Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Elusive Pull-Up

I've been coveting the ability to do a real pull-up for a few months. Back when Julia was still in Sacramento, and teaching me to climb, she took me to the weight side and told me I should do pull-ups to help gain strength for climbing. Of course, I couldn't do one.

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Back in elementary school when we did the Presidential Fitness Challenge, I wasn't able to do a pull-up. Who am I kidding, I wasn't able to do most of the tests. I don't know that I've really tried to do a pull-up since, and I still can't.

When I was in San Jose in September, with a few months of climbing and a rapidly growing set of back muscles, I tried the pull-up again. (Side note: maybe one of the issues is lack of consistency) I still couldn't do one, but if I started on a box and jumped a little, I could do about five before being wiped out. Progress!

As I lamented in my last post, I am back to not being able to do a pull-up. It may be the lack of ability to get a jump start, or the fact that I'm on crutches.

I'm still fixated on being able to do real push-ups. I was a bit thrown off this morning when I saw this article in the New York Times Magazine (via the Twitter feed of @KatherineTarbox). The title immediately caught my attention: "Why Women Can't Do Pull-Ups." Hey, I thought, maybe I am just not meant to do them!

But I immediately thought of Julia, who can do pull-ups like a beast. As I read the article, my initial excitement faded. The article explains that short stature boosts one's ability to do pull-ups, as shorter people are stronger than taller counterparts, all other factors being equal. Plus the obvious factor of less length to pull-up.

Well, I'm short, but I can't do a pull-ups. Strength is one of the largest contributors to ability to perform the exercise, so maybe I just need to get a bit stronger. I'm working on that.

The final blow dealt by the article was the discussion of body fat. My favorite topic. Lower body fat increases one's ability to perform pull-ups, due to decrease in mass relative to muscle. It is basically the same argument for why leaner runners run faster. I'm keenly aware of how much faster I am when I approach my ideal weight (113 or so), than when I am closer to the higher end of my "fit" range (116-118).

The article said that men can get into the 5% range for body fat, where women bottom out at 10%. I would be a skeleton at 10%. I think in June when I was last tested, I was right around 18% (I honestly don't remember, but that seems right). I was also 113 or so then...

So the bottom line: strength training and getting leaner are my best options for pretty much everything I was to accomplish, including the pull-up. But they might not get me all the way there with the pull-up. I'm going to forget the article and still go for it. Being a girl shouldn't be an excuse.

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