CrossFit Butterfly & Kipping Pull Ups Progression Guide

I

spent 6-years as a CrossFit instructor and CrossFit Games competitor in the early days of CrossFit. This was from 2007 to 2014. My home base affiliate was CrossFit One World where I trained with three-time CrossFit Games winner Jolie Gentry, worked with thousands of clients, and trained with some of the top athletes at the time. I picked up a thing or two about kipping pull-ups during that time that I’d like to share with you.

One of those learnings was the difference barbell progression vs gymnastics progressions. I noticed barbell training was intuitively easy too progress with for beginners. Just teach someone to squat, deadlife, press, and bench and tell them to add 5lb a week. Low-and-behold 6 months later they’ve packed on some good beginning/novice strength gains. It made coaching easy.

Less is know how to progress with the kipping pull-ups and other gymnastics movements used in CrossFit. The progressions aren’t as simple for a beginner to grasp. A year goes by of doing CrossFit WOD’s every week and often people are still stuck doing jumping pull-ups and kipping pull-ups. It doesn’t have to be like this.

The purpose of this guide and the RX CrossFit Gymnastics program is to help people progress through these bodyweight movements as intuitively as they would barbell movements.

Other CrossFit Gymnastics Progressions

In CrossFit, there are a few bread-and-butter gymnastics movements that you expect to see weekly in your WOD programming. This article covers kipping pull-ups only. I have some other guides that you might be interested in.

Each guide comes from my CrossFit Gymnastics online course. They are intended to give you a preview of the program and progressions for each movement. Each guide brings you to Level 1 for that movement. Each movement has 5 levels total that is available in the full course.

Free Preview of the CrossFit Gymnastics Online Program

Originally launched in 2013, the CrossFit Gymnastics Online Course has helped thousands of CrossFitters to improve their Kipping Pull-Ups, Muscle Ups, Handstand Pushups, and Ring Dips.

Intro to the CrossFit Kipping Pull Ups Progression

The CrossFit Kipping Pull Up progression is part of a series of posts and programs available on this site. They are designed to be accessory strength programs for CrossFitters. What that means is they are intended to for use in addition to a CrossFit program you’re already following.

The problem that these programs address is an issue I see all too often at CrossFit gyms. The problem is that there are members who after years or months of CrossFit training aren’t able to do kipping or butterfly pull-ups in their WOD’s.

There are a few reasons this problem exists:

  1. CrossFit gyms generally don’t provide detailed enough extra programming to guide their members to the point where they ramp up to performing kipping or butterfly pull-ups in their WOD’s.
  2. There are minimal resources that trainees have available to work well in addition to CrossFit programs.
  3. Often trainees think that WOD’s alone will get them to be proficient at kipping or butterfly pull-ups. This assumption isn’t very useful for people with a limited strength training background.
  4. CrossFit gyms and trainers often misinform members about kipping and butterfly pull up progressions.  The usual prescription is to instruct them to use band pull-ups or jumping pull-ups in WOD’s as in its the only way to progress. This method of band pull-ups alone is not enough if you wish to do kipping pull-up or butterfly pull-ups in your WOD’s.

Ambiguous, misinformed, and minimal resources. It’s no reason why this problem of members and clients struggling to get kipping pull-ups is so prevalent.

In truth, progressing towards kipping pull-ups for CrossFit should be broken down into logical steps and followed diligently. Only prescribing band and jumping pull-ups is lazy coaching. 

I measure my success with these programs like this. Let’s say you can’t do a pull-up or can only do a few. You start the progressions and follow them for 2 to 6 months. In that time you build up to doing 10+ strict pull-ups and 20+ kipping pull-ups. You then practice your pull-ups a few times a month and additionally RX them in your WOD’s. If that is your story, I would consider these programs a success for you and make me very happy!

The goal is to unlock pull up capacity in your WOD’s. Once opened, you’ll maintain and build capacity with your standard CrossFit programming.

What is a Kipping Pull Up?

CrossFit has popularized the kipping pull-up. The kipping-pull is when you use the quick extension of your hips to help drive your body upwards to get your chin over a pull-up bar.  In comparison, a strict pull-up where there is no hip extension. Generally, you’ll see that people who are proficient at kipping pull-ups can perform more reps with a kip than they can with just strict pull-ups. The reason being is because the movement of the hips means that less muscular tension needs to be used by the back and the biceps.

Now, stepping back a moment lets consider the pull-up in a more abstracted way. What A pull-up is merely a movement where when you hang from a bar and pull your way up with your chin over the bar. Usually, this means getting your chin above the bar, but there are exceptions to this. For example, a scapular pull-up only brings your head up by about 2 inches.

For the sake of clarity, let’s go over pull-up criteria for discussing the kipping pull-up.

  • Pull-ups can be done anything you can hang on with your hands. 99% of the time this going to be a pull-up bar or gymnastic rings.
  • The person starts from a dead hang and pulls them self up, so their chin is above the bar.

As you can imagine, there are many pull up variations! Here is me performing a simple strict pull-up. You’ll notice that my hips don’t move and my body is relatively hollow.

A kipping pull up is a variation in the pull-up family.

A kipping pull up is a way to use your hips and body momentum to complete a pull-up. It is often used in CrossFit WOD’s for a few different reasons:

  • You can complete more reps in less time.
  • By using the momentum from your hips it reduces the amount of work performed by your upper body. This allows you to perform more reps in total. This concept is covered in my CrossFit gymnastics article if you’re interested.

This allows you to do more work with less effort. It is more efficient. As such, it has greater power output.

Here is a quick video of me performing a few reps of kipping pull-ups.

What is a butterfly pull-up?

A butterfly pull-up is similar to a kipping pull-up. The movement uses a pop of the hip allow you to perform more total reps and in a shorter amount of time. The difference is the butterfly pull-up has a continuous motion which allows for more reps in a shorter amount of time.

The butterfly pull-up has two performance advantages over the kipping pull-up.

  • First, it is less taxing of a movement compared to the strict pull-up and kipping pull-up. This performance enhancement is due to two reasons. First, by using the hips to get the vertical elevation, you are using less upper-body pulling muscles in the biceps and back. Second, the butterfly uses a rotational kip which allows the body to be in perpetual motion. Unlike with the kipping pull-up where you top at both the top and the bottom.
  • Second, the rotational kip is faster. I’ve timed them before. I can do 20 kipping pull-ups in about 22 seconds and 20 butterfly pull-ups in about 17 seconds.

Take a look at the following video of my performing a few butterfly pull-ups. You’ll notice that my chin goes higher to allow for rotation.

Kipping & Butterfly Pull-Up Progression

There are an art and science to bodyweight gymnastics progressions. I use a methodology called The Level Up Method. This periodization methodology is the underlying exercise science protocol that powers all of my strength progressions on this site.

For the kipping and butterfly pull up progressions there are five levels. Each level has its own goal. Once that goal is achieved then you can move to the next level. Each level has been designed and programmed to fit the needs of athletes within that level. Once someone graduates to a new level the programming are adjusted to help reach the goal of the next level.

The following graphic shows the five levels of progressions the CrossFit Gymnastics Program.

Getting Started with Kipping Pull-Up Progression

It is simple to get started on the pull-up progressions. As mentioned in the last section there are five levels.  Each level has a Current Ability section. This current ability section is meant to help you select your first level.

First, you should locate your current ability. Let’s say that you can do two strict pull-ups. With two pull-ups you would be in level 2.

This would put you at level 2 pull up.

You would then follow the instructions for level 2 until you complete the goal of that level. The goal for level 2  is five strict pull-ups. Once you can do that, then you graduate to level 3. Pretty cool, huh?

Once you have your level identified then its time to get to work!

Let’s assume that you are in level 2 for your pull-ups. A workout would look something like this:

 

  • Warm Up: EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute) perform 1-3 strict pull-ups. Stop after 5 Min. Every week either try to get more consecutive pull-ups or add a minute. Do not go over 10 minutes. The goal is to perform more each week. Whether you do this by doing more in the allotted time or more by adding more time, it doesn’t matter.
  • CrossFit Class: This will take 60-90 minutes. Do your usual CrossFit class. If there are pull-ups in the WOD, then scale as needed but if possible do a few strict pull-ups. Here, you’ll want to pick the most appropriate progression from the Pull-Up Movement Library as possible.
  • Cool Down exercise 1: Perform kipping pull-up practice drills.
  • Cool Down exercise 2: Accumulate 20 hollow rocks. Add 5/week until you go to level 3. Perform a max set of strict pull-ups before and after hollow rocks

In level 2, there are four workouts to follow. The above example is the first workout. You would rotate between the four workouts until you can complete five pull-ups. Then its time to move to level 3.

Below you will find the full Level 1 programming for kipping and butterfly pull-ups. Level 1 can help anyone go from zero to 1 strict pull-up. Level 2 through 5 are for purchase in the CrossFit Gymnastics Program. Levels 2 through 5 are designed to get you to the point where you can perform 100 kipping pull-ups in under four minutes by the time you’ve advanced through level 5. Not everyone needs or wants to get to that level of performance. I find that many people are perfectly happy around level 4.

Level 1: CrossFit Butterfly & Kipping Pull Ups Progression

Does a strict pull-up evade you? Not sure how to progress to get your first strict pull-up? Look no further! This progression will get you your first strict pull-up. This level is the first stepping stones to getting to a kipping pull-up. I coach all of my clients an students to perform strict pull-ups before they attempt any sort of kipping.

The primary purpose of this guide is to develop your kipping pull-ups. The reason I have strict pull-ups as the first level is for a few reasons.

First, kipping pull-ups results in dynamic movement in the shoulders. When this specific dynamic movement is introduced our likelihood of injury increases if we don’t prepare for it. Couple with limited upper-body strength and we have a recipe for an injury. So the first reason we start with strict pull-ups is to develop strength in the shoulders, arms, and back to help prevent damage.

The second reason is because a solid base of strength will help you do more kipping pull-ups. Strict pull-ups are the best tool we have for that.

Third, having enough pulling strength to do a strict pull up is a pre-requisite to muscle ups. If you plan to develop that skill, later on, you’ll need to have a firm grasp on strict pull-ups.

Lastly, you should learn to do a strict pull-up. It is a good life skill and aptitude to maintain for as long as you can even when you’ve retired from CrossFit and are onto the next thing. Pull-ups are basic upper-body strenght skill that will serve you well throughout your life as long as you maintain them.

Current ability: 0 strict pull-ups. To be clear, this means not being able to hang from a bar and pull yourself up high enough where your chin clears the bar. Explicitly, this means without jumping, an exercise band, or any other tool. If you cannot perform a strict pull-up, then this level is for you! If you can achieve a strict pull-up, then you can skip to the next level.

The goal of Level 1: 1 strict pull-up. This means mastery over one strict pull-up. I don’t want you to move to level 2 on your first one pull-up. You should be comfortable jumping up to a bar and getting a strict pull-up any day of the week. What I recommend is to cycle through the microcycle one or two times before moving to level 2. The extra practice will help. Trust me. Don’t rush good work. Take your time. It’s not a race. We want you to be a quality mover. We’re not trying to race through the program as fast as possible. Clear? So once you get a strict pull-up, go through the programming cycle one or two more times before moving on.

Coaching Notes

  • We are going for control of these reps. Take a look at the video clips, and you will notice I keep a nice consistent pace going up an down.
  • To complete a self-assisted pull-up we will be using a squat rack. During level 1, we will be using these to supplement band pull-ups. When getting someone to their first pull up, I prefer to use both band pull-ups and self-assisted pull-ups. You’ll find most coaches will only use bands during the level of pull-up training. The reason I don’t like that is that band pull-ups do not mimic the same strength curve as a pull-up. With a strict pull-up, the hardest part is the bottom of the hand. With a band pull up, it is the easiest.
  • See the Pull-Up Movement Library for Video Demos of all these movements in the programming. In this level, you’ll be making a lot of use out of the various squat rack assisted pull-ups. Here is a demo of of of the varriations. ‘

The following is the exercise programming for level 1. You should be able to run through this at least once a week. Specifically, each workout performed once a week. You will repeat this cycle until you’ve completed the goal of level 1. At which time you should move to level 2.

WHENDAY 1DAY 2DAY 3
VOLUMEASSISTANCEINTENSITY
WARM UP3 sets 8-12 banded pull-ups. If you go over 12 move to a band with less resistance. If banded pull-ups are too difficult you can do self-assisted pull-ups until you are capable of progressing to the band 5×5 Self-assisted pull-ups. Scroll down for information about the progressions. 5×3-5 banded pull-up. If you can go over 5 reps scale up to a more difficult progression. You should attempt a small band than volume day.
WARM UP3 sets of a max hang from a pull bar with 1-minute rest. This is to help build grip strength. If you can do more than a minute then you can skip.
COOL DOWNAccumulate 25 ring rows. Move up 3-5 reps a week until you move to level 2. If you can string together more than 10 in a row make the movement more difficult by being more parallel with the floor. 3×8-12 curls with the barbell 5×5 Self-assisted pull-ups.
COOL DOWNAccumulate 25 banded face-pulls. Move up 3-5 reps a week until you move to level 2.

Level 2: CrossFit Kipping Pull Ups Progression

In Level 2 you should be able to complete a strict pull-up. What this means is there should be no thrusts with your hip to get your chin over the bar. Additionally, you should be able to do this any day of the week.  You should be able to walk into the gym cold, jump into a hang, and pull yourself up, any day of the week.

There are two goals in level 2.

First, we want to continue building strength in the strict pull-up. Having a solid base of power will help with our goal of mastering kipping pull-ups. In this level, we will work our way up to getting five strict pull-ups in a row.

Second, we will begin practicing the motion of kipping. In the programming, we have “Kipping pull up practice” as a prescription. There are four levels of practice. The videos are in the video library. The go from easiest to hardest.

When kipping pull up practice comes up, what I would like you to do is start with the swing. The kipping swing is the base of all the kipping pullup. You’ll need to practice this and get this down to do a kipping pull up. Feeling comfortable with this before moving to hand release. The swing involves external and internal rotation of the scapula and shoulder blades. It also involves coordination of movement with your hips. The

When you feel comortable with the swing you’ll then move to hand release. This is the the same as the swing but as you come up you release your hands for a split second and then come back down into the bottom of the swing.

Once you have hand release down we’ll combine your strict pull up practice with the kipping swing. You’ll pull yourself up, hold for a second, and push away down into the bottom of the swing. This drill mimics the movement pattern needed to string many kipping pull ups together.

Finally, we are going to do a kipping pull up! Well, almost. In this drill we do every part of a kipping pull up except at the top we hold for a split second.

Mastery of these four drills will establish a solid base for kipping pull ups in level 3.

  • Current ability: 1 strict pull-up any day of the week.
  • Goals: 5 strict pull-ups in a row with no kip. Additionally you should be able to do all four kipping pull up practice drills.
  • Objectives: Every week do more pull-ups than the last. Develop good technique for kipping. Become stronger in hollow rock position.
  • How to: Do 3-4 workouts a week. Rest day from pull-ups before day 2 and 4.

This Level is in the Crossfit Gymnastics Program

Level 3: CrossFit Kipping Pull Ups Progression

At this point, you should be able to string together five strict pull-ups and have the kipping motion down. In level 3 we will begin having less of a focus on strict pull-ups and more of a focus on kipping pull-ups. With that said, strict pull-ups should continue to be the backbone of your pull up programming. The more strict pull-ups you can do the more kipping pull-ups you can do. Additionally, strict pull-ups help serve as the base for muscle ups.

In level 3 we focus on developing stamina in pull-ups. Also, we want to iron out the technique for kipping. This level is about taking all the pieces of level one and two together. With that, we can build aptitude with kipping pull-ups and start introducing them our WOD’s.

In level 3 we also begin introducing the butterfly pull up. I’ve included this as voluntary skill work. The butterfly is faster than a kipping pull-up but take more energy and has more risk of injury with the shoulder. If you decide you’d like to develop the butterfly, then see “Circles Under The Bar” video. When practicing you’ll only need to do it with head under the bar. As you improve the circles under the bar,  begin making bigger circles with your head until you can start going chin over the bar.

If you do not want to try the butterfly, then you can use this time to practice your kipping motion or more set of kipping pull-ups.

  • Current ability: Set of 5 strict pull-ups any day of the week
  • Goal: Men 10 strict and 20 kipping. Women 7 strict and 15 kipping.
  • How to: Do 2-4 workouts a week. Rest day from pull-ups before day 2 and 4

This Level is in the Crossfit Gymnastics Program

Level 4: CrossFit Kipping Pull Ups Progression

By level 4 we want to have proficiency with both kipping and strict pull-ups which means a few different things.

First, your kipping skills are down pat. You feel comfortable jumping up and knowing out some kipping pull-ups. By now, you should have already started introducing them in your WOD’s. You may not be able to do them all, but you feel it coming.

Second, you are getting strong enough to do a few weighted pull-ups. By now, if you were to wear a weight belt you might be able to do a weighted pull up with 20-45 lb pounds.

In level 4, we are working towards building more capacity. In your WOD’s you should be attempting to most or all of your pull-ups as kipping.

  • Current ability: Men 10 strict and 20 kipping. Women 7 strict and 15 kipping.
  • Goal: Men 40 butterfly pull-ups. Women 30 butterfly pull-ups. Move to Phase 5 once you hit this goal.
  • How to: Do 2-3 workouts a week.

This Level is in the Crossfit Gymnastics Program

Level 5: CrossFit Kipping Pull Ups Progression

By level 5, you are able to every single WOD that has pull-ups in it. The purpose of this level is to build capacity and speed for pull-ups.

Current ability: Men 40 butterfly or kipping pull-ups. Women 30 butterfly or kipping pull-ups.

Goal: Men 100 pull-ups in under 4:00 and women under 5:00

Objectives: Capacity

How to: Do 2-3 workouts a week. Once you complete cycle 1 go to cycle 2 and then back again.

This Level is in the Crossfit Gymnastics Program

Free Preview of the CrossFit Gymnastics Online Program

Originally launched in 2013, the CrossFit Gymnastics Online Course has helped thousands of CrossFitters to improve their Kipping Pull-Ups, Muscle Ups, Handstand Pushups, and Ring Dips.