Before I get started let me first clarify that we recommend gentlemen be able to perform 6 strict Pull-Ups and the ladies 3 prior to progressing to any kipping movements. This ensures you have the strength to be able to handle the increased loads on your body during kipping movements. This post doesn’t address strict pull-ups, if you’re interested in a progression have a look here.
You may have seen the following on the whiteboard at the gym lately:
"I insert name here solemnly promise to not do butterfly pull-ups until I have established a beautiful, quality kipping pull-up, kipping chest-to-bar pull-up, and kipping muscle-up."
I’ve ‘gently requested’ a few of our members to sign off on this, but why? There’s nothing inherently wrong with butterfly pull-ups and they’re a great tool to have in your CrossFit toolbox. But they are a tool to be used at the appropriate place and time.
Let’s first look at the benefits of the butterfly movement. They’re quicker so you can do more reps in a shorter period of time. That means you can get quicker WOD times (for you competitors out there) and increase the intensity while decreases the wear and tear to your grip. They’re also another skill to learn which gets your brain in sync with your body, always a good thing. Does ‘learn and play new sports’ sound familiar? Check out the 100 words in this article from the journal if you haven’t seen it.
Butterfly pull-ups can put an increased strain on the shoulder joint and are a little riskier in terms of injury. Why? Because it’s very easy to ‘crash’ down from the pull-up and absorb the force of your body’s decent with your shoulders. This is while your body is travelling forward so that load is taken at an upward angle behind you – not a direction your shoulder is particularly stable in.
Kipping pull-ups - You won’t see these at the Games, every athlete out there is doing butterfly pull-ups because they’re quicker. But have you ever seen a butterfly muscle-up (bar or rings?) Or a butterfly toe-to-bar? Nope, you haven’t because it’s a dead end progression. Once you get up to butterfly chest-to-bars you’ve maxed out the usefulness of that movement. On the other hand, the kipping pull-up is a natural progression to those movements. It’s the building block to accessing the power of the arch/hollow positions hanging from the bar which is the cornerstone of muscle ups and toes-to-bar. That’s why I love it so much and why you’ll seeing us coach the kipping pull-up over the butterfly pull-up.
Another difference to note between the two is that when performed at the same skill level the kipping pull-up will last longer under fatigue. If you think of a workout like Nicole (20min AMRAP – 400m Run + max pull-ups) an athlete might be able to get 20 butterflies in before they have to stop due to fatigue. When that butterfly gives out they’re still going to be able to eke out a couple of more kipping pull-ups because they take less raw strength to perform.
The butterfly pull-up is an excellent tool to have. But only add it to your box after your kipping movements have been filed down to a nice sharp edge! If the butterfly is your go to movement and you’re kipping isn’t up to scratch it’s time to dial it back and work on those kips.
Some of you may be the opposite and have an excellent kip and no butterfly. Maybe it’s time to pick up a new skill?