Can you do a pull-up?

A few days ago, I was chatting about an article from the New York Times Magazine that I had read titled, “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups.” When I had first read the title, I thought to myself, “It’s true, we’re not supposed to be able to do them! Finally, someone figured it out. The next time someone tells me to do a pull-up, I’m just going to say ‘No thanks; I’m not built for pull-ups. It’s been proven.'” But then, I realized that I actually was capable of completing at least 2 pull-ups. Yeah, that’s not that amazing or anything, but the fact that we aren’t supposed to be able to complete any at all made me feel like I was ahead of the pack.

The article starts out discussing how the pull-up has often been applied. Military drill instructors make their soldiers do them, but so do school gym teachers with their students on fitness days. The point made is that males were always held to a higher standard than females, expecting them to get in the double-digits, while females were only asked to try their hardest and maybe complete 3 at most.

With the pull-up on their minds, researchers from the University of Dayton set out to see if women were truly, physiologically incapable of completing pull-ups. They had 17 female participants that trained for 3 days a week, for 3 months. During their sessions, they focused on strengthening their biceps and the latissimus dorsi by lifting weights and doing modified pull-ups. By the end of the training the women had increased their strength by 36% and decreased their body fat with aerobic training by 2%. When it came time to see the results of all of the work, researchers were astonished. Only 4 of the 17 women could complete a single pull-up.

Later in the article, an exercise physiologist tried to explain why women have a harder time completing pull-ups, attributing their shortcoming to low strength, higher percentage of body fat, and lack of testosterone in comparison to men, who can often complete pull-ups with no problem. The physiologist also explained that both men and women that are bigger, both in height and weight, experience more difficulty trying to complete a pull-up because of longer limbs, suggesting that a shorter stature gives an individual a better chance of doing pull-ups. So, it seems as though if you’re a tall, average sized female, the odds are really against you (and me!).

The article was fascinating, yet I know that there are women out there that can do pull-ups. Yes, it may be much harder due to the reasons explained by exercise physiologists, but it’s definitely not impossible. With proper training and mental toughness, I bet that any female could do a single or many pull-ups. With the thought ingrained in so many females, young and old, that they cannot complete a pull-up or are not expected to do any, it’s no wonder they’re not trying to do them! But I say, try to beat the odds and statistics, and start doing some pull-ups! I can do a huge number of 2, how many can you do?

Pull up

This entry was posted in Week 2. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Can you do a pull-up?

  1. bballqueen says:

    I read this article originally when it came out in the New York Times and my first response was, “ISN’T THIS 2012????” I truly was in shock by this article and moreover the fact that this article was allowed to be published in a progressive newspaper like the New York Times. I agree with other comments that this article was displeasing and truly saddening that in a seemingly progressive and forward-thinking decade that we live in, not much has changed on gender stereotypes when it comes to fitness. This article, along with the fact that SI still has a swimsuit edition, and there is a lingerie football league demeans women’s as athletes. Sure, upper body strength is sometimes more difficult to gain for a female athlete than a male. I can attest to this as I have been lifting three times a week for the last 3 years. However, two years ago I could do zero pull-ups. I gradually started working on chin holds where I literally just hung on the chin up bar, then moved to assisted pull-ups until I could do one pull-up. Now I can do pull-ups with ease, maybe only 10 before I have to break for another set, and I can even do weighted pull-ups with a weighted vest. That came from WORK and mental toughness. I think it takes a lot of time and work ethic, but pull-ups are a possibility for everyone.

  2. Hattrix11 says:

    I completely agree with the above posts. I know from personal experience that training over a span of three months increased my count from 2 to the double digits (and these were full on Dawn-approved pull ups.) I think the main way I was able to get there was because I wasn’t trying to compete with the boys. Although I felt weak in comparison I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere without doing them. The trick is to find the resistance machines and do your pull-ups there because no one can tell how much weight is helping you out. Like Smith’s statement above, you’re not going to get anywhere if you never practice. I’m 5’8″, so I should have a “harder time that most males,” but I didn’t know that before I started so I was never able to make that excuse. I may never be able to do as many as the guys, but at least I’m getting somewhere. I encourage every other girl out there to do so as well!

  3. Thanks for the comments guys! I’m glad that my post was able to capture your interest! 🙂

  4. I’m sorry but I have to completely disagree with that article. Sex is a sorry excuse to write something off as impossible because women may be slightly disadvantaged. I know plenty of women who can do pull-ups, some far more than I can (as a male), and that is way up in the double digits… If everyone just gave up because something was “too hard” or they felt “disadvantaged,” this world would be a sorry place.

    With this type of attitude, it is no wonder that many women aren’t able to do pull-ups; who would be motivated to try to begin with? It is a shame that someone would write an article like this and I hope that every woman out there disregards it, or even sees it as motivation to prove them wrong.

  5. Flipper says:

    I read this article in the past and quite frankly it pissed me off (not only because they didn’t use a control group). While it is true that yes, we women are at a physiological disadvantage, that simply does not mean that women cannot do pull-ups or are not capable as doing as many as most men. Ask Dawn what the record is for female pull-ups on our own fitness tests, you’ll be surprised.

    Please read this article by Stew Smith instead:

    He opens by stating a very accurate observation, “one thing I have learned is that women AND men CANNOT do pull-ups IF they do not PRACTICE pull-ups…In my personal opinion, one of the worst things we ever developed in physical fitness classes were the “girl pullup” or flexed arm hang. At an early age, we have been telling young girls, that they cannot do regular pull-ups because they will never be as strong as boys.” How many girls do you know that even attempt pull-ups on any kind of a regular basis? No wonder most of us can’t do them! A valid excuse is that if someone can’t even do one then how do they even start “doing” them? Well, in the link I posted Stew also posts several techniques you can use to “get going” such as negatives and assisted pull-ups (in our gym, a good way is to put a red band around the bar and put your knees in it). The techniques they used in the New York Time’s article, while a good start on the muscle strength part, where no where NEAR comprehensive enough to train the body – from a neurological perspective – how to pull itself up over a bar.

    Most importantly, KEEP AT IT. You will be surprised at how fast and consistently your count will climb if you genuinely put in the hard work with true grit and effort. Don’t buy into the mentality that we “can’t” because of what we are. Trust me, it’s not even remotely true. God I’m glad you blogged about that.

Leave a Reply