Women Can't Do Pullups

Recently the New York Times published and article with this purposely controversy raising title – Why Women Can’t Do Pullups (read the full article HERE).
Lazy people everywhere rejoiced at yet another excuse to be lazy and fit people everywhere locked and loaded their weapons to go on a rampage at the injustice of this claim.
Women can’t do pullups. Really? Hmmmm. Here is a video we threw together randomly one morning….  Women Pullups
At first my fit minded feeling was straight indignation at the authors of the so called scientific journal article where the information was published. My second set of nasty thoughts was aimed directly at the author of the article and lastly I wished destruction upon the media outlets publishing such crap.
As I am inclined to do, however, I decided to research before rant.
The article claims researchers recently released data supporting the idea that women, even fit women as the news article highlights, can’t do pullups. I contacted some of the people I know who are much better researchers than I and asked if they could find this article, because of course the newspaper article didn’t bother to ACTUALLY CITE A SOURCE. No, that would be fair and honest reporting.
What we were all able to find was an article from the same researchers at the quoted University with similar details that the news article reported. Why am I using such ambiguous terminology? Well, because the news article doesn’t really match the research article.
This is when I realized that the research article was in no way intended to be used in the manner that was used/butchered in. Odd, it seems that a reporter misled the public by manipulating research to create controversy. Strange.
You see the actual research article is from the year 2000 (I like how science fiction-y and impressive that sounds in an oddly Orwellian way), which is actually 12 years since publication and most likely about 14 years since the research was actually performed. 14 years?  I hadn’t even graduated high school yet. A lot has changed for me since high school, and I know a lot has changed in exercise, fitness, and strength training since then too. I mean, 14 years ago women were still lifting little 5lbs weights and doing step aerobics to the caressing lyrics of Mariah Carey.
So researchers didn’t ‘just discover this.’ Reporter lie = busted.
When reading the research paper I was quickly flabbergasted by the fact that the research was conducted in an effort to discover if pullups were a useful test for the military or fire services to help determine the fitness level of women. The results of the research – pullups are not a good test because most women can’t do a pullup.
The researchers wanted to determine if a standard exercise program involving the muscles needed to perform a pullup (lattisimus dorsi and biceps) would lead to women being able to actually complete a pullup. So 20 (not 17 as the newspaper article reports) women with little to no fitness training were given a 12 week exercise progam including such things as lat pull downs and bicep curls. They trained three times a week for 12 weeks with University students and their diet was not monitored.
Results – only 3 of the women by the end of 12 weeks were able to perform a pullup.
Thus, even fit women can’t do pullups.
Oh, now I see, that makes total sense.
Train for 12 weeks in a half assed manner, don’t actually do the exercise you are being asked to be tested on, eat what you like, and surprise of surprises, the chances of doing a pullup are less than 25%.
Therefore even fit women can’t do pullups.
Let’s break it down.
Even the researchers commented that the training program wasn’t designed to make the women capable of performing a pullup. No. Their goal was to see if moderately fit women could do a pullup after a general strength training program. Their goal wasn’t to see if women were capable of completing a pullup. They wanted to know if it was fair for the military or fire forces to use pullups as an assessment tool for women applicants who were moderately fit.
So in no way was this a test of whether women COULD perform pullups.
Of course most of the women in this study couldn’t do pullups at the end of the study. THEY DIDN’T EVEN DO ANY PULLUPS DURING THE TRAINING!!!! I am actually surprised that any of them could do a pullup afterwards.
From a fitness perspective all we can discern from this 14 year old research done haphazardly on a whopping 20 people, is that if you do a training program without pull ups, you most likely won’t be able to do a pull up at the end of 12 weeks.
Mind blowing stuff.
I would actually like to see this same protocol used on men in exactly the same manner. Because after 10 years in this business I would say that the same fitness level and training on men would lead to exactly the same result, because guess what, moderately fit men CANT DO PULLUPS EITHER.
So please don’t berate research or trash science. This is a clear cut case of a bored reporter attempting to make a name for herself by showcasing a clear lack of knowledge about fitness and lack of educational ability to actually read and understand scientific research. Should we be more mad at her or the New York Times for allowing such misconstrued bullshit to get published? I am not sure.
The thing is, I can’t change the fact it was written or published. I can’t help convince all the lazy bastards out there using this crap as an excuse to never try and achieve what they are capable of achieving. All I can do is show those who are ready to see what they can accomplish the path to greatness.
Because women can do pullups. I see it every single day.

  1. nb says:

    Yay!!! So nice to see someone with an education and a brain shooting down this kind of bs! Thanks!

  2. Madge says:

    I recently discovered your blog and I love your view on these types of things. I am a woman and yes, I cannot do pull ups…just the way it is….currently. But one of my longterm weightloss, strengthening goals is to change that!!!!

  3. Charles Privett says:

    Funny, my girlfriend started out not doing any. Then I had her start practicing them. Then she could do 1,2,3 etc etc. General Specificity.

  4. Joanna says:

    Thanks to Taylor and my current trainer here in Ottawa, I CAN do pull-ups. And yes, I am able to do them because I train by doing actual pull-ups. Training otherwise is just madness.
    If pull-ups are your goal, take on the challenge because the reward of your first unassisted pull-up will be mind blowing!

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