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Fact: Women can do pull-ups

pull ups for women Rachel Buschert

When the New York Times Magazine published an article with the headline “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups” at the end of October, lots of women nodded their heads knowingly.

“We’ve always been under the assumption that we can’t do it,” says Rachel Buschert, a top-tier Equinox trainer who worked out alongside Shaun T. on the Insanity DVDs. “We’ve been conditioned since we were little girls in gym class. Boys had to do pull-ups, and I had to do the the flexed-arm hang.”

But while the story (which was based entirely on one very small 2003 study published by the University of Dayton) may have given you license to stop trying, Buschert, who posted a Youtube video of her own impressive pull-ups soon after, won’t. “It’s not true for myself, and I know that it’s not true for many women,” she says.

We checked the original research and got Buschert’s expert feedback to bring you these reasons why getting your chin over the bar in 2013 is a perfectly reasonable New Year’s resolution.

Rachel Buschert1. The training program was bunk. Women in the study completed weight training, cardio to reduce body fat, and crunches for core strength. But Barry’s Bootcamp this was not.

The aerobic component was incredibly minimal (jogging 1-1.5 miles three times a week); there was no individual training for women starting from all different fitness levels; and the strength training wasn’t specifically tailored for pull-ups. 

“Just training your biceps in an isolated manner is not the same as coordinating your entire body to do a functional movement,” explains Buschert.

“If you want to do pull-ups, you have to do pull-ups, or as close as you can get to them.” (Practicing pull-ups with an assisted pull-up machine was a tiny part of the training regimen. However this piece of equipment allowed them to rest their lower body, so they didn’t learn to stabilize, either.)

2. Women in the study did do pull-ups. Even on the shoddy training program, six of the 19 women who completed the study did at least one pull-up at the end, and many did an impressive number of them. The two women who could do them at the beginning increased their count to 11 and 8 by the end, and the other four did five, three, two, and two, respectively. Two other women completed full pull-ups during the course of the study but couldn’t in final testing, so they were left out. That’s 8 out of 19 women, which really isn’t too shabby.

3. The study participants worked out for just 12 weeks. If you’ve ever tried to develop any kind of strength, you’ll know that three months (especially on this training program) is nothing. It can take a long time to build up the many muscle groups needed to do pull-ups, and some of the women in the study were starting from being “sedentary,” AKA they hadn’t been working out at all before.

In the end, the study proved one thing: that on this particular workout regimen, you may not be a pull-up champion after three months. Of course, we got awesome tips from Buschert on how you will. Follow her lead and you’ll be the star of your own bad-ass Youtube video in no time. —Lisa Elaine Held