the CrossFit space is anyone 35 years of age or older. For anyone who is not familiar with the CrossFit world, CompTrain is the brainchild of top-level CrossFit coach Ben Bergeron, who has coached CrossFit Games champs (most notably Katrin Davidsdottir; side note, if you’re a man or woman from Iceland, chances are you’re gonna excel at CrossFit lol). The traditional structure of a competitive CrossFit athlete’s year began with the Open (typically in February), which was open to anyone around the world who wished to participate. The Games has served as the “final destination” for elite competitors for the year.

 

The structure of the competitive season has changed for the 2019 season, and CrossFit’s slant has shifted to more of a “health” focus rather than an emphasis on the elite, but the Open is still a thing. In no way hoping to get anywhere near the Games as a Master’s athlete, I gave the 2018 Open a shot just to see what would happen, but soon found myself dreading the workouts. I am not a very competitive person and the entire concept of having to “compete” on a leaderboard stressed me out. That said, I really enjoyed the novelty of training CrossFit-style, as it drew upon my background as a competitive gymnast (yep, I hated competing back then as well), endurance athlete, and powerlifter.

 

For anyone who is curious, my rankings are on the leaderboard as proof of the fact that I did not die, although at several points during the workouts I attempted, I felt like I very well could have! I threw in the towel after week four & never looked back. Don’t be hating on these scores, y’all lol.

 

As much as some people in the fitness industry wish to knock the CrossFit world, I found there was a lot to learn in blending my background in personal training with this “constantly varied” approach. It was a lot of fun to immerse myself in a training style that I had poked fun at for years, and I was happy to prove myself wrong in many ways. In the programming I followed, there was structure to the strength and gymnastics skill work. There were logical progressions to skill acquisition & options were given based on level of ability. We worked off percentages for strength work & various techniques such as cluster sets, EMOM, wave loading, & tempo work kept things interesting.

 

Anyhow, back to this chipper stuff. Although I am not a fan of this style of workout, made popular by CrossFit & bootcamp coaches all over the globe, there were times where I was prescribed this style of conditioning in my programming.  I did my best to gain insight from these experiences. I learned that I do better with prescribed rest intervals, and I also learned how to pace myself better during all types of conditioning work. I do have to say that spending months training in this style really opened my eyes. That experience gave me the ability to go from “why the hell are they doing things this way?” when looking at a workout to gaining an understanding of how I would tweak that same workout to suit the needs of most people I train.

 

You see, a chipper is an AEROBIC workout that is done for time. The problem comes when people do not know how to approach the workout in a way that allows for proper pacing. When people know they are doing a workout “for time,” people almost always assume that they need to go all-out. It’s a recipe for disaster!

 

I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to look at the workout I whipped up at the beginning of this article & realize that if a person is attempting to perform 60 step-ups in a row, they had better do so at a pace that keeps them out of the “red zone” (aka anaerobic). Better yet, they had better split up those 60 reps into more manageable chunks, separated by brief bouts of rest. Note that those 60 reps are total, not per leg (which also goes for the lunges at 20 reps total, not per leg)!

 

Here’s a better strategy:

 

  1. 500m Row (at a pace 10-15 seconds slower than 500m pace)
  2. 60 Step-Ups (broken up as: 24, 20, & 16 reps or 20, 20, & 20 reps or even 20, 16, 12, & 12 reps with 5-10 seconds rest between)
  3. 50 AbMat Butterfly Sit-Ups (broken up as: 25 & 25 reps or 20, 15, 15 reps with 5 seconds rest between)
  4. 40 Squats (broken up as: 20 & 20 reps or 15, 15, 10 reps or 10, 10, 10, 10 reps with 5 seconds rest between)
  5. 500m Row (start easy & build to a pace 10-15 seconds slower than 500m pace)
  6. 30 Push-Ups (broken up as: 15 & 15 reps or 10, 10, & 10 reps with 5 seconds rest between)
  7. 20 Lunges (performed unbroken, or as 12 & 8 or 10 & 10 with 5 seconds rest between)
  8. 10 KB Swings

 

I recommend using an AbMat for the sit-ups, and a “strict” or more dynamic style can be used.

 

The step-ups should be performed using a step of a height appropriate for each person in the group. I use steps of anywhere from 12”-20” for most of my clients.

 

For the push-ups, have those who are proficient at performing the exercise on the floor do them in that manner or elevate the hands on a barbell in a rack to make them appropriate for anyone else. If you are wanting to standardize the height of the bar in the rack, a good place to start is hip height for each person. Another option would be a band-assisted push-up. My opinion is that people would be better off performing push-ups that resemble push-ups, not a fish out of water flopping around on the ground or in general, done without keeping the body in a nice, tight line.

 

The KB swings can be done in a traditional Russian style, or for those who coach it, the “American” overhead variation. Those who coach the overhead variation will undoubtedly agree that it tends to provide more of a metabolic “hit” than the Russian style. Personally, I love both variations and feel completely comfortable going overhead, but do not coach this style most often. I feel the Russian swing gets the job done & there is less room for error, but I am in no way stating that the overhead swing is a “bad” exercise. I feel that argument is played-out & after having performed many overhead swings during CrossFit WODs, I see no issue with the movement for those who have the ability to safely control this range of motion. The notion of labeling exercises as “bad” or “good,” & the dogma that surrounds specific movements really strikes me as silly these days. Different strokes for different strokes and always, know your clients’ abilities!

 

Let’s take a look at one of the CompTrain Master’s chippers, “Love Boat.” This workout combines two CrossFit classics, the bodyweight-based “Cindy” and barbell-focused “DT.”

 

“Cindy”

20 min AMRAP:

5 Pull-Ups

10 Push-Ups

15 Air Squats

 

“DT”

5 Rounds For Time:

12 Deadlifts

9 Hang Power Cleans

6 Push Jerks

(Masters Men = 135# / Masters Women = 95#)

 

Here is the full workout:

 

“LOVE BOAT”

For Time:

5 Rounds of “Cindy”

3 Rounds of “DT”

1K Row

 

Or, to put it another way:

 

For Time:

5 Rounds: 5 Pull-Ups, 10 Push-Ups, 15 Air Squats

3 Rounds: 12 Deadlifts, 9 Hang Power Cleans, 6 Push Jerks

1K Row

 

Tackling This Workout as Written

 

With regard to “Cindy,” almost all of us know that CrossFit basically birthed the kipping pull-up. I do not coach this variation, as I do not have clients incorporate pull-ups into conditioning work but appreciate the movement! I don’t care how much you may poke fun at it, as a former gymnast, kipping is something I’ve had plenty of experience with. Being able to find a rhythm in performing this dynamic variation and crank out reps during conditioning workouts was fun during my venture into CrossFit land!

 

I understand the rationale behind the use of this variation and feel it is appropriate for those who have a solid foundation of strict pull-up strength. After all, if you were to attempt to perform strict pull-ups during a conditioning workout, you would soon understand why people kip! Seriously. I’m all for building pull-up strength, & feel this movement is an awesome feat for many people to tackle. That said, the entire point of using the kipping variation is to be able to perform more reps in a dynamic fashion, not build strength. The pull-up is a total-body movement any way you slice it, but it can be applied it in different ways. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my experience training in this style opened my eyes to a lot of things that at one time, I was closed-minded about. This included embracing the kipping pull-up!

 

With “Cindy” as it is written & within the rounds of “Cindy” during the entire workout below, the goal is a consistent, “breathing” pace. This means working at an effort that is sustainable for a longer duration (8+ minutes). Remember, we are wanting to stay aerobic! A focus here is to move with a consistent pace for all five rounds of Cindy during the workout, but to save energy for the more strenuous work – the three rounds of “DT.”

 

With regard to loading the barbell for the “DT” rounds, the aim is a load that you could complete a full round without taking breaks if you had to, in a fully fresh state. For some people, this could very well mean an empty barbell!

 

During the “DT” rounds, short breathers between sets are recommended. View the “Cindy” rounds as your “buy-in” to get to the “DT” rounds. Again, you’re moving, but maintaining a breathing pace so that you can transition directly to the barbell.

 

Having a strategy for splitting up the reps during “DT” will pay off. A huge plan is to minimize any extra reps. For example: after 11 deadlifts, take a break with the bar on the floor. After a short rest to take a breath or two, stand up the 12th deadlift but do not return it to the floor. Instead, move seamlessly into the hang power cleans. This concept can be applied to the cleans: after 8 cleans, take a break & focus on 1-2 breaths. When you pick the bar back up & finish your 9th rep, you can move seamlessly into the push jerks.

 

After the three rounds of “DT,” you can recover on the first 15 seconds of the row. It makes sense to push during these rounds as if the workout ends when you take your first pull on the rower!

 

After that final push jerk, move with purpose to the rower. Do not lollygag! The first pull doesn’t have to be fast, but you just want to get it going. The goal is to have that first meter tick off as quickly as you can. From there those first 15 pulls should be a slow recovery pace. At around the 200-meter mark, strive to pick your pace up slightly. Do the same at 500 meters, and then 750 meters to finish the workout strong.

 

Revamped “Love Boat”

 

So, if I were to tweak this workout for use with my groups, I would swap out the pull-ups with an exercise I feel replicates this total-body dynamic movement. An easy substitution could be a kip swing on either a bar or rings. Another substitution could be a medicine ball vertical chop or a bumper plate ground to overhead.

 

For the push-ups, I would have people perform them in the same ways as I described for the circuit I outlined at the beginning of this article.

 

The air squat is a pretty straightforward variation that I feel most people can perform with good mechanics. If anything, a squat with a push-out or counterbalance or a bodyweight box squat could be substituted for those who are wanting to ensure proper depth with each rep &/or those who may need a little assistance.

 

Keep in mind that there are built-in rest intervals within the five rounds of “Cindy” or whatever modification is used. Most people are going to take at least 5-10 seconds to transition from one exercise to the next. During these brief rest intervals, it is important for people to focus on nasal breathing & keeping their heart rate in check. Remember, a focus here is to move with a consistent pace for all five rounds, but to save energy for the more strenuous work – the three rounds of “DT.”

 

For those who are proficient at wielding a barbell, I feel the deadlifts, hang power cleans, and push jerks as used in the “DT” rounds are a-ok! The loading for each of these movements is the same, and this is obviously taken into consideration based on the individual’s level. As I mentioned in the previous section, this could mean an empty barbell for some people! As also mentioned, a good plan is to minimize any extra reps here. Having a strategy for splitting up the reps during “DT” will pay off.

 

Another option would be to perform dumbbell deadlifts, dumbbell hang power cleans, and dumbbell push jerks. Yet another option is obviously a pair of kettlebells for these movements! Just as with the barbell, minimizing any extra reps in transitioning between these movements will save energy (and time, if you are looking to beat the clock).

 

“Love Boat” v2.0

For Time (while maintaining movement integrity):

5 Rounds: 5 Kip Swings, 10 Elevated Push-Ups, 15 Bodyweight Box Squats

3 Rounds: 12 Deadlifts, 9 Hang Power Cleans, 6 Push Jerks

1K Row

 

With more detail:

 

5 Rounds:

5 Kip Swings

5-10 seconds rest

10 Elevated Push-Ups

5-10 seconds rest

15 Bodyweight Box Squats

5-10 seconds rest

THEN

3 Rounds:

11 Deadlifts

5-10 seconds rest

1 Deadlift

8 Hang Power Cleans

5-10 seconds rest

1 Hang Power Clean

6 Push Jerks

5-10 seconds rest

THEN

1K Row (15 seconds super-easy, then picking up pace at 200m, 500m, & 750m)

 

“Love Boat” v3.0

For Time (while maintaining movement integrity):

5 Rounds: 5 Kip Swings, 10 Elevated Push-Ups, 15 Bodyweight Box Squats

3 Rounds: 12 DB Deadlifts, 9 DB Hang Power Cleans, 6 DB Push Jerks

1K Row

 

With more detail:

 

5 Rounds:

5 Kip Swings

5-10 seconds rest

10 Elevated Push-Ups

5-10 seconds rest

15 Bodyweight Box Squats

5-10 seconds rest

THEN

3 Rounds:

11 DB Deadlifts

5-10 seconds rest

1 DB Deadlift

8 DB Hang Power Cleans

5-10 seconds rest

1 DB Hang Power Clean

6 DB Push Jerks

5-10 seconds rest

THEN

1K Row (15 seconds super-easy, then picking up pace at 200m, 500m, & 750m)

 

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Other articles by Sarah Rippel:

SGT Workout Breakdown- Program 4  Part 1

The Conditioning Based Warm-Up: 10 Minute EMOM

SGT Workout Breakdown Program 4 – Part 2

Metabolic Circuit Revamp V1.0

Unconventional Cardio: Strongman Conditioning Circuits

Density Training for Metabolic Conditioning & Strength Work

Using Cluster Sets To Spice Up Strength Programming

Wall Ball Conditioning Workouts+4 Tips to Improve Wall Ball Technique(Videos)

Using a Tempo Focus with Build ‘N Burn Workouts

Speed Ladder + Static Core Continuous 30-Second Circuit Version 2.0

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