Women Can’t Do Pull Ups? Not So Fast

With enough training and determination, women can do pull-ups

This morning, women around the world breathed a sigh of relief as a new study excused their inability to do pull-ups. According to research described in The New York Times, a combination of women’s low levels of testosterone, higher body fat percentage and less ease at building muscle means that women fare worse than men at performing pull-ups.

“I love when science proves that I’m not a wimp,” wrote Sarah Weir on Yahoo’s Shine, in an article titled “Women Can’t do Pull-Ups: It’s a Law of Physics.” Weir went on to describe the study—”a rather grueling regime”—in which researchers recruited 17 average-weight university-age women who could not do a single pull-up. Over three months, the researchers trained the women three times a week using a variety of exercises, such as weight lifting and modified pull-ups. At the end of the training period, however, they were surprised to find that only 4 of the 17 women succeeded in achieving a single pull up.

“While I’m awe of super women who can crank out a few pull ups, for the rest of us, maybe it’s time to lower the bar,” Weir writes.

But how did those women become “super women” in the first place? Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan points out the obvious: training.

Women: you can do pull-ups. Do not believe the hype.

Is it usually harder for a woman to do a pullup than it is for a man, due to biological differences in muscle mass and upper body strength and body fat percentages? Yes. It is generally harder for women to do pullups. Does that mean that women cannot do pullups? No. It does not. Any healthy woman, absent any serious physical injuries or deformities, can be trained to do a pullup.

Rather than resigning all women around the world to a life devoid of pull-ups, the study simply proved that 13 of the women needed to continue their training in order to achieve a pull-up, Nolan writes.

I congratulate the University of Dayton researchers for proving that three sub-optimal workouts a week for three months is an insufficient level of training for most women to be able to do a pullup.

If you have trained three months and you still can’t do a pullup, what should you do? Train longer. Train harder. Train more. Train smarter. Train with greater specificity. Eventually, you will be able to do a pullup.

Crossfit has trained literally thousands of regular women across the country to do entire pullup workouts. You can do a pullup.

Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t.

Indeed, men, too, often struggle to do pull-ups, the Times writes, especially if they have longer arms or a larger torso. That does not mean, however, that larger or longer men cannot do a pull-up. Like women, they just need to train.

Encouraging women rather than discouraging them to do pull-ups could be a first and significant step in resolving the female pull-up crisis. Planting negative ideas in women’s heads from the get-go is akin to teachers passing on math fears to female students, as found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, in which the researchers write:

People’s fear and anxiety about doing math—over and above actual math ability—can be an impediment to their math achievement. We show that when the math-anxious individuals are female elementary school teachers, their math anxiety carries negative consequences for the math achievement of their female students.

In early elementary school, where the teachers are almost all female, teachers’ math anxiety carries consequences for girls’ math achievement by influencing girls’ beliefs about who is good at math.

Regardless of what science or physics say, with enough training, determination and positive thinking, women can do pull ups.

Still not convinced that pull-ups lie within the female ability realm? Here are a few ladies who decided that using science as an excuse for getting out of pull-ups didn’t cut it:

Here’s a woman doing 100 kipping pull-ups (which involve swinging instead of starting from a static position):

Here’s a pregnant woman doing pull-ups.

Here’s a group of women making fun of this stereotype – and doing pull-ups.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Women are Still Discriminated Against in Science 
 Return of the Apron 

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