Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Gal's Guide To Pullups

Even though there's a kazillion articles on how to do pullups, I impulsively decided to hurl another brief one into cyberspace after spying this New York Times blog "Why Women Can't Do Pullups." Two things ticked me off about that headline: one having to do with the "can't do" part of it (if you knew the women I'm close to, suggesting they can't do something is like waving a red flag at a bull: they'll be doing it toute suite).

The other part of it is that I've seen women in my gym doing multiple pullups, and more than once! I have two eyes. I know that isn't scientific enough, but "anecdotal evidence" can be awfully compelling sometimes. If I was 25 and a young technical writer I'd probably be more cautious about non-scientific evidence and reporting "what I've seen," but now that I'm 30 years beyond that point I know better.

Yes I know that a pullup is hard to do (and consistently spell, sometimes you see pull-up) for the first time for both men and women, and we know that they are both a health progenitor and indicator of overall strength, so how can you work up to doing one?

You build up to pullups sequentially and incrementally, just as you accomplish just about anything fitness and health wise. Here's a rundown of the things gals, and guys, can do to prepare themselves for their first pullup.

(1) Start doing weight exercises that strengthen the arm and upper-back muscles. These are going to help you get stronger and avoid injuries anyways, right? For pullups, you need strong forearms, biceps, shoulder muscles, and upper-back muscles or "lats."

Do the cable pulldown for the upper back; hammer curls for the forearms and bicep, as well as bench presses and push-ups for the shoulders, for example.

(2) Hang from the bar first with your palms facing outward (a traditional pullup grip; the one with palms facing toward you is usually a "chin-up"). Just "hang out" then get down. This gets you used to and strong for hanging from the bar before you do a pullup. Just hang for 20 seconds. Then 40 secs. Then a minute. It's a great stretch anyways.

(3) Do negative pullups, a nifty suggestion from Stew Smith at A negative pullup is basically doing the "let yourself down" part of the exercise, without dong the pulling up part. Grab a bar at shoulder or chin height, palms facing out, with a support beneath you, like a stool. Then slowly let yourself down (after stepping off the stool of course). See, you're breaking a problem into its constituent parts, then tackling each part first.

(4) Do assisted pullups, in which a guy or gal holds on to you by the waste and supports a lot of the weight as you undertake the pullup routine. Let's say you've got another friend who's working on her pullup; well now you can "support" each other through the training process.

(5) Once you can do one or more than one pullup, Smith has another good routine: do a pyramid. Do one pullup, rest, do two pullups, rest, do three...In a pattern like 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1.

Any vigorous climbing activity using the upper body will help pullups. Just like the weights you've been lifting will help you with the vigorous climbing. Like those cargo nets that you have to scramble up during the muddy-run-buddy races.

Any sort of extra south-of-the-border weight on your body is going to make pullups harder, and conversely any weight you add to yourself on purpose as resistance training (like those heavy vests with adjustable weight in the form of little sand bags) will make a "normal" unweighted pullup seem easier later.

For lack of a better concluding phrase I'll just remark (a little tritely, I admit) "go get 'em girl" and let's prove the "experts" wrong.

By the way, geek alert: Runtastic has a pullup training oriented app: