Last year, an article in the New York Times suggested that women can’t do pull ups. Since then, there has been a torrent of indignation about this supposed fact. Crossfit gyms in particular held the study this article was based on in low esteem. The fact of the matter is that women can do pull ups if they are trained to do them correctly.
Don’t believe me, or don’t feel you can do it? Take a look at these YouTube videos:
Now that I’ve proven the point that women can indeed do pull ups, let’s look into why they’re so hard in the first place. The primary reason why all people find pull ups hard initially is because we have fallen out of the habit of pulling ourselves up over objects. Our distant primate ancestors had to do it all the time. The wiring is there, but it has now fallen into serious atrophy.
The word “wiring” is important. Muscle strength is not just a factor of size. It is also a factor of muscle density and how hard the muscle can contract. In fact, many men with very large muscles cannot do pull ups! Why is this? It is because the nervous system can’t tell the muscles involved in the pull up to contract hard enough to perform it.
The fault in the study was that they were focusing on all sorts of exercises to strengthen the back muscles, but they weren’t being trained to fire together properly to assist each other. This is the hidden key to the pull up.
So, how do you get your muscles properly wired? You have to try to do the pull up motion as close as your fitness level will allow. Your form must also be very good. Improper form, such as kicking your legs for momentum (something even some of the women in the videos were doing!) will only cheat you. Stick to the proper form:
- Head forward
- Shoulders back and down
- Palms out and a little over shoulder width apart
- Chest forward
- Glutes tight
- Legs straight or bent at the knee with your ankles crossed
Start at first by just hanging onto the bar and putting your body in the right position. Think about how it would feel to do the pull up. Visualizing the motion will tell your mind to prepare your body for the pull up. Hold this position as long as you can. This will build your grip strength and help your body begin to wire the right muscles.
The next phase is to do assisted pull ups. Find some method to take some of the weight off your feet. You can rest them on a platform, use a pull up machine or have someone hold them. When pulling yourself up, think of pulling your elbows down and pushing your chest up toward the bar. When your chin clears the bar fully, try to lower yourself back down at the same rate you came up. Use your feet to push yourself up as little as possible.
You can also do negative pull ups. You’ll probably need a partner for these. Start at the top of the pull up position with your partner holding your feet. Have them let go, then lower yourself back down slowly until your arms are straight. These will tire you quickly, but they also show results quickly.
Finally, developing a good push up routine will help with the pull up as well. If you do them with a locked core, you’ll work many of the same muscles that you do in the pull up. It will also help balance out the front and back of your body.
Don’t let anyone say that you cannot do a pull up! It’s likely they can’t do a proper one themselves. Take these training tips and keep at it. One day, your chin will clear the bar legitimately. No one can take that away from you!
About the Author:
Brenda Wallace has been in love with physical fitness and her pull up bar for 5 years. She currently lives with her husband Mike in San Diego, California. When she’s not working out, she enjoys reading, playing the recorder, and being a foodie.