The pull-up challenge

September, with the end of summer and beginning-of-term vibe, is rapidly being acknowledged as the best time of year to set new goals – much better than cold, dreary January when your self-discipline is shot and all you want to do is drink large mugs of tea with full fat milk and heavily buttered crumpets.


If you’re a festival lover you’ll probably have spent all summer burning the candle at every end possible while wearing ridiculous, sequinned outfits, and right now you’re very much in the mood for a spot of chickpea soup and some 70-denier tights. Humans need change.

In this back-to-school spirit I am restarting my running and am back to the gym with a new focus. Successful people always talk about goal-setting and visualisation, and who am I to argue with the hoards of glossy-skinned life coaches-turned-millionaires?

So I have set myself a gym-based challenge – quite apart from any running goals – that, by the end of 2016, I’ll be able to do 5 pull-ups in a row.

For anyone who can already do pull-ups with ease, that might sound doleful, but seeing as I can’t currently lift myself from a dead hang at all, I’m wondering how achievable it actually is. But hey, aim high, right?

Why the pull-up? Mainly because it’s a simple goal to measure. I can either haul my chin above a bar unassisted or I can’t. Also, from a fitness point of view, it’s a great, all-over workout (also known as a “compound exercise”). Thirdly, they look pretty damn cool. And lastly, I’ve always wanted to know that I could survive an Ethan Hunt-style dangle from the side of a bridge, and without well-developed lats you’re a goner.


Next up is working out how to get there. As the lats (latissimi dorsi, aka back muscles) play such a big part in pull ups, it’s the obvious place to start – particularly as mine in their current state wouldn’t threaten a fly. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be getting well acquainted with the lat pulldown machine in the gym (once I work out where it actually is).

The other place I’m going to be hanging out – literally – is on the bar. Reading around, the best way to progress is to do reps of dead hangs, bar holds, negative pull ups (where you jump up and lower yourself down slowly), and chin-ups. These exercises activate the muscles used in pull-ups and, importantly, allow you to practise perfect form.

I find using pull-up bands is great in gym classes when we have to bang out multiple reps until our arms are about to fall off; but a lot of trainers don’t like them, as you become too reliant and don’t actually build up strength. The warning is; don’t just do multiple reps using a pull-up band and expect to progress quickly.

I’ll be keeping track of how I get on via Instagram using #5pullupchallenge, and hopefully I won’t embarrass myself too much on the way. And please feel free to join in – I love a bit of competition…


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