First chin-up

Thirteen and a half months. That’s how long it took between inspiration and achievement.

The inspiration came from Ted Spiker, founder of the Sub-30 Club. After his Ironman, Ted was looking for some “smaller” goals and doing one pull-up was on his list. A lot of people in Sub-30 got excited about his 20,000 push-up goal, but I really did not want to count that high. One pull-up sounded more manageable, at least from a counting perspective.

First, I had to understand my target. Some of my earliest conversations with Coach Cowboy consisted of me asking what the heck is the difference between a chin-up and a pull-up anyway? It turns out a chin-up is palms toward you and a pull-up is palms away. They use slightly different muscles, but seemed equivalently bad-assed to me and I was more comfortable in chin-up position so I decided to go for that. Easy Going Trainer showed me how to use resistance bands to do assisted chin-ups. Sort of like magic, my chin was suddenly up and over the bar.

Next, I needed a plan of attack. I spent some time googling things like “How to do a chin-up” and “Can women do chin-ups?” and came across some good YouTube videos and also a lovely controversy in the New York Times about women and pull-ups. It turns out, Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups. Except of course, we can, especially if people would quit telling us we can’t. Also, if you want to learn to do a pull-up, it helps an awful lot to practice doing pull-ups. A lot of this information was kind of overwhelming at first, but it did help to look at lots of videos of women doing pull-ups and chin-ups. I knew I couldn’t manage anything complicated like 60 second hangs on Tuesdays and using the TRX straps on Thursdays. I just decided to practice chin-ups every time I entered the gym. I did them after every circuits class and every personal training session. I’m usually in the gym three times a week and if I missed five post-workout chin-up sessions in 2014, I’d be surprised. I usually do three sets of stuff in the gym so I did three sets of chin-ups too, using whatever resistance band was currently appropriate.

In June I started sometimes writing down chin-up numbers in my workout log and I wish I had started sooner and been more regular about it. In July I started training with Tough Guy and we start every session with chin-ups. Keeping track and trying to beat my number from the previous week was a really helpful technique. Tough Guy helped me get more organized about the whole project and I started to make faster progress.

Of course, I roped my friends into doing chin-ups with me. Basically everyone who went with me to the gym also did chin-ups after class, including my son who took an obstacle course training class there last fall. My own chin-ups were horrible when he was there because I was constantly worried he was going to break something and I did have to jump down once to grab a big mirror he had knocked over! By late 2014, my best gym buddies had quit coming very often and I did a lot of chin-ups alone.

The resistance bands were a key tool for me. You can use more than one band, or different colors, or put the band on your knee (harder) or your foot (easier). The idea was that once I could do three sets of 12, it was time to progress to a different band or a different position. On December 16th, 2014, I did 12 chin-ups easily with the purple band on my foot and progressed to one purple band on my knee. That was the last stage before a real chin-up. Then, in mid-January, the Maestro, who was treating me for a hip issue, ordered two weeks of no activity at all, including chin-ups. It was tough to have a set-back when I was so close, but I picked the chin-ups back up as soon as I could. I also finally got a chin-up bar at home so even though I wasn’t going to the gym as much, I could still do them.

On February 21, I was procrastinating a bit and just walked over to the bar to see where things stood. Put my hands on it and gave a pull and up I went! I was as surprised as could be and thank goodness I could do another one because no one even caught that first one on video! I even did a third one and later in the day a fourth and a fifth and a sixth! #chinupaddiction! Every single time I do one, with the band or without, it’s like some kind of magic trick. Much to my surprise, I start levitating. It’s amazing and fun and powerful. If you think you can’t do a chin-up (or a pull-up, if you’d rather), frankly, I think you’re wrong. You just can’t do a chin-up yet. If you want to, get after it.


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2 Responses to First chin-up

  1. Kendra says:

    Hi Sarah, very inspiring! We just got a pull-up bar–I’m not even close to being able to do one, but you’ve given me hope!

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