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Technique Tuesday: Dear Butterfly Pull-up, Why do so many people hate you?


Technique Tuesday: Dear Butterfly Pull-up, Why do so many people hate you?

Technique Tuesday, similar to Mobility Monday, will be a weekly occurrence in which we will highlight anything technique-based. We will emphasize different drills, common mistakes, how to’s, and general thoughts on all movements – from gymnastics to running to Olympic lifting.

Today, we will focus on a movement I honestly believe is second only to the snatch as the most controversial movement in all of CrossFit – the butterfly pullup.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the butterfly pullup, let’s cover the importance of gymnastic movements and their role within Crossfit..

Coming directly from the CrossFit Seminar packet –

“Gymnastics assist in development of many of the 10 components of fitness: accuracy, agility, balance, coordination, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, power, speed, strength, and stamina. Nothing beats gymnastics in terms of developing the four neurological components of the 10: coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Furthermore, gymnastics training produces impressive strength gains without requiring an external load.”

If you understand why we do gymnastics, how can you harbor hatred towards a “gymnastic” movement? I have had conversations with individuals who state they don’t do CrossFit for one reason or another. Some will mention the pullups that CrossFit athletes perform, or rather, “I like CrossFit but hate how YOU do pullups”.

If that is you, I implore you to reassess.  Their purpose, functionality, or even a proper “how to” has obviously not been provided.

If you are doubtful about CrossFit, I will now attempt to persuade you. If you are a CrossFit enthusiast and drooling at the mouth to gain a better understanding of the “why” we do butterfly pullups please read-on!

The Butterfly Pullup

Allow me to ask several questions.

  • What is the desired training stimulus you wish to achieve when performing butterfly pullups?
  • Do you have proper positioning on the bar (understanding the hollow and arch positions/kip swing)
  • Do you have proper scapular stability and control?
  • Have you worked on building a proper foundation?

Let me touch on that last point for a second. Again from the CrossFit Seminar packet:

“Strength is required for proper form, and proper form is required to demonstrate body control. As such, gymnastics has a clear emphasis on strength in body-weight movements. More than anything else, strict form establishes mastery in a movement, and for this reason we promote strict movement before we apply momentum. The strength gains from mastering the strict movements are well worth the effort, and the possibility of injury is reduced substantially when strict movements are practiced first. Small moves will bring great rewards.”

I couldn’t agree more! So, for you CrossFit haters out there, I’m here to tell you that we do strict pullups. To be honest, we do a diversity of extra work including strict pullups, around twice a week. We do banded lat pull-downs, weighted strict pullups, and any “body-building movement” that will help strengthen the shoulder joint.

Wait a second, did you just use the word body-building in a CrossFit blog?

Before you roll your eyes, please shut your mouth for a moment. To answer your question, yes I did. I’ll continue to provide the why in future blog posts! The truth of the matter is – butterfly pullups are not meant for strength training.

One of my favorite excerpts is from an article from the TABATA TIMES titled “The wrongfully hated Butterfly Pullups.” 

“Butterfly pull-ups exist to perform several reps throughout a circuit or evolution. They are a tool for metabolic conditioning: to exercise your cardiovascular, respiratory, and muscular endurance. Not only that, but they require and exercise agility, coordination, speed, and explosiveness. Yet many people outside of the CrossFit world see an athlete fire off 80 reps straight and have the audacity to throw up their hands and claim that they’re not real and they’re “cheating.”

That is wrong. Bluntly, that is ignorant, thick-headed, and simply naïve. As stated previously, butterfly pullups are an advanced tool of metabolic conditioning. They are used in the same avenue as sprinting. But when someone sees an athlete utilizing sprinting in a training circuit, rarely do I see them claim that it’s a cheating version of jogging, or rant that it’s no way to build leg strength. Of course it’s not a cheating version of jogging, it’s a different bloody exercise! And you know what? It’s harder. It requires more endurance (cardiovascular/respiratory/muscular), more agility, more speed, and more explosiveness.

I feel like I could have just posted that in the beginning and dropped the mic…… But instead let’s continue.

In order to compete in the sport of CrossFit you need to butterfly pullups. Can you do a competition without them? Yes, but in order for you to be competitive you need to have these in your arsenal. So, to the snippet above, the butterfly pullups will have a different effect on your body than a strict pullup.

Would you dare to be foolish enough to say endurance is limited to running, rowing, swimming or biking? These are typical exercises we imagine if we want to do an “endurance workout”. But define an “endurance exercise” for me? The medical dictionary defines endurance exercise as:

“[A]ny exercise that involves the use of several large groups of muscles and is thus dependent on the delivery of oxygen to the muscles by the cardiovascular system; used in both physical fitness programs and testing of cardiovascular and pulmonary function.”

Looking at the butterfly pullup vs the strict pullup, the strict pullup incorporates the biceps, lats and delts, while the Butterfly pullup’s power incorporates the entire body, and because it does so, more reps can be done, which will then cause more of a cardiovascular response.

Finally, before you knock an aerobic movement – can you do 20, 40 or even 60 butterfly pull-ups? If not, and you’d like tips to get started – or perfect them, stay tuned! Next week will be the real “How to!”

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