Is the much dreaded pull-up a good way to measure physical fitness? A study recently making the rounds put that to the question.
Give Me Ten!
Dr. J over at CalorieLabs recently dug up an interesting piece of research: Paul Vandenburgh of the University of Dayton and his team assembled a number of untrained women and attempted to get them to the point where they were able to do pull-ups. To their (apparent) surprise, not all women finally were able to, but those that were shared some characteristics.
Generally speaking, the women who at the end of the intervention could do a pull-up, were of shorter stature. Vandenburgh reasons that this is so because of the proportion between body size and strength. When you compare two people of similiar build, but one of them is 30% bigger, the latter will only be about 20% stronger, even though he or she has to carry about 30% additional weight.
The general hullabaloo about this study concentrates on the fact that Vandenburgh and company used women as test subjects and turned into “women can’t do pull-ups”, as for example this piece here in the good ole New York Times. The comments over there in spirit range from “take that, all you fitness jocks at high school that made me miserable” to “pah, I can do 50 pull-ups, one-handed, and I am a woman!”
Pull-Ups Mean Fit?
However, that is beside the point, as what the study really wanted to show was if being able to do a pull-up is a good measure of fitness, as for example applied by many law enforcement and military bodies around the world.
In my opinion, pull-ups are among the most complex upper body movements a person can do. They practically involve the entire upper back, as well as the forearms and the biceps. As a measurement of upper body strength, they simply can’t be beaten.
It is also my firm belief that anyone can learn to do a pull-up, including women. They may be at a disadvantage due to body composition, less testosterone and therefore needing longer to build muscle mass, yes. But if 13 women in that study failed to be able to do a pull-up, it most probably would have taken them just a bit longer to get to that point.
All in all, I bet that if you can’t do a pull-up, you do lack upper body strength, no matter if you are shorter or not, as chances are that height will not only influence your performance on pull-ups, but other exercises as well.
Picture courtesy of the U.S. Army.