I mentioned on facebook the other day that I needed to work back up to pull-ups after having a baby and asked if anyone wanted to join me. A lot of you said you would, so I’m issuing an official pull-up challenge!
For clarity, the person in the picture above is my brother-in-law, as I’m not back up to pull-ups yet and the setting was a lot nicer than the pull-up bar on the door of my closet!
The Elusive Pull-Up
Why a pull-up?
Glad you asked… I’m personally not a fan of gym type cardio that just burns calories but isn’t very functional. For me, fitness is/should be about having functional strength when it is needed, rather than being a certain size or shape. In fact, I’d rather keep some curves and have a higher level of strength than be model-thin and unable to pull my husband or other adult out of a burning house/car, etc if I ever needed to.
There is a higher possibility that at some point I will need to sprint away from an animal/attacker etc or pull myself over something in a similar situation than that I will have to run 26.2 miles at one time. Functional training is what it’s all about.
The pull-up is also considered a true measure of strength by many trainers and with good reason. Completing a correct pull-up uses all the muscles of the back and arms and is a very effective upper body exercise (even though the NY Times doesn’t think women can do them). Certainly, pull-ups are tougher for women since we don’t have the natural upper body strength that men do, but they are possible. Women tend to be naturally better at lower-body exercises like deadlifts, but have to work harder at pullups (for instance, I can not do a pull-up right now but can deadlift more than my body weight).
This article provides some specifics:
What’s the difference between a pull up and a chin up? Is one better to do than the other?
Let’s keep it simple:
Pull ups: palms face away from you with a wide grip.
Chin ups: palms face you and the grip is generally just outside your shoulders. Chin ups are considered a slightly easier pull because the arms play a bigger role in the game. Pull ups are often considered harder, especially if your shoulders are internally rotated or across the board if you have not developed lat strength, the main power source for your pull.
Here’s what I say: It is the main job of the lats, the layman’s term for the broadest (latissimus) muscle in your back (dorsum), to bring your elbows into your ribs regardless of the grip. If you can’t do at least one of either type, pick the grip that feels most natural right off the bat and go with it for a while. I WILL advise you to try both during your pull up journey.
Can girls really do a pull up?
If that girl trains hard with a goal, yes! And that goes for that guy over there who can’t do one either! To give some perspective, in a deadlift you get to use your entire posterior chain. It’s the most commonly met goal for both men AND women, deadlifting your bodyweight. A pull up is limited to your upper body as the power source and you’re asking it to lift your bodyweight. It’s possible; it simply requires training, time and tenacity. Simple does not equal easy! Having this mindset will help immensely.”
And I love this encouragement for women and pull-ups:
“But you should want to be able to do pull ups. Because not only do they work your arms, shoulders, back, and core muscles wonderfully, they also give you a serious sense of confidence like you wouldn’t imagine.
I love telling people I can do pull ups. Especially as a woman, it’s pretty empowering. And people love it when I whip out 5 to 10 at a time on a whim.
But if you think you can never do a pull up, think again. Because if you follow the progression of exercises below, you’ll build the strength necessary to be able to do one, two, maybe even ten pull ups.”
The Pull-Up Progression
Another great thing about pull-ups is that they take minimal or no-equipment. No pull-up bar? Just use a tree branch or the monkey bars at a local playground. If you want to make it a tad more convenient, there are some great options for at-home pull-up bars that hang on a door frame without any need for nails or brackets. (This is the one we have and it is wonderful!)
You can absolutely work up to pull-ups with no need for extra equipment, but it is often helpful to start with similar exercises that build the muscles as not many people will be able to complete a pull-up on the first try if they’ve never tried.
The following exercises are in order of difficulty from easiest to most difficult, so start at the most challenging exercise you are able to complete.
If you are new to weight training and have never even tried to do a pull-up, this is where you will want to start. You can do this with progressively heavier objects and work up before moving on to the next step. The video below uses a sandbag for rows, but you can do these with gallons of coconut oil or vinegar, a bag full of heavy objects or any heavy item you can grip.
How to Perform a Row
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart and bend over at the waist with the heavy object in your hands
- Pull the object toward your chest at a slow pace
- Slowly and carefully return the object to its original position
Here’s a video for clarity:
If you can already complete basic rows, the next step would be bodyweight rows or reverse pushups. The idea is that instead of pushing yourself up, you’ll be pulling yourself up from a hanging position. This is often done on a low-hanging bar like a dip-bar. At home, you can use a sturdy pole across two chairs or even the under-side of your kitchen table. Make sure whatever you use is sturdy enough to hold you and have a spotter!
What do do:
- Position yourself under the table or bar so that you are hanging but with body straight in an upside-down push-up position
- Carefully pull yourself up to the bar/table
- Slowly lower yourself down
Here’s a video for the visually inclined:
The Real Deal
Once you’ve mastered reverse push-ups, you can move on to basic assisted pull-ups. The typical progression is:
- Band-assisted pull-ups
- Reverse/Negative pull-ups
- The real thing
Here is a video from Mark Sisson demonstrating the progression:
Chin-ups would use the same progression but with palms facing inward instead of outward.
It is great to work up to pull-ups and chin-ups at the same time.
For many women, it takes months to work up to a single pull-up but progressing with additional pull-ups will be easier.
Make sure to do everything with good form and move at your own pace to prevent injury.
I officially challenge you to learn how to do pull-ups and chin-ups. They are incredibly functional movements and your body will thank you!
Can you do a pull-up? Are you willing to try? Share below!