The Ultimate Guide to Pull-ups for Fitness Athletes

The Ultimate Guide to Pull-ups for Fitness Athletes

The Ultimate Guide to Pull-ups for Fitness Athletes

CrossFit has transformed the fitness landscape since its arrival on the fitness scene. More athletes than ever are training barbell and gymnastics skills and having a blast exercising with friends. The foundation for many gymnastics skills is your vertical pulling strength & endurance. In this article, we’ll break down the main variations of CrossFit pull-ups and build a path towards gymnastics success!

The Ultimate Guide to Pull-ups for Fitness Athletes

Strict Pull-ups

When CrossFit pull-up variations are discussed, most people instantly think about the kipping pull-up. But in CrossFit, the strict pull-up is the foundation of your gymnastics skills. CrossFit’s education department emphasizes the need for athletes to develop strict pull-up strength before progressing to kipping variations.

Inside the typical CrossFit gym, we will see band-assisted pull-ups used frequently for athletes trying to build strict pull-up strength. At Performance Plus, we like band-assisted pull-ups in METCONs, but they are not the best for developing strict strength. Bands give too much assistance at the bottom of the pull-up, and athletes often do not develop enough starting strength for every move away from band assistance.

We prefer toe-assisted pull-ups for the CrossFit athlete as they will allow you enough assistance to complete the prescribed reps while building strength through the full range of motion.

With our strict pull-up work in CrossFit, we also want to emphasize staying in a hollow body position, as this will translate better to the progressions we’ll cover in the rest of this article.

Program Recommendations:

  • Our First Strict Pull-up Program has helped thousands of athletes get their first unassisted pull-up.
  • Pull-up Strength builds on top of that to help you hit weighted pull-up PRs!

CrossFit Kipping Pull-Ups

The most frequently utilized CrossFit pull-up variation is the kipping pull-up. In this variation, we rapidly move from a hollow and arch position to create horizontal motion. We then translate this horizontal movement into a vertical pull.

Before all the “no-reps” comments start, it is essential to understand why CrossFit uses this variation. It is NOT a replacement for strict pull-up strength. CrossFit HQ repeatedly states that these shouldn’t be used until after an athlete has strict pull-ups.

CrossFit wants athletes to focus on power output during a workout. Power equals work divided by time. So when we choose to perform kipping pull-ups, it is because athletes can cycle reps faster with the kip. This allows us to do more work in less time, thus increasing power output.

Kipping pull-ups are a fast and dynamic movement. So, dialing in perfect form is critical to performing efficiently and reducing shoulder joint stress.

Program Recommendations:

Butterfly Pull-Ups

The final CrossFit pull-up variation is the Butterfly Pull-up. This variation is typically reserved for competitive athletes as it requires significant strength and control for this exercise to be performed safely.

The Butterfly Pull-up shortens the range of motion of the kipping pull-up, allowing athletes to perform repetitions even faster.

Before performing Butterfly Pull-ups, athletes should be able to do 5+ strict behind-the-neck pull-ups, large sets of kipping pull-ups, and perform slow tempo mini-butterflies (below) to demonstrate the strength and control needed.

If you have those necessary pre-requisites, and want to be more competitive in the fitness space, then butterfly pull-ups can be trained. The following workshop video will break down the butterfly to help you fly on the rig!


The butterfly is a complicated and fast movement. We suggest using our Butterfly Pull-up Overhaul program to help you dial in the timing and coordination for perfect Butterfly Pull-ups.