Your First Pull up!

Jul 20, 2022


Why do pull ups feel so badass?  Is it all the action movies where the heroine, dangling off a cliff, has to grab roots or a ledge and pull themselves up to safety?  Or how about Sarah Connor in the Terminator cranking out pull ups in her jail cell while waiting to bust out and get revenge?

I first got the idea that I wanted to be able to do a pull up back in my 40’s, probably while watching badass Sarah Connor. 

I didn’t realize the scope of the undertaking at first.  My upper body was seriously underdeveloped from a lifetime of neglect. Even the yoga and martial arts I had done previously only included pushing. 

Pulling?  My muscles barely even understood the challenge! 

Pulling seems like it's about the arms, right?  But, when done right, it’s really about the back! 

The huge latissimus dorsi muscle (known as the “lats”, they originate at the spine and attach to the inner arms near the armpit) does the heavy lifting to pull us up! 

The lats are also the muscle that, when developed, give us the confident superheroine physique.  Strong lats also give us a feeling of protection, like we have our own back.

Starting out with seriously underdeveloped lats, I could barely even feel them!  I would try to pull myself up by swinging my legs and straining my weakling T Rex arms—a formula for injuring and frustrating myself, repeatedly!    


Now I know how to train the back for pull ups!  Pretty quickly, once your grip and agility is strong enough, you will be able to get an encouraging taste of pull ups by using resistance bands to assist the movement.  


Then we just keep working the back with rows and pull downs. 

I will be honest with you, though, it takes some time to get your first unassisted pull up (with good form!).  It took me years.  But it’s an awesome goal, partly for that reason!  

Most of us second halfers, especially women, desperately need to train our upper bodies to feel and look good.  We need long term goals to inspire us to take on strength training for life. 

Think about it, we’ve been walking around, or running, our whole lives.  What have we done for our upper bodies?  Not much!  No wonder our backs start to round, and our arms get flabby and droopy!  

Balanced, consistent strength training will change all that over time.  How do we cultivate a consistent strength training habit?  Through having robust long term goals, like pull ups, to line up to!  And, yes, pull ups can be done at home with a removable doorway pull up bar, or a bar mounted in your basement or garage.  

An ongoing side benefit to training for your first pull up? 

You will cultivate a productive desire to add shapely strong muscle to your back, chest, arms, and shoulders, and strengthen your core, while trimming extra body fat from your belly and hips, so that it’s easier to pull yourself up!

Pull ups feel so youthful!  Getting my first pull up in middle age felt so life-affirming, and got me hooked on strength training for the long game. 

Pulling ourselves up, right?  If we can do that, what else can we do?