Pull Ups: Not the Diaper Kind

“Girls can’t do pull ups.”

It’s not a fact, but it’s damn hard to do one, especially when you don’t have that extra testosterone boost from that non-existent Y chromosome. And, the gym seems to always work against you and, in my case, your tiny frame in multiple ways:

  1. *Looks up* Bar is too high, trainer…help!
  2. *Stands on footstool, still looks up* What kind of wingspan do you need to reach both sides of this thing? I’m not freakin’ Kevin Durant.
  3. *Holds on to the bar* Damn I’m tired…but it’s a nice stretch, can we do this instead?

You basically feel like this:

wile e coyote

I grew up in the 90s, can you tell? If not, the rest of this post should confirm it.

The reality is, pull ups are quite useful. I can think of several scenarios where a solid set of back muscles and a strong brace of the core muscles could’ve been or were helpful:

  1. When your power hungry uncle who killed your father tries to off you the same way

    scar simba pride rock

    Luke I’m your father…oh wait, wrong movie

  2. When you and your master are fighting a Sith lord and you’ve fallen slightly behind

    star wars obi hang

    Jedi training…still need to work on them back muscles Obi.

  3. When you try to use the fire escape to get off the roof of your apt after failing to see the Bapstein-King comet

    joey ross fire escape

    “I’m carrying a little holiday weight.”

  4. When you’re hanging off the side of the world’s tallest building and your gloves are losing their stickiness


    Coolest. Job. Ever.

I never said I’d mention real life scenarios, though #3 probably happened to someone in the city. These are all guys just hanging around, perhaps some in more dangerous situations than others, but…hey, where are all the girls at? Hold on, I got one more:

5. When you’re trying to make the cut in the army because you went in place of your father


Be a man? I don’t think so.

Well Mulan figured it out and so can you. I had some help in solving this seemingly unsolvable problem, in the form of a personal trainer who’s more than happy to push me to my limits. Now, I’m proud that I can do (mostly) unassisted pull ups. The only help I currently need is to get myself tall enough to reach the bar. Sometimes hopping up and down multiple times just doesn’t work and you have to suck it up and find a box or large dumbbell to step on. Hey, Mulan has a horse and she still can’t reach it:

pull up machine

Figures drawn to scale, I swear.

I learned a lot  that I didn’t know before about pull ups and chin ups in this process, including, with the right program, we can get a great aerial view of the gym with our back muscles. Plus, there are several actual real-life benefits in working those muscles that help you progress your way to a full, unassisted pull-up. I, of course, given my strong mastery of the English language, know them to be, “that muscle right there on my back”, “that area between the shoulders”, “wait, that’s not my shoulder?”, and, perhaps my favorite, “that place I can’t reach but it’s really sore when you made me pinch it while holding 5 lbs”.

back muscles yz

Throughout this process, you slowly realize there’s a logical, rational way to do anything, following a similar framework:

  1. Learning the right setup: Grip is key

A lot of energy was initially expended by just keeping myself hanging there. It took a great amount of effort to hang on to the bar and once I’ve spent my energy getting into the starting position of a pull up, I didn’t have enough to pull myself up. We worked on grip by essentially destroying it through carries, deadlifts, and cleans. Basically, I picked up anything that’ll drag me down and tried to keep my back and core straight and braced, respectively.
home alone groceries

Real life application: When you live in Battery Park City and you want to save money, so you end up buying 20 lbs of grocery from Trader Joe’s. Have fun carrying that for about half a mile from the subway station to your apt. Did I mention there’s stairs too? Now just hope for sturdy bags…

2. Finding the right tools: It’s all in the back (and shoulders)

Apparently there are muscles in your back and between your shoulders, when contracted, helps with the pulling up motion. I literally just hung there on some days, keeping those muscles pinched, to see how long I could last. Sometimes we threw in some leg raises because who doesn’t want a six pack?

slouch desk

Don’t want to go back to the times of homo habilis, he was never erect.

Real life application: I’m sitting at my desk, it’s hour 6 of 10 and I’m slouching…slouching….yep, in a very bad spinal position. At least my view is nice? Guess what? Not gonna happen when you develop these muscles.

3. Attention to detail: Brace hard

Bracing your core helps stabilize your entire body weight so your legs don’t flail about as if independent from your body. It makes it easier to pull yourself up because your back can focus on just pulling vs stabilization, keeping balance etc. It’s a lot to ask of your abs but then again, who doesn’t want a six pack?

Chandler sleep

Real life application: Better posture, reduction or disappearance of lower back pain and, what? You’re so use to it that you don’t mind sitting straight up in your seat for 10+ hours at work? Don’t tell your boss; pretend to sleep, shhhh

4. One step at a time: Use resistance bands and slowly ween off of them

It’s all about progression. We used bands to help reduce the actual weight I was pulling up, but not without trying body weight for shits and giggles. My back would be tired from doing 100+ banded pull ups but when it comes to fitness and working out, everything you put in will eventually pay out. Gradually the bands went from thick band to thin band to no band.


Yep, that’s me. Let’s pretend you don’t see that green band.

Real life application: Ripping out at least 6 pull ups at the Wall St Decathlon…because I can.

When you’re up there the first time, you feel like you can do anything. And, why shouldn’t you? Pull ups are just like any other goal you try to achieve. Mulan also bested her fellow comrades in arms in archery, hand to hand combat, and intelligence. And just like her, girls can do anything guys can do at the gym…except maybe reaching those bars without a stepping stool….trainer…help!


One thought on “Pull Ups: Not the Diaper Kind

  1. Pingback: Show ’em (What You’re Made Of): The Struggle on Upper Body Days | WillLift4Food

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