I am proud to say that I have been getting strong! I set a goal for myself back in May that I would be able to get across the monkey bars at the playground (“You mean like this, Mom?” my 13 year old said as she easily went back and forth a few times……..) Yes, like that.
Most of you know that I was a competitive swimmer for all of my growing up years, and even made the travel team as a freshman at a D1 school. I had a seriously strong upper body. I looked forward to the Presidential Physical Fitness Test every year, because I couldn’t wait to school almost everyone at the pull ups (except for you, Karl Torchia, because you were the man!) I could bang out at least 15 pull ups without breaking a sweat.
So, it was a shock to me a few years ago when my kids started doing the monkey bars, and I jumped right up to show them how it was done, and couldn’t hold myself up on the bar. Uh-oh. I guess I had more important things to do, because I just never tried again.
Until last spring. I was ready to commit to my goal. I started out slowly, just hanging on the bar. Then, I got to where I could do 1 or 2 rungs before I had to drop down. And I kept practicing all summer long, until I finally did it all the way across! Yea!
And then I thought, well, maybe I can do chin ups, too. So I started working on chin ups (palms facing me). I began with negative chin ups, jumping up and then slowly lowering myself down, and progressed to one leg assisted chin ups. I tried a pull up (palms facing away) once in a while, but struggled more with those. I kept at it until I could do one real chin up from a dead hang. And, now I can do 5 chin ups in a row! It feels great!
But, I still can’t do a single pull up. I try every time, but I can’t get it. And so, I forget about it and do my 5 chin ups. I finally sat down to think about it this morning, and then sent a text to my buddy, Mike Fitch. It was an intelligently crafted message that went like this:
“Dude, why are pull ups so much harder than chin ups? My biceps can’t seriously be stronger than my lats! What’s the deal?”
Mike, ever the professional, explained it like this:
“Well, according to most, a chin up is performed with the palms facing you, which allows for full engagement of the biceps (since the hands are supinated) with the addition of the brachialis and brachioradialis. The teres major and lats are both engaged, with a shorter lever arm, as they pull against the humerus. This tends to be easier for some people. The pull up allows for less help from the biceps (your main elbow flexor) and since the arms are horizontally abducted, you are at a mechanical disadvantage. However, it’s all about specificity, so if you train more chin ups than pull ups, your chin ups will be easier. I train pull ups more often, so the reverse is true for me.”
I was good on the anatomy and kinesiology, but it was common sense that I had not applied to my problem! It makes sense that if you want to get better at doing pull ups, you have to do pull ups! I just wasn’t thinking of it in that way, because every time I tried to do a pull up, I couldn’t, and I just did chin ups instead, thinking that it would carry over.
It is a good lesson to apply to all of our training and fitness: If you want to be able to do __________, go out and try to do lots of ___________! Even if it’s hard, just start, and then keep on trying until eventually you master the movement. That’s how I did it with the monkey bars and chin ups, and I bet it would work with the pull ups, too.
Of course, we often need to break our goals down into manageable parts, so here are 2 videos I have found very helpful to get started with my pull ups:
The first is from Mike’s website
and the second is from Marianne, a founding member of a new group called “Girls Gone Strong.” Check out their Facebook page – these ladies are taking strength training for women to the big time! http://www.facebook.com/GirlsGoneStrong
I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, and keep working toward your specific goals. Let me know if you need some help reaching your goals, as we provide Wellness Sessions in addition to Physical Therapy. Cheers!