goals · strength training

Always wanted to do pull-ups? Why?

The article getting the most attention right now on our Facebook page is this one, Hold on: Why do we want to do pull-ups?

I had to scroll through a lot of dudes doing shirtless pull-ups on Unsplash before I found this image of a woman. It’s a rear view. She’s got long blonde curly hair. She’s thin and white and wearing grey leggings and a black tank.

In the article Casey Johnston, a personal trainer, interrogates everyone’s favorite fitness goal. She’s got a lot to say but here’s part of it.

“Why did it have to be pull-ups? The world of strength is so big, with so many things to do. Why and how did the zeitgeist land on pull-ups as the number one glossy, sexy fitness goal? Of all the “strong” things to do with one’s body, a pull-up is… about the hardest one. This makes them difficult as someone’s strength training entree. I don’t want to discourage, but I also want to appropriately couch. This ultimately does not really matter, because by the time I can get out “Wow, that’s cool, although pull-ups are harder than you might think—” people’s eyes are already understandably glazing over.”

I love the reaction on our Facebook page. Here’s a sample of the comments:

“When I watch a movie and someone is being chased and they come across a wall that they have to pull themselves over, I think ‘that’s where they’ll get me’ 😆”

“Pull-ups were the one thing we were consistently tested on in elementary school and I have no idea why. They never actually worked with us on HOW to do them, or how to get better at them. What a strange measure of strength for seven-year-olds.”

“I try them on a semi regular basis as though this workout will be the one where I can suddenly do a pull up. I do not train to be able to do them. Apparently I’m hoping for magic.”

Image search for magic and you get a woman in the dark looking into sparkles cupped in her hands.

What do you think about pull-ups? Do you train for them? Are they a goal? Why? Why do you think they’re everyone’s favorite fitness goal?

Me, I do assisted pull-ups sometimes either on the gravitron machine or with bands. So if a monster is chasing me and I have to get up and over a wall, they’ll need to be some help available if I’m going to make it.

8 thoughts on “Always wanted to do pull-ups? Why?

  1. Pull-ups are a basic element of my favourite aerial circus activities since they are essentially a fancy version of swinging from the monkey bars. To reduce injury I combine pull up training with handstands to keep my shoulder/back strong and balanced.

  2. Pull-ups were my motivation for getting into lifting. When it took me months to get my first chin-up, it felt like an indication that I had been unusually weak or had failed to work hard enough. It was such a relief to me (and a surprise to the son who got me started lifting!) to read the NYT article describing a study in which only 4/17 women were able to get a pull-up in three months of focused training.

  3. Maybe I live a charmed life, but monsters only chase me in dreams. And my dream self can do pull-ups, long jumps, all kinds of parkour, and occasionally fly. I’m good… 🙂

  4. In a world where monsters are chasing me, I feel like getting over the wall with some pull up super strength is not really going to be the deciding factor in survival. There are bigger problems. That said, I have a brief pull up practice before aerial yoga, though I suspect they aren’t “proper” pull ups, however that’s defined.

  5. When I tore my rotator cuff and opted for rehab rather than surgical repair, I decided it was okay if I never did another pull-up. I was afraid it would tear the rest of the way if I tried. A few (several?) years later, on a really low bar, I did a few. Now that I know I can I have not felt the need to do it again. Rock climbers, on the other hand, have good reason to be able to do them.

  6. It never made any sense that pull-ups are part of the President’s Fitness Test in U.S. schools when the only time we ever tried them was during the test. Maybe three or four girls in a class of twenty-five could manage them.

    1. When I did that test the girls had to do an arm hang with our chin above the bar and they timed how many seconds we could stay there. I was good at it, but not great a pull ups.

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