Butterfly pull ups are a variation of the standard pull up exercise. The goal is to get your body from a straight arm hang to chin over the bar in as little time as possible.
This movement was popularized by the sport of CrossFit®. Doing butterfly pull ups is one of the fastest ways to speed up your workout time in exercises like Fran, Cindy, Helen, and Angie.
Butterfly pull ups are not easy to learn. They take a lot of time, practice, and use more muscles than a strict (dead hang) pull up. If done incorrectly, butterfly pull ups can lead to injury so it’s not something to take lightly.
That being said, if you want to improve your CrossFit® performances, butterfly pull ups are one of the best skills to learn. In this article we’re going to cover how to learn a butterfly pull up, how to do them safely, and tips to improve your workout times.
What Muscles Do Butterfly Pull Ups Work?
Butterfly pullups are a compound exercise; meaning they work multiple muscle groups with each rep you perform. Kipping pullups place special emphasis on the abs and back in addition to your arm muscles. When doing a butterfly pullup, you’ll quickly notice fatigue in your stomach and forearms–sometimes even before your arms start to get tired.
Like any exercise, practice makes perfect. The more you perform butterfly pullups the stronger and faster you’ll get.
Butterfly pull ups work the same muscle groups as regular pull ups, plus more. Some of the largest muscle groups are:
Are You Ready To Learn A Butterfly Pull Up Safely?
Kipping pull ups and butterfly pull ups are generally safe to perform. The exception to this is if you’re coming off a recent shoulder injury, or if you don’t have the strength to do a standard pull up.
We do not recommend attempting to learn a butterfly pullup until you are able to do three strict pull ups in a row.
If you cannot do a strict pull up yet, focus on building strength before speed. In the long run, strength is going to be the biggest factor in improving workout times.
Kipping Pull Ups
While it’s not necessary, we recommend learning standard kipping pull ups before learning butterfly pull ups. The reason for this better body awareness and control.
Kipping pull ups do a great job of teaching muscle memory in your abs and shoulders. You’ll learn to have a kinesthetic sense of where you are in comparison to the bar which will improve your chances of performing a successful butterfly pullup.
How To Learn A Butterfly Pull Up
Start With The Swing
When first learning butterfly pull ups you’re going to spend a lot of time practicing the swing. During this process, don’t worry about getting your chin over the bar. Just focus on extension and flexion of your body performing “mini-movements” as you get the hang of it.
In a butterfly pullup, you’re moving your body in the opposite direction of what you would do in a regular kipping pullup.
If you slow the movement down, you’ll see athletes do a small kip or two to get started. Then:
- Swing the feet out front.
- Flex your hips and core, engaging the shoulders so your body swings back away from the bar.
- Begin to pull up with your arms.
- Extend your hips so the body straightens out at you pull into the bar.
- Lean your head back and arch your chest.
- Pull your body through the bar as you begin a controlled downward fall. During this process drive your feet back so they are ready to swing into the next rep.
Tips For Practicing Kips:
Use a box. Place a box under the bar. The box should be tall enough that when you stand on top your chin is above the bar. Using your legs for support, squat down until your arms are extended from the bar. Practice the rotational shoulder movements required for a butterfly pullup.
Butterfly pullups are fast. You can’t learn the full movement by slowly muscling your way through it. Start with mini-circular swings; progress to larger, more exaggerated movements as you start to get a feel for it.
Kick your feet hard. Butterfly pullups are just as much about form as they are about strength. You can use the momentum from your legs and core to drive your body upward, saving some arm strength. As you start to get the hang of the movement, use your full body more and your arms less. That’s going to be beneficial in WODS that have a lot of other arm movements.
Don’t drop straight down after the rep. Often athletes will learn to do one or two butterfly pull ups just fine, but they’ll have a particularly hard time stringing them together. Most of the time, this is because they are dropping straight down from the top of the pull up instead of pulling through.
The movement is not over after you get your chin over the bar. You need to pull through the bar, arch your back hard and get ready to kick your feet forward for the next swing.
Pull Up Variations
Once you master the butterfly pull up you won’t want to go back. Butterflies are faster and feel easier than a kipping pullup once you get the hang of it. For a more advanced movement, start practicing chest to bar butterfly pullups. These follow the same technique as the butterfly pullup except you need to pull higher.
Strict pull ups refer to regular pull ups with no body movement in the hips or core. These are great for building muscle and should be incorporated into your fitness routine whether you have learned to do kipping pull ups or not.
Kipping pull ups are a faster way to do strict pull ups (though not as fast as butterflies). They are easier to learn and a great way to gain muscle memory and learn to control your shoulders and core. These are a good pre-requisite for butterfly pullups.
Pull Up WODS
Butterfly pull ups are going to give you a leg up in any CrossFit® workout that calls for pull ups. These are some of the most common WODS (workout of the day) that use pull ups: