The New York Times published a story recently that had me scratching my head. It’s about why women can’t do pull-ups and chin ups. (The story is below and also linked to here. ) I love the writer who penned it, and her research is always up to date. And so it made me feel a bit freaky to read her story when, well, I can do pull-ups, no problem. I’ll show you: Click here:
And so, The Times piece:
Why Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups
To find out just how meaningful a fitness measure the pull-up really is, exercise researchers from the University of Dayton found 17 normal-weight women who could not do a single overhand pull-up. Three days a week for three months, the women focused on exercises that would strengthen the biceps and the latissimus dorsi — the large back muscle that is activated during the exercise. They lifted weights and used an incline to practice a modified pull-up, raising themselves up to a bar, over and over, in hopes of strengthening the muscles they would use to perform the real thing. They also focused on aerobic training to lower body fat.
By the end of the training program, the women had increased their upper-body strength by 36 percent and lowered their body fat by 2 percent. But on test day, the researchers were stunned when only 4 of the 17 women succeeded in performing a single pull-up.
“We honestly thought we could get everyone to do one,” said Paul Vanderburgh, a professor of exercise physiology and associate provost and dean at the University of Dayton, and an author of the study. But Vanderburgh said the study and other research has shown that performing a pull-up requires more than simple upper-body strength. Men and women who can do them tend to have a combination of strength, low body fat and shorter stature. During training, because women have lower levels of testosterone, they typically develop less muscle than men, Vanderburgh explained. In addition, they can’t lose as much fat. Men can conceivably get to 4 percent body fat; women typically bottom out at more than 10 percent.
So no matter how fit they are, women typically fare worse on pull-up tests. But Vanderburgh notes that some men struggle, too, particularly those who are taller or bigger generally or have long arms. This is related to an interesting phenomenon: if you compare a smaller athlete to an athlete who has the same exact build but is 30 percent bigger, the bigger athlete will be only about 20 percent stronger, even though he has to carry about 30 percent more weight.
“We’re a combination of levers; that’s how we move,” Vanderburgh said. “Generally speaking, the longer the limb, the more of a disadvantage in being able to do a pull-up. I look at a volleyball player and wouldn’t expect her to be able to do a pull-up, but I know she’s fit.” End —