Itâ€™s a good thing I didnâ€™t read this piece in The New York Times MagazineÂ when I decided I wanted to learn to do pull-ups. Tara Parker-Pope‘s ‘Why Women Canâ€™t Do Pull-Ups‘ assures the weaker sex that we shouldnâ€™t fret over not being able to do pull-ups like the boys do, because, after all, we donâ€™t have as much testosterone and are fatter (Iâ€™m not kidding; read the article).
When I walked in the door of the gymâ€“a woman who couldnâ€™t do a push-up, let alone aÂ chin-up (palms facing in) or pull-up (palms facing out)â€“I was inspired by the many women there who could, including a 48-year old who could bang out eight chin-ups. With dreams of Rocky-style training, I wanted more than anything to learn to do chin-ups. A (male) trainer took me seriously and worked with me twice a week on the chin-up bar, where I used assistance bands to help raise my bodyweight up to the bar. I didnâ€™t do anything else to help prepare â€“ no incline modified pull-ups â€śin hopes of strengthening the muscles they would use to perform the real thingâ€ť like the women in this study. I just practiced the real thing with a trainer who didnâ€™t doubt I could do them.
I cried in the beginning when I learned how hard they were. But six weeks later, I did my first unassisted chin-up. I may as well have walked on the moon I was so ecstatic. For me, this was the defining moment in transforming into a woman who was strong, confident, could do things. Knowing I could do a chin-up ignited the fire that set me doing everything else I later accomplished.
One wasnâ€™t sufficient though. I kept going. Iâ€™d do one, rest, then another one a minute or two later, until I could do two in a row. I got a chin-up bar for Christmas. Before long I could do three. Within a year I could do 10 chin-ups. For fun, Iâ€™d strap on weight, doing a single chin-up with as much as 30 pounds of weight added on, because nobody ever told me I couldnâ€™t, that I wasnâ€™t strong enough, or capable. While I was at it, I learned to do a one-arm push-up.
Yes, I became a competitive powerlifter, so not your typical female population, but upper body strength was never my strong point. My bench press is equal to my body weight. Thatâ€™s good, yes, but certainly not earth-shattering. And plenty of women who werenâ€™t strength athletes at my gym could knock out chin-ups. Try telling a female rock climber that women canâ€™t do pull-ups.
The first workout I attempted after having back surgery earlier this year was a chin-up. It was my original barometer of strength and ability, grew into a measure of badassery, and remains my favorite exercise. I am not back to being able to do 10 yet, but you can bet I will. When women ask how they can get my arms, I tell them to do chin-ups and push-ups. Iâ€™m only sorry that now (really, what year is this weâ€™re living in?) theyâ€™re told they canâ€™t. Please, donâ€™t listen. Just go practice your pull-up.
Photos: New York Times; courtesy of Dana McMahan