One of the most common questions I get asked is how long until I can do a pull up? The answer is, it depends! As with all bodyweight exercises the speed at which you develop a pull up is not dependant on strength alone. Outside of upper body strength the factors which determine being able to a pull up are:
· Gender – Sorry to say it but females generally have 40% less upper body strength than males. This is mainly due males having much higher testosterone levels and also being born with a great proportion of muscle tissue. This is why I always say that if you are female and can do a pull up you are well inside the top 1% of the female population.
· Bodyweight – Yes, it is a bodyweight exercise. This means if you are heavier you are lifting more weight. This even applies if you are all muscle, a 120kg athlete will not be twice as strong as a 60kg athlete of the same muscle percentage. For example the bench press world record for a 65kg man is 200kg whereas for a 130kg male is 337kg. So for bodyweight work getting lighter could be an easier route than getting stronger!
· Height and Limb Length – If you are taller you are heavier but that’s not the only disadvantage. You also have longer limbs. Firstly this simply means you have to move yourself over a significantly greater distance. In addition the leverage required to move this limbs is greater.
· Muscle insertion points – Yes, even this can vary. The difference as to where your muscles insert on the arms can have a large impact on the lever lengths and therefore the difficulty of the movement.
· Range of motion – I have trained a number of clients who have been so tight across their chest and shoulders that they cannot activate the muscles of their upper back sufficiently to pull themselves over the bar. They are literally creating their own resistance with their tightness. This is especially noticeable if someone can complete several chin ups (palms pointing towards you) quite easy but cannot achieve a pull up (palms facing away).
So can I get one?
Everyone can achieve a pull up if they really set it as a priority. But it depends how much you really want to work for it. You can improve your pulling strength by continuing with the work we do each week in class. Ring Rows, Inverted Rows, bicep work, pull aparts, scapular pull ups, hollow holds, L-sits will all develop pulling and core strength that is required. Plus the vertical pulling we work during Olympic lifts and the grip strength developed when performing carries, kettlebell swings and any barbell, dumbbell and bar work.
Working mobility through the chest and upper back via foam rolling, stretching and active mobilisations can get your range of motion up to speed.
Finally you can reduce your body fat with consistent training and great nutrition.
Do I need one?
That’s the real question. Much as it is a great achievement to be able to complete a pull up unless you are competing at CrossFit you can still get all the same training effects replacing pull ups with banded work, rows and climbing. So don’t stress out if you don’t have pull ups in your repertoire just yet. With consistent work you can get yourself there. If you really want to put in the work then ask your coach for some tips and extra credit to perform in open gym or at home and you can get there.