My last serious attempt at a pull-up occurred in high school, when I was taking the President’s Physical Fitness Test. Remember how you had to take the test twice–once at the beginning of the gym class, and then again several months later, when the class was over? At the start of class, I could do half a pull-up. By the end, I graduated to… three-quarters of a pull-up. It doesn’t sound too impressive, does it?
On the government’s physical fitness test, boys can win the highest award by performing 10 pull-ups; for girls, the number is two. To test the true meaning of the power of a pull-up, researchers from the University of Dayton recruited 17 “normal-weight” women who couldn’t do even one pull-up. Three times a week for three months, the women lifted weights and trained the muscles needed for pull-ups (biceps and the latissimus dorsi in the back). They also did lots of aerobic training to lower their overall body fat. Reports the New York Times:
By the end of the training program, the women had increased their upper-body strength by 36 percent and lowered their body fat by 2 percent. But on test day, the researchers were stunned when only 4 of the 17 women succeeded in performing a single pull-up.
The researchers were surprised–they were certain everyone would be able to do at least one–but the study proved something. Performing a pull-up takes more than just upper-body strength: people who are able to do them have a combination of strength, low body fat, and shorter stature. Women generally have higher body fat percentages than men, and they typically develop less muscle than men (because they don’t have as much testosterone).
So, the experts say, physics will typically make women perform worse on pull-up tests. But they also note that there are men who can’t pull off a pull-up, too–particularly if they’re taller, bigger, or have long arms. And obviously, there are plenty of women who are pull-up pros.
Can you do a pull-up–or even more than just one? Let’s hear it!