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?