You’ve likely heard of pull ups and the many benefits of this back-building exercise, but have you heard of butterfly pull ups?

While they may look cool and appealing, they are actually one of the harder functional movements to perform well with correct technique.

Butterfly pull ups are mostly used in high-intensity workouts, such as workouts in functional fitness programs like CrossFit.

So, how do you do butterfly pull ups and why are they necessary to learn in the functional fitness world?

Read on to find out!

What Are Butterfly Pull Ups?

Butterfly pull ups are a variation of a pull up which helps you conserve energy and same time, leading to a higher and more efficient rep count.

This is why they are mostly used in CrossFit-style workouts where you're under a time pressure to perform a certain number of reps, so butterfly pull ups are a more efficient way to get more reps done in a period as opposed to regular pull ups.

Let’s discuss the breakdown of a butterfly pull up!

How to Do Butterfly Pull Ups

To set up for your pull up session, ensure your hands are chalked (for extra grip), and that when you grip the bar (overhand) you’re hands are a little past shoulder-width.

Activate your shoulders and engage your lats in order to use the correct muscle groups when performing the movement. Try not to sink your shoulders!

From here, practice your kipping movement. This is essentially the foundation of butterfly pull ups. Introducing: the hollow and the arch positions.

These two body positions will be what you focus on, while keeping your core tight.

The Arch Position

Start the movement by getting into the arch position. This is where your legs are straight and locked together, feet behind you. Stay tight and controlled, trying not to flare your legs too far behind you.

Most importantly, keep your shoulders engaged!

The Hollow Position

From the arch position, you will then transfer to the hollow position. Staying equally tight and controlled, imagine “scooping” your feet down and aggressively kicking them forward as you pull down on the bar.

Keeping your core tight, the harder you kick forward, the more power you will have.

As your legs and shoulders lift, you may feel a moment of weightlessness, you complete your pull-down on the bar to the point where your chin is above the bar.

Think of pulling through the bar, not into it. As you pull through, keep your core tight and send your feet backwards to re-establish your arch position.

To summarise:

  • Initiate the arch position
  • Kick feet forward into the hollow position
  • Pull down on the bar
  • When you feel momentary weightlessness, pull through the bar
  • Return to the arch position

Kipping Pull Up Vs Butterfly Pull Up: What is the Difference?

The main difference between these two movements is the movement undertaken to return to the arch position.

A kipping pull up pushes away from the bar to get back into an arch, however, butterfly pull ups you are focusing on moving forward and through the bar to keep the circular motion going.

Another difference is the hip position. Butterfly pull ups require more elevation in the hips, more so than a kipping pull up. This elevation is what creates the weightlessness at the top, in other words, the moment you know when to pull through and push your feet back.

Essentially, this hip movement enables more power.

Common Errors: The Broken Body Position

One of the most common downfalls or errors in the butterfly pull up movement is the broken body position. While we won’t look like the top athletes performing butterfly pulls ups at first, it’s still important to focus heavily on technique and form.

This means keeping legs together and straight, keeping a tight core, and keeping your shoulders active and engaged.

Allowing one of these factors to drop will break your momentum and increase your risk of injury, especially in the shoulders.

The Take-Home

Butterfly pull ups are a complex and technical movement, which are often made to look easy!

They take time to perfect and master the rhythm, so it’s important to practice your movements by breaking them down and perfecting it piece by piece.

It’s also helpful to get a coach to oversee your progress so they can best advise on improving your technique and flagging potential errors.

Similar to many movements in the functional fitness world, such as double-unders and muscle ups, butterfly pull ups take time and patience to perfect.

Though, with practice comes efficient reps, so keep chipping away at it and good luck!