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Pull Up Challenge

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I'm someone that needs goal to work for, or I fall off into slackerhood. Getting ready for my wedding was obviously a big motivator, but now what?

Weight goals are ambiguous. "I want to lose 10lbs". Usually that means we want to lose 10 lbs of fat. But even if I lose 10lbs of fat, it may not give me the results I want.

An example. A professional fitness model who is 5'2 130lbs, versus me, 5'0" 128lbs.

If I lose 10lbs of fat, I still won't look like her. Why? If we assume she has 14% bodyfat, that means she has approximately 18lbs of fat, and 112lbs of muscle.


NEILITHICMAN correctly stated that I forgot to account for muscle, bone, blood and organs:

"A person with 15% fat will have their skeleton weighing about 15% of their body weight muscle will be about 45%, with the remaining 25% being organs, skin, hair blood etc.

So if she weighs 130 pounds then she's got around 58 pounds of muscle."]

I am 128lbs and approximately 28% bodyfat. That means I have roughly 36lbs of fat. 20 extra pounds of muscle makes a big difference on body shape!

I don't care what I weigh, I want to be strong. I can't measure strong on the bathroom scale, so what can I do?

I've got it into my head that I want to do a pull-up. Maybe even 2.

Why pull-ups? I've never been able to do one. It was the bane of those stupid presidential fitness tests when I was a kid. I had to get in front of everyone and just hang pathetically on the bar until the gym instructor said I could get down.

But Janette Goldstein (Vasquez) in Aliens, Demi Moore in GI Jane, and Linda Hamilton in T2 all did them.

Will I ever be able to do one? I don't know. I've read that even some competitive female bodybuilders can't do unassisted pull ups. It's not just muscle, but something specific about how all those muscle groups interact during the pull-up.

Alright, this is going to be tough, but I'm going to give it a shot.

I've been researching what muscles are involved in a pull up to get a better idea of how I need to train.

There are multiple types of pull ups. They all use basically the same muscle groups, but some are stressed more than the others. There's pull-up or chin-up. Both use back muscles, lats, shoulders, chest and core. Overhand grip (palms facing away) emphasizes biceps. Underhand (palms facing toward) emphasize the shoulder muscles. Altering the width of your grip also changes which muscles are working harder. Narrow grip is more bicep, wide grip is more shoulder.


Vasquez in Aliens had a wide overhand grip - shoulders and bicep. Sarah Conner had a narrow underhand grip - bicep-shoulder. I don't remember GI Jane.

All of those muscle groups are used, but the type of pull up/chin up varies which is emphasized.

I've decided on a Sarah Connor narrow underhand pull up. Why? Because Sarah Connor did it! And it seems to be a less common type. I never saw anyone do it until T2.

I can't do standard pushups because of a wrist injury from when I was a kid. I can't bend my wrist back and support my bodyweight. A personal trainer once had me doing pushups with contoured bars.

Because the bar elevates the body higher than a standard pushup, it is harder. You can dip below the bars for extra range of motion, which works more shoulder muscles. Fantastic.

The contour pushup bar also has an extra advantage for my pull up goal. The bar allows for doing dive bomb pushups, which is an intense workout on the core, shoulder, and biceps. Excellent.

I'm an upper body wimp, though. That's going to take a while to work up to on its own, nevermind the pull up.

Here's why everyone should consider at least adding a normal pushup to their routine. It works out your core, arms, chest, and shoulders. It's like exercise multitasking. Do more, in less time.

I'm still working out my full routine. I've got to add a lat-pull down machine in there somewhere. I don't have access to an assisted pull-up machine, which is a major bummer. I have a pull up bar, but I can only hang (it's like being in 6th grade again!).

I'll keep you updated on my progress!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Linda Minard is a professional figure competitor, so she really does look like that. :) But I get what you're saying. The point of me comparing me to her is to show that 'weight' doesn't mean much. I weigh similar to her, but we have different body compositions.

    I met my long time goal of getting back to my college weight, so I'm ready to take my fitness to another level!
    3169 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/1/2012 9:10:03 AM
    Vhalkarie, you rock! The goal of doing (and then doing more) pullups is a great one. It gives you focus. I have never done one and due to a long family lineage going back to before the Civil War of wimpy upper bodies I will certainly never do one. This doesn't take away from the fact that I can leg press the entire set of weights in the gym, but upper body for me will be (at best) moderately ok.

    Just be sure to remember that the woman on the left doesn't even look like that in real life. Yes, she is probably pretty ripped, but Photoshopping almost certainly took her muscled body and made it even more defined. If we ran into her on the street, most of us would probably go, "Wow!'...but not quite photo-on-the-left-wow. Be sure to work out for the next year really hard and then hire a graphic artist with good photo editing skills to finish the job for you.

    I like how in the past you have always compared you to you. You this year compared to you last year, is what I mean. Keep it up! Keep improving.
    3169 days ago

    I find the underhand pull up method a bit easier than wide grip. Although personally, I do best with a parallel grip. That seems to work better for me, but I do have to work on wide grip overhand. ugh.

    We do have an assisted pull up machine at the gym. I'm going to give that a try for practice. Eventually, I'm going to go over to real pull ups using a resistance band (or two) for assistance.

    I have seen a resistance band pull up device you can buy, but it's a little pricey.


    You know, practicing on monkey bars isn't a bad idea. I actually need to find a play ground that has a set for the kids. One of the obstacles in a Spartan Sprint is being able to move from rung to rung, one hand after the other. I haven't done that since I was a kid. I wonder if I can still do that.

    What did "I" get myself into ! LOL !!!

    3171 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/29/2012 11:13:23 AM
    I found the underhand pull up to be easier for me....not sure why! And the negatives will get you part way there, or starting from half way up too, it's really hard to start from straight arms, even if that is the ultimate goal, if you don't have access to an assisted pull-up machine, that will at least get you doing the motion on the bar, especially if you lower very slowly....I also went to a gym that had a giant rubber band they tied onto the bar as an assisted pull-up aid, it was very thick and long and you just put one foot in there to help pull your weight.

    3171 days ago
    PS... I saw Linda Mynard compete in her first body building show here in Calgary. She was even fierce then! But NOW... OMG, watch out!!!
    3172 days ago
    When I was in competition shape (15 pounds lighter) I could do many unassisted pull ups... and I could easily knock out a bunch of men's push ups, on demand!

    I think it has a lot to do with the weight to strength ratio. The lighter you get, the easier it is for the muscles to work with you. LOL

    I can still rock a man push-up like no-one's business... but I practice them weekly, 2-3 times. I do not practice pull ups. I was like you though... always wanted to do them. It is an amazing accomplishment to achieve! You will get it! (The easiest one for me to accomplish was also the narrow underhanded grip... because you use mostly bicep to accomplish it. My back is weak, I guess... cause the wide grip pull up has always been my nemesis! LOL)

    3172 days ago
    I am 67 years old and can do 8-10 regular push-ups... how... five years of yoga with a 40 minutes 5 times a week practice for the last six months. Practice include 14 sun salutations each with a full push up.
    3172 days ago
    THELILEA: I'm not sure I really know what I've stepped into! But I'm going to give it a try! You sound way more advanced than me, so maybe I should be copying off your notes!

    K-SHIN: Oh no the monkey bars! I never was able to do a pull up even when I was a kid! Hanging, yes. Pulling, no.

    GETSTRONGRRR: Now I know I'm really in trouble! If you're still working up to it, I wonder how long it's going to take me!

    Those apps sound interesting, I'll check them out! I'll try and post tomorrow what my training regime is going to be, and maybe you can offer some tips?

    WOUBBIE: I need some intermediate goals, and Michelle Obama arms are a great one!

    NEILITHICMAN: You're right, the other 82% is muscle, bone, organs and blood. Nice catch! Thanks!
    3172 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/28/2012 8:11:42 PM
    You haven't taken into account the skeleton and internal organs.

    A person with 15% fat will have their skeleton weighing about 15% of their body weight muscle will be about 45%, with the remaining 25% being organs, skin, hair blood etc.

    So if she weighs 130 pounds then she's got around 58 pounds of muscle.

    3172 days ago
    Sweet! You just made me change my long range goal from "have Michelle O arms" to "do pullups like Sarah Connor".
    3172 days ago
    Good on you, I've had pull-ups on my list for a while. I do use the assisted pull-up machine at the gym, but I just recently got to where I can do 5 sets of 2 each.

    I like the Fifty Pull-ups app and PullupFu from the app store...they have good beginner's programs to help you (things like a negative pull-up; get on a chair and start from the elevated position and lower yourself in a controlled manner)

    Keep us up to date on your progress & we'll cheer you on....maybe we can even get a team challenge going!
    3172 days ago
  • no profile photo CD7567060
    Lol This post rocked! I'm totally with you on hanging there on the bar and waiting impatiently for the coach to show mercy and let me get down. I always dreaded them and still do. I tried the assisted pull up machine at my gym and found that even though I'm physically at my best I still have about 60lbs that I can't lift which is why I still just dangle on my own. It was embarrassing when my personal trainer friend went on a walk with me. Afterwards we stopped at a playground for our kids to play and she happily announced it was pull up time. emoticon Noooooooooooo!! I told her I had never been able to do one and she was surprised. But, yep, I proved it by dangling and grunting. Trying my hardest and getting nowhere fast.

    The kind I do is narrow underhanded. Why? Because that's the way I was taught when I was a dangling kid. Lol

    Good luck! You can do it!!
    3172 days ago
  • no profile photo CD5575543
    3172 days ago
    I love this!! I picked "pull up" as my dream fitness goal about.... a year ago? Yeah. I had no idea at the time what that really meant. It's a long term goal for me, hahaha. I pretty much think that if I can do that it will mean I've become strong in every part of my body. I'll have officially "made it"!! :)

    I 100% agree with you about the importance of the push up. For me, full push ups are something I can do a bit now but still a REALLY good challenge to many of. Doing those, dive bombers, burpees, and lat pull downs are what I theorize will get me where I want to go. OH, and doing negatives on a pull up bar is AWESOME.
    3172 days ago
    Excellent! Let's do this together!
    3172 days ago
    You Go GURL !!!

    I don't know if you read my blog, but I signed up for a Spartan Sprint that's being held in Fenway Park in November. I too need to be able to do a handful of pull ups by then. So, I'll be plugging along with you !!

    I can hold plank for over 2 mins. I can do a million billion good military style push ups. Pull ups I need to work on.

    3172 days ago
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