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Thread: Getting that first pull-up: question

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  1. #1

    Getting that first pull-up: question

    Hi all,

    So I've searched the forum and have found some good information on pull-up training, but not an answer to my specific question. I hoping some of the more experienced folks can chime in with some suggestions.

    First, some background. I'm 45 years old, female, 5'4" and 150 pounds, and 23.8% bodyfat. In December when I started weight training, I was 161 pounds and 33% bodyfat. So as you can see, while I haven't lost a lot of scale weight I've made some nice progress on getting more lean - my ultimate goal is to wind up somewhere around 20%, though I will know when I get there I suppose.

    I do weight training 1X/week with a personal trainer, and 2X per week using routines he had made for me. He's really good about switching up the training to keep me challenged, but one thing that has always been constant is working towards an unassisted pullup. Primarily through lat pulldowns and negatives.

    So yesterday, we tried to do dead hang pullups (palms facing each other) in 3 sets of 5 as part of the supersets we were doing. We both noticed that he had to give me a LOT of assistance to get from dead hang to midway, but once I was midway I could complete the pullup on my own. It's just getting from the bottom to that halfway point that seems impossible, right now.

    Right now I can do 120 pound lat pulldowns. I can do 4-5 negatives in a row (8-10 sec descent).

    Are there any specific techniques, or maybe new exercises I could try to work on this? Or should I just keep trying to do more volume of the same? I go to a globo gym and almost never see women doing pullups, and when they do, they weigh about 100 pounds! I am determined to get this though, and welcome any advice.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2010
    What you are describing is very common - most beginners find the hardest part of the pull-up to be the first few inches of the ROM. Though I'm personally not a huge fan of lat pull-downs, it sounds like you are doing most of the right stuff. It's just a slow process for women. And as you mentioned, dropping more body fat will definitely help. I wrote a guest post for MDA about pull-ups a few months back that you may have seen. Here's the link in case you missed it: The Importance of Pull-up Bar Training | Mark's Daily Apple

    And here's another article I wrote that's specifically directed towards females: Pull-ups For Women

    Be patient and keep training hard!
    "In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they couldn't be more different."

    "You can have anything you want, but you can't have everything you want."

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  3. #3
    Thank you Al, I have read some of your stuff before and am a fan. I will check out the post you wrote for us girls, too.

    I have never been able to do a pull-up in my life, even in junior high school, so acheiving this at the age of 45 would be HUGE!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Kansas City
    Good luck to ya gempdx44. Prior to being Primal , I could barely do a clean pull-up. I'm now 70 lbs lighter and have focused more on body weight exercises than in the past with dumb bell curls, bench press, etc. I can now do 10 pull ups with some left in the tank. Al is definitely a pull-up monster and did a great job on his article he referred to above. Good luck and stick it!
    Primal Journal of a Filipino Cherokee Grok

    SAD weight: 250
    Current Primal weight: 183.2

  5. #5
    That is impressive, and so inspiring, rccrsphil! I will not give up and when I get that first pullup I will definitely be bragging about it here - ha ha!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Washington state
    Agree on body weight being a factor. Granted, if you're big because of all the muscles you got from doing chin-ups, that's a whole different story. But if I bury my abs with a couple pounds of fat, my reps suffer. I can feel the burden on my elbows. When I lean out, my reps go WAY up and it feels easy and light. Not as easy as walking, mind you, but I could imagine life in the canopy.

    And during those first few inches of the rep, I'd say use your whole body, feel your back muscles going into it. Don't try to do it with just the isolated biceps. Keep that shoulder stabilized with all the complementary muscles and use your whole body!
    Last edited by Knifegill; 07-20-2012 at 01:45 PM.
    Steak, eggs, potatoes - fruits, nuts, berries and forage. Coconut milk and potent herbs and spices. Tea instead of coffee now and teeny amounts of kelp daily. Let's see how this does! Not really had dairy much, and gut seems better for it.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    I agree with Knifegill, recruiting the full body is important. I think the real difference for me when I got my first strict pullup was that I used all the muscles through my back, chest, and core along with the arms. Along with the pull, I sort of feel a push up from my core (not like kipping--it's an internal sensation).

    For me, chinups came far easier than pullups, but now I try to do sets of both plus ring pullups when I go play in the park so that I am working all the different muscles. They are definitely doing my arms and back some good!
    “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” --Audre Lorde

    Owly's Journal

  8. #8
    Here's the thing, I *feel* like I am recruiting the whole body (my trainer stands there and watches my muscles work to make sure I do, LOL) but when I try to pull myself up ... NOTHING. He has to assist me to the mid point and I take it from there.

    Like a lot of women, I carry most of my fat/weight in my lower body. When I look at my transformation pictures I look rather lean up top but not a lot of change in the hips and thighs. I think it is going to take a lot of strength and work to heft my bubble butt up!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Wow, that is really weird. I have almost the exact same stats as you, so kind of cool to be able to compare a little bit

    My problem is the other way around. I can get up halfway on the pullup, and I can't do anymore. Is there a specific muscle that I should think of recruiting more for those last few inches?

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by sakura_girl View Post
    Wow, that is really weird. I have almost the exact same stats as you, so kind of cool to be able to compare a little bit

    My problem is the other way around. I can get up halfway on the pullup, and I can't do anymore. Is there a specific muscle that I should think of recruiting more for those last few inches?
    Sakura_girl, obvs I'm not the one to ask, but how cool that together we can do an entire pullup!

    But yeah, I'm still wondering, is there a specific area to focus on for the first few inches (my problem) vs. the last few (yours)?

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