For no good reason, other than to learn a new skill, I made learning to do butterfly pullups one of my goals for 2011. If you’re not sure what I mean, these are butterfly pull ups (or sometimes called cyclic pullups, or butterfly kips):
So when an open skill session came up at the gym, I spent 1/2 an hour working on getting them. At the end of the session I could maybe 3 reasonable butterfly pull ups in a row and felt things had gone quite well. It was the following morning however, when I couldn’t even scratch my head with my left arm due to the pain my shoulder, that I realised all had not gone as well as I’d thought.
Still I’ve had shoulder tweaks before and always 4-6 weeks or rest has sorted it out, sadly not this time. I haven’t trained in 4 months now, and that sucks. I had to cancel a CrossFit Gymnastics cert I was booked on, and now with the Olympic Weightlifting cert coming up, things were not looking good. So it was off to the quacks to see what’s what. Long story short, I have a sub-surface / partial rotator cuff tear as diagnosed by ultrasound. This is not me, but a pic I found on the net which looks exactly like my ultrasound:
You can see the tear as the black area above the humerus (upper arm bone) and below the rotator cuff (a set of 4 tendons that hold the shoulder in place). The main symptom is a lot of pain when doing a very specific movements, typically with my arm extended out horizontally, e.g. reaching to pick up a drink (curses!).
After showing the consultant the video above showing a butterfly pullup, he told me that the injury is very similar to those suffered by rock climbers who loose their footing and their weight drops onto their shoulders, which typically means I also may have a SLAP Lesion (Superior Labral tear from Anterior to Posterio) which is another kind of tendon tear. This possibility is supported by 2 other symptoms: a dull toothache like ache, and trouble sleeping when lying on my left side. This means I need an MRI to check for a labral tear too. A rotator cuff tear is bad enough, but a labrum tear would be seriously bad news that definitely requires surgery!
The good news is that the rotator cuff tear is not full thickness (a bit of internet research (we’re all internet Doctors, no?) puts a name to it: PASTA Lesion, which means Partial Articular Supraspinatus Tendon Avulsion) and as the quack said, it’s “not a gross injury” so there’s no reason not to go on the CrossFit Olympic weightlifting cert. The chance to learn from coach Burgener (US Olympic weightlifting Coach CrossFit subject matter expert) and is not to be missed. However I doubt I’ll be taking part in many WODs and certainly not going for anything close to a max lift (not that 4 months of no training was going to help that anyway!). I’ll have to get myself back down the gym and workout what the hell I can / can’t do before next weekend.
In summary then, I’m rather unhappy about butterfly pull ups. I was just beginning to get my mojo back after last year and this has not helped. To be honest, had I realised the injury risk they posed, I probably would never have tried them. I’m knocking on 40 and have no aspirations for major athletic improvement. I train to not suck at life and getting injured makes me suck at life! So unless you’re a competitive CrossFitter (i.e. CrossFit *is* your sport and you have CrossFit Games aspirations) the butterfly pullup is just not worth the injury risk in my opinion.