Buildup to a Pull-Up

About five or six months ago, I decided that I wanted to train to do a pull-up.  I have never been able to do one before, but all of a sudden it was something that I wanted to do.  I figured that all my climbing must have already prepared me to do pull-ups.  But no!  Upon trying to do one, I looked absolutely weak and pitiful.  Climbing and working out a lot has also made me gain a lot of weight.  Mostly muscle, so this weight does help my climbing, but still.  And thus began my battle against muscle gain so I could do pull-ups.

Every time I would have built up my upper body to the point that I could then pull down an equivalent to my mass, I’d try a pull-up, and no!  Then I’d weigh myself to find that I had gained another 10lbs or so.  So I was actually pulling down a smaller mass than my body.  More strength training, stronger back, stronger core, stronger arms; get to the point where I believe I should be able to do a pull-up, and once more denied because I had gained another 10lbs.

I should also mention that I was doing absolutely nothing with my legs, yet for some reason whenever I did strength training with my upper body, my legs would feel left out and miraculously develop huge muscles.  So I’m sure that didn’t help.  I almost resorted to scooting about everywhere in a wheelchair in the hopes that my legs would atrophy.  Almost.

Chun Li’s legs look exactly like mine

However, I have now finally succeeded in doing a pull-up and a chin-up.  My weight seems to have somehow leveled off at last (at a weight heavier than I have ever been in my life), and I have finally been able to train up my strength to handle it.  Persistence was the main key here.  I knew that I wouldn’t keep gaining muscle forever and ever, getting heavier and heavier – but if that did happen, that would still be pretty cool because even though I wouldn’t be able to do pull-ups I would be very strong.

Maybe there were other methods I could have used, like losing weight or dieting to maintain my weight, but the problems with that plan are:

  • I love eating
  • My climbing is totally shithouse when I diet so I’ve decided not to do that anymore.

Climbing awesome stuff is much more important to me than being svelte is, anyway.  So realistically my only option was to put on muscle until my body finally decided to stop.  As of today, climbing and strength training (and eating all the damn time) have made me gain 40lbs.  I am more-or-less the same size as before, and still wear my old clothes, so I haven’t become some huge beast or anything.

I know that many women want to be svelte and weak, and don’t think it’s cool to be all buff and burly.  I also used to consider scrawny to be a desirable look (for women), but at some point I totally stopped caring about that.  I got addicted to climbing, and suddenly that mattered to me more than being scrawny.

The funny thing is, when I was scrawny, I honestly found supermodel-type bodies to be the most attractive body type a woman could have.  But now I think that toned and muscular women look the best.  So my brain must be constantly re-organizing itself to reconcile how I look.  Or something!  I guess I should be grateful to my brain that whatever my body changes to becomes my new favourite look on people.  But that also seems self-centered and weird to me.

OK, now for the important part that people will actually care about…

How to train for a pull-up:

  • Lateral pull-downs, with as much weight as you can pull down.  As you find yourself able to do more and more, increase the weight.  Pull down in front of your face, as well as behind your head.  Work up until you can pull down an equivalent to your body weight.
  • Do pull-ups and chin-ups with a friend helping you up.  Ask your friend to give as minimal a help as possible to get you over the bar.  This is because, while the gravitron machine is cool and all, I found that a big barrier to doing a pull-up is figuring out how to get your body up there.  Even when you have the strength to do it, you might not be able to leverage your arms right or balance your core right.  This lets you work on pull-up technique as well as strength.
  • Row machine, to work out your back and your arms.
  • Core work outs!  Believe it or not, pull-ups and chin-ups take a lot of core strength.  My favourite core workout is to use an incline bench, and then do a sit-up motion at an incline; do up-and-downs as well as side-to-sides.
  • Also remember to eat a lot after these workouts, because you are trying to build up your strength, and you need calories to do that!

About Steen

Steen is a nerdy biologist who spends a lot of time trying to cultivate Chloroflexi. When she isn't working, she likes to draw comics, play video games, and climb.
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