Written by Richmond Lo | Academy of Lions Head Coach.
In this article, Academy Of Lions Coach, Richmond Lo, sheds some light on butterfly pull-up technique.
Richmond is strong believer in learning skills and technique correctly the first time and thus not having to re-learn it way later on. So if you hope to eventually ‘catch the butterfly’, you are in the right place.
At the Academy, members are told: ‘If you can demonstrate 10 strict pull ups in a row then you may do kipping pull ups.’ We stand true to this statement because we want strength and control before moving into more skillful movements. Without either, adding aggressive kipping can cause damage to your shoulder capsule and rotator cuff muscles. This can also translate over to the Butterfly Pull Ups (BPU), you should demonstrate 10 chest to bar Kipping Pull Ups before doing BPU. Strength is key, without strength you have no control, without control you will have injuries.
Learning the MOVEment
I also believe in learning by doing, so as much as you like to research everything you can on BPU, you’ll only master it by doing. Here are some concepts to get started:
The Backward Bicycle Pedal
This is the most common cue used by coaches because it works. It’s the simplest way to teach the student to open and close their hip, if done properly. Watch the video of Chris Spealler explaining the cue at 0:22:
Here is the second piece that most CrossFitters fail to connect the dots: Generate the power efficiently. We’ll talk about efficiency later but the power begins from hips and the legs initiate the movements. If we start with the legs too bent back, we rely on the extension of the knee too much rather than flexion of the hips. Keeping the legs straight not only gives you more control (one less joint movement means less thing to think about), this gives you a long lever to generate more power. Here is Jason Khalipa talking about ‘the swoop’ at 1:15 to facilitate that idea:
It’s always better to feel connected, it’s even better if I can explain this to you with movements you are already familiar with. When you finish off the swoop, your body should be in a hollow body position. *enter mindblown moment here* If you have a weak hollow body hold, then maybe you should try some before learning how to do a BPU because you want your body to move as a unit. Once you have control of the hollow body, allowing that tension to become elastic energy will make your BPU journey much more efficient.
...And Then You Pull
Another thing I tell people learning the movement is you are trying to do pull ups with your hips and legs, not your arms. The reason why the BPU is more efficient is due to the minimal amount of pull in the overall movement. If you have an optimal trajectory with closing of the hips, you are already ⅔ of the way there, the remaining ⅓ is a small pull to keep you in that pattern. Notice that my forearms are also roughly 45 degrees to the plum line of the bar. Staying behind the bar is important for your movement, pulling yourself through the bar isn’t going to keep you behind the bar.
Just do it. But with purpose. As you start coming down, you should have little tension in your arms to keep your elbows and shoulder from popping out. Learning to open your hips through your descent will load you up for the next rep. Your centre of mass should feel fairly close to your sternum and combined with your small pull on the bar, you should be able to rotate at the centre of mass so your legs will move behind as your chest moves forward.
Hollow back. *enter subsequent mind-blown moment here* Yes, the hollow back position is here which should somewhat mirror your hollow body position on the bar. This sets you up to snap into that hollow body position and also keeps you efficient in your kick since your legs should stay fairly straight and knees should not be bent. If knees are bent, your lever that you hope to close is only from the knees to the hands rather than feet to the hands.
Lather Rinse and Repeat
Always start small, start from step 1 again if you lose your rhythm. Treat it like Pose running, you can only hold that position/rhythm for so long before you fatigue and lose control. Over time you will build the strength and consistency to keep that rhythm for longer and be able to pump your way to the Spealler title of 100 reps.
To cover all our bases, you can definitely get injured doing BPU. But how can 10 year old kids in gymnastics swing around on uneven bars without their shoulders being ripped out? It’s because they have developed their tendons and muscles to handle that kind of aggressive movement. Treat this as any other gymnastics movement and build upon itself over time. Allow your shoulders to rest, do joint distractions, rotator strengthening exercises and a proper warm up before practicing them. Think of long term gains than losing short term in vain.
Hope this article has given you a better grasp on the technique. This is just another tool in your toolbox, use it wisely.