When working through my home training courses, the chances are you will need a pull up bar. Many landlords won’t let you screw them into a wall, so get one that slides in and out of a door way. I’ve liked the JML one because, like me, its been around for ages,
It is seen by many as a useful test for measuring the strength and endurance of the arm and shoulder girdle, and useful for those occupations where you need to manipulate your body weight: fire fighters, climbing into lovers’ bedrooms, showing off in front of kids, and getting out of holes when the zombie apocalypse strikes.
In Dec (2012) The media (papers and blogs) were all a-thither with the scientific proof that women cannot do pull ups. Even the Marines (“hoo-rah”) expect men to do 3, but women don’t have to do even one.
If you boil down the current research on women and pull ups, you will find two physiological reasons why most women cannot pull up.
They are fat and weak. (Don’t hate me, it’s science! )
It is generally accepted that women have a higher % of body fat (Heyward and Stolarczyk 1996) and according to an average of the research, women have upper body strength ½ of that of a man. (ranges from 35-79%: Laubach 1976).
But, as Kate said “It may be true, but God help you if you say that out loud to a girl!”
To be diplomatic and soften this up, it can easily be spun into the standard gym nonsense that women don’t have to do pull ups. Woo hoo, here comes your next Yoga class….after all strength is for smelly noisy boys.
We must accept that (Western) women have been sold a pernicious type of cultural weakness that blurs fitness with the spa. It palms off competence in Zumba as a substitute for the fitness that most women in the developing world need purely to survive the day. Elsewhere in the world women have to be tough, they have to plant food, haul goods, build stuff. A heroin-chic stick insect clinging to a partner’s arm isn’t available as a job option.
In fact, to be slightly political, the only reason Western women can prance around an aerobic studio and claim to be fit, is because their ancestors had the decency and foresight to be pirates, drug dealers and slavers who not only stole wealth, but saved it.
The poorest of us lives in comparative luxury based on this accumulated wealth, and it doesn’t matter if you have no physical competence
But what did this science experiment have to do, to validate the proposition that women don’t have to pull up?
“Three days a week for three months, the women focused on exercises that would strengthen the biceps and the latissimus dorsi — the large back muscle that is activated during the exercise. They lifted weights and used an incline to practice a modified pull-up, raising themselves up to a bar, over and over, in hopes of strengthening the muscles they would use to perform the real thing. They also focused on aerobic training to lower body fat”
And the result of this exciting “lat” challenging, bicep-strengthening routine was: “By the end of the training program, the women had increased their upper-body strength by 36 per cent and lowered their body fat by 2 per cent”
“But on test day, the researchers were stunned when only 4 of the 17 women succeeded in performing a single pull-up.”
“We honestly thought we could get everyone to do one,” said Paul Vanderburgh, a professor of exercise physiology”
A few interesting points.
1) This “hot news” (New York times dated 2012) was based on a report published in 2003 (“Training college-age women to perform the pull-up exercise.”) Shows how behind the times fitness media is.
2) It has been presented by much of the blogging world as justification for women having no pull ups, with the implication that they ought not to bother.
3) It shows that no one reads the small print. The researchers did not set out to produce a pull up specific routine
“We designed our training program with certain delimitations ..a whole body workout and not just a workout to improve pull ups”
4) It shows the impatience of “fitness regimes”. Why should the ability to achieve a certain goal in an arbitrary 12 weeks hold any sway? What’s wrong with spending 6 (+) months learning a skill?
5) The ineffectiveness of looking at movement in the simple terms of the strength of individual muscles.
All worthwhile “exercise” movements are analogues of human movement: they need to be learned, and they all, all combine numerous components of fitness: co-ordination, accuracy , agility, flexibility, strength, strength endurance, and to be frank some mental toughness and determination.
6) If you will permit me to sling a cat in among the pigeons, my final point is this : are pull ups a proper marker of fitness, or is “fit” a guesstimate of VO2 max.
If the girls we train can haul weight, including themselves, we begin to think “ tough chick” ( yes I know that’s a bit demeaning, but its meant nicely), but when flexible stick insects swoon into our gym with chocolate denial etched into their dulled eyes and the whiff of bulimia induced vomit around them, but a “really low resting heart rate”, we don’t think , “wow you’re fit”, we think “ Eat something and man up” .
Or to be more specific, get some steak and a pull up bar!
Once you have a few pull ups, its ‘easy’ to keep adding to them. The real hard one is getting that 1st pull up. I’ve struggled for 3 months to post a genuine article about getting your first pull up. This is my first public draft.
I hope it helps.
If you have no pull ups, here are some essential things you must do:
Get a pull up bar at home. I’d say this won’t guarantee success, but not having one at home will guarantee failure. Do not rely on getting to the gym, or to us for that matter. Also it’s a private matter between you and the bar: basically you have bar “issues” and sometimes its best to deal with “issues” in private. This pull up bar is often recommended JML Iron Total Gym Upper Body Workout Bar
Understand that a pull up is not a rubbishy exercise like all those silly piltates wiggles and squirms that you do. Pull-ups are a predictive happiness test. If you have no pulls ups (and this is especially true of ladies) no-one of quality will want to marry you. If you refuse to get that first pull up, stop reading this and go and get some cats. That’s all you will be good for.
. Look honestly at your weight. Pull-ups will be harder to get if you are over-weight. That does not mean you wait until you are the “right weight”. Get going now. It will be harder, but as I often say: “you ate it, now hump it”.
(If you are overweight don’t set yourself the task of losing a few pounds before you do anything; start living your life now. If you are overweight, and are miserable because you are lonely and boyfriendless/ girlfriendless/ loverless, put your details up on the raunchiest BBW site that your morality can stand, and hold on to your hat! Big girls and boys are always in demand. You can only lose weight if you are happy. Fending off would-be lovers with a stick is a very practical and measurable marker of happiness. Sitting at home feeling fat and ugly, makes you fat and ugly. Sorry, that not really about pull ups is it.)
Let us begin…
Objective 1: can you hang from the bar with your palms facing towards you (for those in the know, this is the ‘chin-up’ grip that’s a bit easier to begin with)?
Objective 2: can you hang a bit longer?
Objective 3: can you hang a bit longer than objective 2? (can you see where this is going?)
To save a lot of time, can you get to hang on your bar for 10 seconds? When you can, shout “woohoo” (loudly so as to annoy your neighbours) and start on working out how to do your first negative.
Your first what?
Well in highly technical terms, right, there’s the pulling up bit (right?) and then there’s the lowering bit.
At the moment you are not strong enough to do the pulling up bit, like, but if you were kind of already up there, maybe you could, er, lower yourself down a bit?
Does sort of rather beg the question of “how do i get up there?”…
Well here is the Andrew Stemler “Getting it up guide” (apparently this is a good title that always sells):
Jumping. Grab the pull up bar but instead of trying to pull yourself up, jump up so that your chin is above the bar. This can be easier said than done
By standing on something. Just stand on something that is high enough for you to start out in that already-pulled-up position. A bench, a chair, whatever. Anything you can use as a mini-ladder would be perfect. Perhaps even a mini-ladder?
Stand on something “version 2”. Grab the bar and make your loser boy- or girlfriend (perhaps the one you got from the BBW site) grab your ass and push you up
Now, once you’re in that top position, you’re ready to do the negative part of the pull-up. So, lower yourself down as slow and controlled as you possibly can. Focus on keeping really tight. I don’t mean “refuse to lend people money or get drunk”, I mean “have lots of tension in your body”. Squeeze (your own) bottom together. Brace your abs, squeeze your legs together.
Your first lower (we will call it negatives from now on) will either be agonisingly slow and hurt like hell, or you will fall straight through as you discover you have no strength at all.
Once you have lowered yourself, pop off the bar and reflect. Negatives are very taxing. You need rest between each one and you should never do more than 6 to 8 in a session.
So here is you beginner “CHIN-UPS FOR HAPPINESS” programme
Day 1: neg, neg, neg, neg, neg ( 120 secs rest between each negative)
Rest a day ( drink, eat cake, take all sorts of drugs. Smoking is especially good for you these days as it gets you out in the fresh air
Day 2: neg, neg, neg, neg, neg (90secs rest between each negative) It’s the same but with less rest!
Rest a day (put your own joke in!)
Day 3: neg, neg, neg, neg, neg (120 secs between each negative)
Rest one day
Day 4: The next workout needs you to get that loser boyfriend/girlfriend again. Basically they are going to try and help you pull yourself up and down. They get behind you, grab you…somewhere….(experiment) then they assist you to do….three sets of as many reps as you can with 120 seconds between. So they grab you, and haul you up and down as many times as you can. Could be 1, you could do 2 or 6. The set is over when they cannot push you anymore, not when you feel like it. You will want to stop early as it feels as it you are not doing the work: in fact it’s mainly you.
Rest 120 seconds. Do it again 2 more times.
It’s my way of getting your body to see what the actual task is. No, a lat pull down machine is not a good substitution.
But, what if you cannot get anyone to help you? Well thats beyond this article: but ideas could be to go next door and bug your neighbour, call up your ex-wife. Perhaps the guy selling the Big Issue fancies a couple of quid extra. Get creative, and find someone. Join a religious group and offer to host a scripture reading and slip your set in before you start as “movement prayer”
Rest 2 days.
Day 5: neg, neg, neg,neg, neg (90 secs rest)
Rest 2 days.
Now it’s the big test. Get someone to help you do 1-2 easy, supported reps. Rest for 2 minutes. Then do your 1 chin-up (woohoo!) or hang there trying for a full 7 seconds. Then with 120 seconds rest neg, neg, neg.
If you get that pull up come and talk to us about getting more. If not return to the beginning and start again. If you are very weak it could take many passes through to get your first pull up. But this regime works.
Feel free to suggest improvements or funnier/ruder quips to comments.
My Name is Andrew Stemler and I’m a personal trainer in London