How to Butterfly Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups
Written by Travis Ewart
I love checking the Invictus blog every night to see what the workout is for the next day. I don’t know what it is, but when I see that the workout has pull-ups or chest-to-bar pull-ups, I get very excited. I know it’s not the same reaction for everybody, but I feel like that’s usually because they aren’t familiar with the feeling of swinging continuously, smoothly and rhythmically in their pull-ups. Many struggle with the movement of the butterfly technique even though they are strong enough for strict chest-to-bar pull-ups or regular pull-ups and that can be frustrating.
As a gymnastics coach, I love studying movement and making sense of it. Watching bodyweight shift from one side to another, momentum starting, building and stopping and strength used efficiently are all part of my daily routine and one reason why I love my job. The other reason I love my job is watching athletes beat down the roadblocks that stand in their way. Below I describe three of the most important pieces of the butterfly chest-to-bar movement that stop your caterpillar from becoming a butterfly.
Part One: Mounting the Bar
Most often I see novice butterfly-ers doing a dead hang from the bar, move into some kipping swings and then attempt to connect some butterfly chest-to-bars only to find that it feels like they are swinging uncontrollably, coming off the bar frustrated with their lack of rhythm. Rhythm is achieved through balance and timing. On some skills like toes-to-bar it’s easier to find rhythm than in the butterfly chest-to-bar, yet they are actually quite similar in the swing prior to arching. Similarly, the bar muscle-up has the same swing pattern, so what’s the deal? (Side note: regular butterfly pull-ups can start from a dead hang and require no forward/backward swing to be successful).
Jumping to the bar may be the most important part of this movement. Standing slightly behind the bar before jumping will add a little forward swing once hanging, and if you keep your feet forward your hips (hollow body position) until you pass the vertical plane of the bar you will be able to immediately arch into a loading/re-loading position to kip and execute an immediate chest-to-bar or a toes-to-bar swing. While watching an athlete (from the side) mounting the bar I should see them jump to the bar with their feet slightly in front of them, start swinging forward and lead the swing with their toes. They should then straighten to achieve a straight body on the front side of the bar about 5 to 10 degrees forward of the vertical plane (the upright post). The swing should be relatively small and followed by the arch with toes behind the body.
Part Two: Efficient Kipping
Many athletes know what “kipping” is and how to kip a pull-up swing, but the positioning may be less than transferrable to turn a kipping chest-to-bar into a butterfly chest-to-bar. For starters, a kipping chest-to-bar should finish with a straight or slightly hollow body with straight-ish legs in a slightly leaned-back angle with the bar pressed against the middle of the chest and the tip of the elbows behind the back. Most issues with trying to turn a kipping pull-up into a butterfly chest-to-bar happen when the chest meets the bar but the legs are already bent and underneath the athlete or already behind them. To correct this, drive your toes forward/upward and your shoulders backward simultaneously, then pull your chest to the bar quickly with your feet in front of the vertical plane of the bar. Fix this, then move to part three.
Part Three: Proper Timing
The most recognizable part of the butterfly chest-to-bar is the arched position, which I like to call the “reloading position”. Every kipping movement has a loading position. This is the body position that is achieved before the kipping swing, and in the case of butterfly chest-to-bars, it’s the arched back/toes behind body position that readies your body for the forward swing to connect the following chest-to-bar. As mentioned in part two, the feet should be forward of the body and the bar until the chest meets the bar. This is extremely important because without the weight of your legs in front of the bar there will be no ‘exchange of weight’. Exchange of weight in a chest-to-bar happens when your feet go from in front of the bar to behind the glutes which causes your chest to “exchange” positions and move forward of the bar. Pulling your feet back before completion of the pull-up will shift weight early, and after your chest touches the bar it’s just going to drop straight down and cause your swing to become imbalanced for the next rep. Be quick and patient! Wait for your chest to make contact with the bar (providing your feet are still in front) then pull them back as far as they can reach. This should be done quickly, trying to get your toes to point to the ceiling behind you. Bending your knees as much as possible will help absorb the shock at the moment of straight arms. If you feel lower back pain from overarching, separate your knees during the reloading position but keep your toes together to create symmetry and momentum into the next pull-up.
If you are one of the many who have had trouble in the past with butterfly chest-to-bars then please take a look at your movement on video and see if you are falling into any of the sections above. Not understanding a skill with so many moving parts can be complicated and frustrating, but the majority of the time you just need a little extra guidance to show you how very close you really are! Take the time at the gym and video yourself working on these and post your video in the comments below. We will help you with your movement as much as we can so long as you post!
The next time you see chest-to-bar pull-ups on the agenda I really hope that, you too, get butterflies thinking about butterflies and how you’re going to fly through your workout!
For more drills and progressions and to get personal feedback from Coach Travis, join our Invictus Gymnastics online program. It doesn’t matter what level your skills are, we have a way to customize your programming to be just right for you. You get tutorials, video analysis, and an amazing online community, all for helping yourself prepare for what is definitely coming! Sure, you’re going to have to work for it, but you do CrossFit (thus you’re a badass), and this is the step you have to take to being even more badass.
Twenty minutes of actual work, three times a week – start now! The Open is closer than you think!