There has been quite a bit of discussion on today’s article in NY Times, entitled “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-ups”. In the article, a research team trained 17 women for three months in an attempt to make them strong enough to do a single pull-up.
If we are being strict about definitions, pull-ups involve a wide overhand grip, with palms facing away, while chin-ups involve an underhand grip, with palms facing towards you. You can see me doing pull-ups in my recent application to the Epic Racing Arena.
The training included weights and cardio, as well as specific exercises, engaging the muscles working in a pull-up. On test day, only four women were able to do a single pull-up. At least that’s what the researchers said… “only” four women. The study’s conclusion was that doing pull-ups requires more than simple upper-body strength. Further, authors suggest that individuals who can do pull-ups are not only strong and lean, but also short – to decrease the length of the lever.
At 5’9, I am by no means short. I do have more upper body strength than an average woman, yet I have not always been able to do pull-ups. In fact, it was not until I could perform ten chin-ups with good form that I was finally able to squeak out one pull-up.
There is no doubt that men have an easier time with this particular exercise. You should see my baby brother banging these out. Zero effort, as he casually maintains conversation. Of course, men also have an easier time with push-ups, shoulder presses, planks, and even crow pose (see below). On average, men are stronger than women. On average, women are more flexible than men. I taught bootcamp and yoga to both men and women. There is no surprise there.
Women have a love-hate relationship with pull-ups. A special relationship that the guys don’t really understand. Like with chocolate…
Women love the idea of pull-ups, but hate the fact that they cannot do them. For women, pull-ups are elusive, pull-ups make bucket lists.”One day I’ll be able to do one”, we say wistfully, watching yet another guy (probably my little brother) crank out twenty.
We have our reasons too: My arms are too weak. (Probably. Easily fixed though).My butt is too big. (Probably not. Your butt is awesome.) Girls can’t do pull-ups. (Watch me). Girls are not supposed to do pull-ups. (Eff you).
I found the readers’ comments more interesting than the article itself. Most agreed, that an article title, suggesting a particular group CANNOT do something is probably a bad idea. I’d like to see an article entitled “Why Men Cannot Take Care of Children”, and see how well that goes over. The scandalous nature of the title is intentional, of course, as here I am typing away… attention captured, heart rate raised.
CrossFit chicks seemed especially outraged at the suggestion. “I do 100 pull-ups before my paleo breakfast!”, they exclaimed. Given the emphasis CrossFit places on this one exercise, that is to be expected. Now, a minor (major?) correction… While I love Fran or Cindy once in a while… kipping pull-ups ARE not pull-ups. Sorry.
An actual pull-up requires a vertical pull, using the muscles of your arms and back. In a kipping pull-up, you swing the body to position it at such an angle, so as to introduce a horizontal pull, and therefore, make it easier. The proponents of a kipping pull-up would argue that it is more efficient for getting your chin above the bar. Ummm… sure. I sincerely hope that is not your main goal for doing pull-ups.
I loooooove kipping pull-ups. Probably, because I cannot do them. Seriously. I cannot figure out this damn hip swing. Elusive = attractive. See?
At the end of the day, if your goal is to do pull-ups, you have to train to do pull-ups. As I started incorporating pull-ups into my training, I was shocked to discover that I could no longer crank out as many chin-ups. Because I stopped doing chin-ups!
And you have to do actual pull-ups. With a thick resistance band at first, with your hands shaking at first, with your elbows barely bending at first… And three months later, you may be able to do a pull-up. Or not. It may take longer than three months. So what? Do you want to cross the damn thing off your bucket list or not?